December 24, 2015
A 5-story Singing Christmas Tree
The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree combines the usual elements into an unusual show that will draw thousands of spectators this weekend. The 67-foot-tall tree features 25,000 lights, 5,000 linear feet of greenery, and 15 tiers on which about 220 choir members stand. About 50 other students sing from positions near the base of the tree.
Freshmen are relegated to the bottom of the five-story tree, while sophomores and juniors populate the middle. Seniors set up shop in the upper levels. The very top is the domain of the "Tree Angel," a senior selected by Shawn Lawton, the director of the Mona Shores High School Choir.
"It's not that kid who's the greatest singer, necessarily," Lawton said. "But instead just someone with a lot of heart and maybe has lived through a lot and still smiles."
Lawton picked two Tree Angels this year, marking only the second time that's been done in the 31-year history of the show. They are alternating shows atop the tree.
Wilcox is positioned just below the angel. "It's definitely a little scarier when you're 14 rows up than when you're standing on the ground," she said.
But Wilcox needn't worry, because Darcy Welsh and her fellow "tree monkeys" are never too far away. Welsh is one of the two dozen or so choir moms and dads who climb into the innards of the tree and stand watch on platforms located behind the singers, ready to assist those who are overcome by the height and heat from the lights shining on them.
I confess to a certain fascination with singing Christmas trees and here is my annual posting on one of them.
December 18, 2015
Cast sings Star Wars a cappella
Jimmy Fallon often has a cappella on his show and a here's a video with him, The Roots and cast members of "The Force Awakens" singing the theme music.
December 17, 2015
Review: Sweet Honey in the Rocks shines
In a period when a cappella is celebrated - platinum-selling Pentatonix, hit films in the Pitch Perfect series - it's the moment for Sweet Honey in the Rock. For 40-plus years, Louise Robinson and Carol Maillard (both founding members), and Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, and Shirley Childress (an American Sign Language interpreter who has performed live since 1981) have displayed the gorgeous tones and textures of blues, gospel, and jazz as well as the traditions of their African heritage, sans instrumentation.
The only thing more intricate than their rhythms is their gorgeously complex harmonies, all heartily on hand at Annenberg's Zellerbach Theatre on Saturday, with a "Honeyman" - bassist Romeir Mendez - bringing an impressionistic groove to a few cuts.
Though masquerading as a holiday show - the night started with individual members strolling on stage, each clipping a line from her favorite Christmas song before launching into a percolating "Jesus, What a Wonderful Child" - the gig was a plea for peace and prayer for every season.
Once you heard their layered dynamics-rich version of "Silent Night" with its "Mr. Sandman"-ish vocal pulse and wafting new melody, you were spoiled for other groups of carolers. The glory of intercession came through as clappy gospel song on "Somebody Prayed." "Nativity Suite," penned and produced for the American Bible Association, owed as much to Philip Glass-like repetition as it did talky Winans-stylized cadence. It spoke of Caesar Augustus' census taking and the Bethlehem of Jesus' birth. Stirring stuff.
December 16, 2015
Swingle Singers forced to cancel tour
Very unfortunately the Swingle Singers had to cancel, at the last minute, their Holiday tour of the US due to delays in being issued visas. Several years ago I was responsible for securing their visas for a tour and can attest to the near impossibility of the US visa system for visiting artists. We applied exactly six months to the day in advance (the most allowed), used an experienced immigration lawyer specializing in P visas and every group member had been issued a visa from the previous tour. Each member still had to go to an interview which was not scheduled by the US consulate till a few days before they were due to fly. Their then manager, who had a series of important meetings lined up, was not issued a visa because there was a small tear on his passport, and therefore could not come.
Luckily that time the group were issued visas but it was unnecessarily stressful for not only the group, but for the presenters who have thousands of dollars involved in venue, advertising and marketings costs. Not knowing if a international performing artists will be allowed into the country till a few days before a tour is to start is absurd. It's also very rude!
All this recent talk in the media about making it harder for visitors to get visas has a very real negative effect on so many people. Surely such artists as the Swingle Singers should be treated with respect and a consideration made for 40 plus years they have been touring the world.
December 9, 2015
Techies tune up for ‘Pitch Perfect’-style a cappella showcase
San Francisco Chronicle:
At Airbnb’s headquarters last week, several software engineers had an important lunch meeting that had nothing to do with coding — and everything to do with singing.
“Mommy made me mash my M&M’s, oh my,” the group sang as they warmed up their voices across different scales inside a theater room in San Francisco. They were prepping for Tuesday night’s Techapella, a Bay Area showcase of eight a cappella groups from tech companies. The free concert, at 8 p.m. at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, features the vocal stylings of groups like Facebook’s the Vocal Network, Google’s Googapella, LinkedIn’s InTune and Twitter’s Songbirds.
Techapella isn’t a competition, but for vocally gifted techies, it’s a chance to showcase their talent. Many groups practice twice a week. Some even arrange mashups of pop hits. And what they’ll be singing is as top secret as details about the next iPhone — the groups do not want to give away their secrets or spoil the show.
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Techapella began in 2013, when a cappella fans Aaron Roan from Google and Laolee Xiong from Facebook helped organize a joint show on their respective campuses. Since then, the Fox Theatre has been the venue for the big singing event, as part of a collaboration agreement with Facebook. Last year at least 800 people attended, and this year, organizers expect a full house, with more than 1,100 people in the audience.
“We’re all about showing that even though we’re at different companies, we’re bound by the passion of music,” said James Huang, who leads LinkedIn’s InTune group.
In a way, putting a cappella and techies together make sense, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Tech companies often portray themselves as extensions of college campuses, and as recent grads join their workforce, they may be looking to relive some extracurricular activities from their college days, like performing in an a cappella group, Thompson said.
“An awful lot of tech companies take pride in thinking of themselves as fun, with environments that are different than the corporate environment we see in ‘Mad Men,’” Thompson said. “Writing code all day is one thing. If you got all this (fun) stuff going on, it makes it a much more pleasant environment.”
December 3, 2015
Now a Trio
The vocal group Tonic Sol-fa has been performing Christmas concerts in Rochester for a decade, but there will be something different about this year's holiday show on Dec. 11.
For starters, what was once a quartet is now a trio. Mark McGowan left Tonic Sol-fa last winter, leaving Greg Bannworth, Shaun Johnson and Jared Dove to continue as a three-voice a cappella group.
"It was pretty unexpected," Bannworth said last week. "But from that, we've figured out how to work as a trio. It's actually been pretty amazing. It has really opened a lot of doors. We have a new sound."
Tonic Sol-fa, which formed when the original members were students at St. John's University in Collegeville, has spent a long time building a sound and an audience. So any tinkering could be seen as either fresh inspiration or an unwelcome change to the tried and true.
Never fear, Bannworth said. Despite the changes, you'll still recognize Tonic Sol-fa.
"For those who have seen us before, they will definitely get the same show," he said. "It's an interactive party atmosphere with lots of humor. The sound will be a little different."
Since Tonic Sol-fa spent most of the past year touring and recording a new album, "Original," finding a new singer wasn't on the radar.
"I think we would like to keep it in mind," Bannworth said of going back to four members. "But as the year has gone on, we've thought, 'Let's see where this goes.'"