May 21, 2013
Bobby McFerrin: Spirituals As Sung Prayers
Listen to Bobby McFerrin — onstage, warming up with his band — and it's like you're listening to an entire orchestra bubbling up through one man's body. He becomes a flute, a violin, a muted trumpet, a percussion instrument, a bird, you name it.
Spirityouall is an album McFerrin says he's wanted to make for many years, as he performs classic black spirituals with roots in enslaved communities, as well as songs he composed himself. Through the record, he says he hears the influence of his father, Robert McFerrin Sr., a renowned operatic baritone.
McFerrin says he remembers visits to the family's New York apartment from Hall Johnson, the great African-American musician, composer and choir director who devoted himself to preserving and elevating the spiritual as an art form.
"Hall Johnson, his grandmother was a slave," McFerrin tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And his grandmother would sing these pieces to him, so when she was teaching my father how to sing them, he knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew how to stretch a phrase, how to pronounce a word. You know, my father was very exact in his pronunciations. I grew up around two parents who insisted on correct grammar and correct pronunciations of the words that we spoke."
McFerrin says his father's voice is ever-present in his mind, especially when he conducts and works with a choir: "I insist on his round, warm tone when I'm working with a choir," he says. His father was very studious, making notes on scores with a pencil — something Bobby McFerrin now does himself.
"But when I was working on this record, it was very loose," McFerrin says. "I'm a quick study. I go for the understanding first. I might not get the notes right, but if I hear a piece once or twice and come to know what it's about –- to understand a piece -– then after that, everything just comes very easily for me, very quickly."
May 19, 2013
The new Harmony Sweepstakes national champs are..
It was a glorious evening of vocal harmony singing once again at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals. Top notch a cappella performed by so many talented groups in a wonderful mix of styles. And it was a night for the ladies with both first and second place along with audience favorite going to all-girl groups. Thanks to all involved who helped make our 29th annual such a rousing success. And the results are:-
2013 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS - Honey Whiskey Trio
2nd place - Lustre Quartet
3rd Pace (tie) - The Rainbows / Fermata Town
Audience Favorites - The Honey Whiskey Trio
Best Original Arrangement - "I Feel Good" - The Rainbows
Best Original Song - "Starting Line" - Fermata Town
May 11, 2013
The Manhattan Transfer weave super-tight harmonies that even a bulldozer can’t bust through
Dallas Morning News:
Vinyl records are back in vogue, so New York’s the Manhattan Transfer took a discography approach to its two-hour concert Thursday night at Majestic Theatre. The jazz-pop vocal quartet brought with them an array of LP covers tracing the first half of its long recording career.
They were like placards, tools for show-and-tell that Transfer members used to take the audience to a certain period in its artistic history. Sometimes a quick embellishment to their stage clothes was in order. That was easily done with the help of a well-stocked wardrobe rack. Mostly it was about setting a storytelling mood and offering a song to go with it. A quick look at the 1975 self-titled album, not to mention the donning of tails, furs and ankle-length skirts, led them to “Blue Champagne,” a spectacular vocal piece that quickly showcased the Transfer’s harmonies.
When it comes to vocal power, the Manhattan Transfer set the bar. Soprano, alto, tenor and bass come together to create a smooth, thick and rich concoction that’s both refreshing and riveting. They can sing jazz, pop, R&B and world beat music. And once the harmonies kick in they are so tightly wound that even a bulldozer couldn’t bust through. Read more.
May 9, 2013
A cappella wins a Pulitzer Prize
New York Times
Caroline Shaw, the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, isn’t quite ready to own up to what she does. “I don’t really call myself a composer,” she said, laughing, in an interview in her sunny studio apartment in Chelsea. “That’s what’s awkward about this whole thing: that’s not really what I call myself.”
Ms. Shaw would prefer to be known simply as a musician. And it was largely as a musician, a busy freelancer in New York, that she was known before Monday’s announcement that she had, at 30, become the award’s youngest winner, for “Partita for Eight Voices,” her dazzling, emotionally generous take on a Baroque dance suite.
The award citation praised “Partita” as “a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.”
Jeremy Geffen, the director of artistic planning at Carnegie Hall and the chairman of this year’s Pulitzer jury, recalled: “We kept listening because we were required to. But also because none of us could see what was around the next corner.
“She changes gears so quickly and so easily, and every turn is so unexpected and so full of joy. And it’s in such a convincing and cohesive manner that you could never doubt the sense of architecture and the sense of premeditation.” Read more.
May 6, 2013
Eric Banks: Esoterics founder an explorer of new vocal worlds
Seattle Times (WA):
Listen to the opening notes of Seattle composer-conductor Eric Banks’ “The Seven Creations,” and you’ll sense instinctively that you’re hearing something both ancient and utterly new. Banks’ 73-minute “a cappella opera” is an astonishing work, and part of its wonder stems from its blending of some of the oldest known melodies in the world with a contemporary choral sensibility.
Much of its thematic material derives from the “Gathas,” Zoroastrian hymns first sung between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. The text, which describes the world’s creation, destruction and restoration, is in Avestan, a sacred dialect given a written form in the 6th or 7th century A.D. by Zoroastrian priests.
At this point, you may be asking: Avestan? Zoroastrianism? A cappella opera ... ? How much more esoteric can things get?
The question is apt, for the adventurous choral group that premieres and records Banks’ work is called The Esoterics. They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary this season and, in a city that’s teeming with sophisticated choral concert fare, The Esoterics have their own particular niche. Read more.
May 2, 2013
One heck-of-a festival will be going on in Toronto, Canada on May 9th thru 12th with a great line up of groups including The Real Group and The Swingle Singers at Sing Toronto!. There are workshops, classes and all kinds of great a cappella events.
May 1, 2013
April 30, 2013
'Battle Hymns' review: war transcended
San Francisco Chronicle:
The performers in composer David Lang's choral-dance work "Battle Hymns" don't make an entrance in the usual sense. They muster, and they fall in.
At several points during Saturday afternoon's performance at the Kezar Pavilion - one of four given over the weekend by Volti and the San Francisco Choral Society in collaboration with the Leah Stein Dance Company and the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir - doors opened all along the sides of the space, and masses of singers in military garb streamed in. As if in answer to a bugle call, they gathered in the large central area, then arrayed themselves in precise lines and began to sing.
In the big opening movement, Lang takes the letter written by Union Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife - a letter made famous by Ken Burns' PBS documentary - and cuts it into phrases. Then he sets them in alphabetical order, producing a sort of free-floating evocation of the fog of war.
The music, beautifully sung by the chorus, treads a similar line between specificity and vagueness. At first, Lang deploys only a single four-note motif (a cousin to the central material in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Little Match Girl Passion"), repeated in stark and unvaried iterations. But then the harmonies begin to spread, filling in the vocal spaces and also blurring in the reverberant acoustics of the Pavilion.
"Battle Hymns" has its share of magical moments, including a gorgeous and all-too-brief passage in which members of the children's chorus hum with their hands over their mouths to produce a Ligetiesque swirl of sound. And there are others in which Lang seems to be stretching meager material past the point of overuse.
Still, "Battle Hymns" concludes on a transcendent note, with a surrealist and practically wordless setting based on Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer." Suddenly, all the regimentation of the staging is jettisoned, as the performers mill about the space singing suspended harmonies at the edge of audibility. The effect is intoxicating and powerful. Read more.
April 27, 2013
Michael Buble and N7 sing in the subway
New York Daily News:
This is one way to brighten up a morning commute. New York subway riders were pleasantly surprised Thursday when Michael Buble decided to put on an impromptu acappella show between subway stops.
The crooner belted out the ballad “Who's Lovin' You,” off his latest album “To Be Loved.” Buble looked very dapper dressed in a black suit and tie as he serenaded the subway crowd that took video and snapped photos of the 37-year-old singer.
Buble was joined by the band Naturally 7 as his backup singers at the W. 66th Street stop. Buble's new album was just released last week featuring a whole new list of dance-worthy tunes. See video.
April 26, 2013
Rockwell’s Barbershop Quartet
Saturday Evening Post:
Norman Rockwell did such a remarkable job capturing the singers’ expressions as they hit the perfect note, we wish we could turn up the volume on this 1936 classic. Evoking the turn of the century era, perhaps the Gay ’90s, he is able to indulge his love of costumes and further authenticates the scene with meticulous attention to detail; the shaving brush and mug, straight razor, even a well-used comb that is missing a few teeth (click on images for larger view).
The cover models were all residents of New Rochelle, New York, where Rockwell lived and worked for the first 25 years of his career. The barber on the left was actually a barber by trade. The gentleman in the red vest, to his right, was a member of the town’s fire department. Rockwell’s assistant Carl Johnson made an appearance, too, wearing a bow tie and holding a comb. And on the far right we find customer Walter Beach Humphrey, a friend of Rockwell’s and an illustrator for the Post.
Rockwell slyly adds a touch of humor to the illustration with a rather naughty copy of The Police Gazette. From the mid-1800s through the 1920s in particular, the Gazette was a “gentleman’s” magazine focused on the lurid. It sensationalized murders and women outside the bounds of propriety, strippers and burlesque dancers, and like straight razors and lavender pomade, no old-time barbershop was without the latest issue. Read more.
April 24, 2013
Agony, Ecstasy, Irony: The Fight For The Soul Of College A Cappella
NPR - Linda Holmes- Culture blog
Saturday night at Town Hall in New York, the Nor'easters of Northeastern University in Boston were crowned national champions at the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), the entirely real battle dramatized in last summer's surprise hit Pitch Perfect.
On the same night, the organizers announced from the stage that 19 Entertainment, which produces American Idol, was creating a reality series following the groups through the competition. And NBC has announced that it's bringing back The Sing-Off, its a cappella series that was previously believed to be dead. Thus, the Saturday night competition took place while this style of music is having a bit of a moment, from which its advocates didn't shy away — "This is the real Pitch Perfect," went the on-stage introduction.
You should know, though, that there is a big lie surrounding college a cappella.
The big lie, perpetrated by the movie — aside from the fact that nobody wears precisely matching sparkly costumes like that — is that college a cappella is dominated by mobs of twee goobers standing around singing cheesy '80s/'90s music with enormous grins on their faces. This is not the case. In fact, after hearing the first seven songs, I turned to the friend who attended the show with me and said, "So at this point, the most upbeat song has been 'Cry Me A River.'"
An interesting read on this influential blog. Although I'm most pleased that collegiate a cappella is getting so much attention I do hope that media writers pay attention to the much wider (and varied) world on non-collegiate a cappella. There's much more to a cappella than covers of recent pop hits and large ensemble harmony.
April 23, 2013
Pitch Perfect-Like Unscripted Series In the Works from Idol Producers
Following the success (and recent sequel greenlight) of Universal's "Pitch Perfect," it looks like everyone wants to jump on the a cappella bandwagon.
According to Deadline, "American Idol" production company 19 Entertainment -- along with parent company CORE Media -- have signed a deal with a cappella organization Varsity Vocals, the creative minds behind the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, "to develop a show built around the competition and the college students who participate in it." The deal will reportedly allow CORE to record the ICCA contest for television.
The show -- which is seemingly not being developed for any specific network at this stage -- will reportedly follow the ICCA "through the whole tournament series ... It’d show the groups going through all the rounds of the tournament leading up to the finals, and also show a bit of the students’ backgrounds,” in much the same vein as "Pitch Perfect," Newman told TVLine. Read more.
A cappella bandwagon? Hey, we don't need no wagon for our band; we are the band!
April 22, 2013
Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals line up
It has been a great season for the Harmony Sweepstakes with full houses of enthusiastic a cappella fans and talented winners throughout. Once again the National Finals promise to be an evening of top notch vocal harmony with the added excitement of the competition to determine who will be our next National Champions.
29th ANNUAL HARMONY SWEEPSTAKES A CAPPELLA FESTIVAL NATIONAL FINALS
Saturday May 18, 8pm
Marin Veterans Auditorium
San Rafael, California
Ticket sales are very strong so be sure to get your seats soon.