August 25, 2015
A Reluctant Teenager, a Barbershop Quartet, and a Revelation
New York Times:
The memory is hazy, but I can’t imagine that I went enthusiastically into a concert hall in Portland, Maine, on May 18, 1974. The groups on the bill were not the kind that most 19-year-olds were flocking to see. Yet my mind was blown just as thoroughly as if I’d seen Kiss or Queen. It was blown by a barbershop quartet named the Gentlemen’s Agreement.
I was in my first year of college at the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham, still living with my parents. I realize that a lot about that sentence says “loser,” but I was at least making an effort to be cool. My record collection had three Frank Zappa albums in it.
Why my father secured tickets to a barbershop concert is unclear. My mother, now 94, thinks that perhaps my Uncle Larry, a barbershopper in his college days, was visiting. Also unclear is why I agreed to go along on an old-fogey outing.
It was, I believe, a concert put on by the local chapter of the preposterously named Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, which these days is generally called the Barbershop Harmony Society. As I remember it, the show included a number of groups, all building up to the headliners, the Gentlemen’s Agreement. When those four men started to sing, an unremarkable evening turned into a revelation. I don’t remember what they sang, but I remember being astonished by the seamlessness of it, the intricacy of the harmony, their ability to invest the songs with personality, no guitar or drum kit in sight. I had expected stodgy and instead got stunning.
This is a great article and a ringing endorement of all we like about a cappella harmony. A highly recommended read.
August 22, 2015
Home Free cover Oak Ridge Boys, and it rules
Maybe you think you don’t need to watch a cappella quintet Home Free cover the Oak Ridge Boys’ 1981 ditty “Elvira,” but that’s where you’d be wrong. The legendary gospel and country group join the season 4 Sing Off winners and it’s warm, fuzzy, borderline corny, and accented with a few amazing beards.
Home Free’s third studio album is due out this fall. And lest you forget, their 2014 debut, Crazy Life, hit No. 1 on the iTunes Country chart and No. 4 overall. On traditional charts it reached No. 40 on the Billboard 200 and No. 8 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums.
August 21, 2015
Former St. Olaf Choir conductor Kenneth Jennings dies
St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus of Music Kenneth Jennings ’50, who led the St. Olaf Choir for more than two decades, died Aug. 20. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“The world of choral music lost a great giant,” St. Olaf Choir Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 told Minnesota Public Radio. “He was an immense influence on many of the leading choral directors of his time, both those who were able to sing under his baton or his beautiful hands, and those who experienced his performances with the St. Olaf Choir and the other choirs he conducted. We will remember him with great love and great admiration, and most of all, with great appreciation for the beauty he brought to the world of choral music.”
Jennings became the third conductor of the St. Olaf Choir in 1968, taking the helm of a renowned ensemble that up to that point had only been led by founder F. Melius Christiansen and his son, Olaf Christiansen ’25.
August 20, 2015
Anton Armstrong celebrates 25 years as conductor of St. Olaf Choir
Minnesota Public Radio:
Anton Armstrong is celebrating his 25th anniversary as conductor of the St. Olaf Choir this year. Born in New York to first-generation Caribbean immigrants, Armstrong wound up at a Minnesota school with Norwegian roots, where he became one of the country's leading choral conductors.
MPR News' Tom Weber talked with Armstrong in the MPR studios and members of the St. Olaf choir performed a few pieces.
August 19, 2015
Where In The World is El Chapo?
Back from a holiday visiting family and friends in England. We had a wonderful time and it was so enjoyable to see everybody again. Lots of news to catch up on but I'm glad to see that Rockapella is already on the case of the missing "El Chapo".
August 18, 2015
Pentatonix helps Macy's All-School A Cappella Challenge
Starting in September, schools across the country can submit an a cappella version of The Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back,” for a chance to win Macy’s All-School A Cappella Challenge. Students, faculty and staff of schools nationwide can enter a video performance of the song, unaccompanied by any music or instruments. Three $25,000 prizes will be awarded – one to a school in each of the following levels: elementary through middle school level, high school level and college level. Pentatonix will appear in a national commercial spot this summer.
Learn more here.