March 11, 2015

They want to teach the world to sing

The Telegraph (UK):

A short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral lies St Anne and St Agnes church. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it is a cavernous place with a hint of history in the air; it is here that the great poet John Milton used to pray.

In 2013, its worshippers left to join another congregation, and the church was falling on hard times. But new life now courses through its pews. Walk past at any time of day, and you are likely to hear soaring choral music echoing from inside. And it’s singing with a difference.

The church, renamed the Gresham Centre, has been taken over by the vocal ensemble Voces8, and repurposed as an “international centre for vocal excellence and outreach”.

“It is being renovated and upgraded, and when it is finished it will be glorious,” says baritone Paul Smith, 32, one of the founders of the Voces8 group. “But we’re not waiting for that. It is already open as a rehearsal and recital venue, and we are already running workshops pretty much every day.”

This is characteristic of the unusual energy and commitment that underpins Voces8. The group is a multi-award-winning classical singing ensemble in its own right. It has recently signed a deal with the Decca Classics label and released its first album, Eventide.

But the singers’ own careers are only one aspect of the Voces8 project. “We really believe in the power that music has to benefit people’s lives,” says Andrea Haines, 27, one of the group’s two sopranos.

“The group is run by a charity that we set up in 2006, and our main goal is to bring the joy of singing to as many people as possible. Voces8 is just the flagship ensemble, the figurehead.”

The church has now become the hub of a musical outreach project that reaches more than 20,000 people around the world each year.

Read more.

Posted by John at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 7, 2015

Steve Zegree dies

Stephen Zegree, former Western Michigan University music professor and director of the vocal jazz ensemble Gold Company, died this morning at his home in Bloomington, Indiana.

Zegree, 61, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this fall. He began hospice care recently.

Zegree taught at Western Michigan University for 34 years before leaving in 2012 to join the faculty at Indiana University. While at Western, he was the WMU Bobby McFerrin Distinguished Professor of Music, he taught piano and vocal jazz, performed with the Western Jazz Quartet, and was the director of the popular vocal jazz ensemble Gold Company.

Under his direction, Gold Company won almost 50 Outstanding Performance awards from DownBeat magazine and the group performed at major jazz festivals and events such as the International Association for Jazz Education and the World Symposium on Choral Music. The group also performed with artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Janis Siegel, Kurt Elling and John Hendricks. Read more.

How sad to lose another vocal jazz great. I had the pleasure of working with Steve on several occasions and he truly was a gracious and kind man.

Posted by John at 7:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 5, 2015

Stile Antico shows authority in Hapsburg music

Boston Globe:

How long should an ensemble be called “young”? The ensemble in question is Stile Antico, the British vocal ensemble founded in 2001. However short its lifespan in comparison with similar groups — the Tallis Scholars, for example — there is nothing underdeveloped about its collective talent or the distinctiveness of its approach. By now, “authoritative” is probably a more accurate label, regardless of how long Stile Antico has been in the game.

For its latest appearance in the Boston Early Music Festival series, the group brought most of its latest recording. “From the Imperial Court” samples 15th- and 16th-century works composed for the Hapsburgs, the political dynasty that ruled various parts of Europe from the 11th century through the First World War.

For all the program’s ceremonial grandeur, its most eloquent moments came in lamentational works, such as Josquin des Prez’s “Mille regretz,” with its austere four-voice texture. In an act of homage, Nicolas Gombert took Josquin’s melody and fashioned the text into a more involved polyphonic motet without losing the darkness of the original. Perhaps most affecting was Alonso Lobo’s “Versa est in luctum” (“My harp is tuned in mourning”), with its slow-moving harmonies and almost radiant sense of despair.

Stile Antico sang the Lobo with an unerring, lyrical feel for the music’s phrases, sustaining them while retaining transparency and rock-solid intonation. The ensemble showed similar virtues everywhere else in the performance: The unexpected roughness that I heard last year had vanished, and the group is again at its vital best. The singing creates a glorious sonic tapestry, but the depth of collective musicianship reminds you that these works, even those aimed at flattering the powerful, are not merely beautiful sound but something akin to living organisms.

Read more.

Posted by John at 9:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 4, 2015

Delta Airlines a cappella ad

Just caught this ad for Delta Airlines which I think its one of the best use of a cappella in a commercial I have seen in awhile. It is probably session singers (in NY I believe) but I wonder who arranged it?

Posted by John at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2015

Manhattan Transfer soldiers on in honor of founder Tim Hauser

Cleveland Plain Dealer:

For almost 40 years, Cheryl Bentyne and her friends in the Manhattan Transfer got used to seeing their founder and friend, Tim Hauser just about every day. And just like that, he's gone. Hauser, who was driving a cab when he founded the group back in New York in 1969, died of cardiac arrest last October. He was 72.

"It's still surreal, kind of,'' said Bentyne, who joined the band in 1979, in a call from her Los Angeles home. "It hasn't quite hit yet, and yet we've been doing shows with Trist Curless. I keep expecting to see Tim walk out onstage, or see him in the lobby, waiting for us.''

Bentyne admitted that the band, which plays sold-out Nighttown on Friday, Feb. 13, as part of the club's 50th anniversary year celebration, contemplated calling it quits after Hauser's death.

"There were all kinds of thoughts running through our heads,'' she said. "He STARTED the group. But we want to keep singing and we want to keep the legacy alive, which is what he would absolutely want. "He built this from the ground up, and to walk away from it really wasn't an option,'' she said.

What helped, she said, was having Curless to step in. He'd already filled in as the bass from time to time during Hauser's illnesses, so they were all acquainted with him.

"If anyone could walk in his place, Trist is the guy to do it,'' said Bentyne. And she was effusive in her praise for how he handled a tough situation. He would let the three surviving members -- Bentyne, Janis Siegel and Alan Paul -- walk out onstage and talk to the audience about their loss, their love for Hauser and their affection for Curless.

Curless, who came to the band from an a cappella vocal group called M-Pact, has taken over Hauser's parts, but his experience as a beat-boxer doing rhythms with M-Pact has added another dimension to Manhattan Transfer's sound.

"Trist can be a drum, he can be a bass,'' Bentyne said. "His job in M-Pact is that beat-box thing that Tim didn't focus on, so we have a built-in orchestra now.''

Read more.

This really is a perfect match! Tim left huge shoes to fill and Trist is one of the few who can fill them.

Posted by John at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2015

A Cappella at the Grammys

Huge congratulations to Pentatonix for winning the first ever Grammy in the new category of "Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella" for their arrangement of Daft Punk on their CD release PTX, Vol 2. They also got to present a Grammy along with Barry Gibb who knows a bit about vocal harmony himself. The other a cappella winner of the night was Craig Hella Johnson with his choir Conspirare who won the Best Choral Performance category. Very pleased to see Tim Hauser mentioned in the Those We Lost section but VERY disappointing there was no mention of Ward Swingle, especially considering he won five Grammys including Best New Artist. There were sadly many great names on that list this year but Ward certainly deserved to be one of them.

Posted by John at 9:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 3, 2015

A Cappella Superbowl spot

A cappella gets a great "shout out" during the Superbowl with this ad for the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2 movie. Cool.

Posted by John at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

February 2, 2015

Roomful Of Teeth's Vision To Be Known As Band, Not A Choir

When singers sing together, unaccompanied, it sometimes feel like a minor miracle, some sleight-of-hand or hidden alchemy at work: Without frets, keyboards, mechanical levers, measured blasts of voltage or skins to tighten or loosen, how do they pull it off? How do singers stay together, in tune, through mind-boggling harmonic changes and hyperactive counterpoint, and still manage to land on their collective feet?

Roomful of Teeth, a N.Y.C-based eight-member vocal ensemble, takes that core mystery, rides it out to the nearest cliff and tosses it over the edge. Not content to vocalize within usual Western-music parameters, or to borrow extended techniques from composer Meredith Monk (one of their main influences), they scour the globe for ways to expand their sonic palette: multiphonic Tuvan throat-singing, Appalachian yodeling, Hindustani and Persian classical vocal techniques, and so on. They also grunt, growl, sing drones, chant, bray like '70s rock stars or croon like Broadway divas. It's all in play.

Nor are they happy just to arrange pre-existing music; Roomful of Teeth only performs pieces written just for them, or else they write their own. One of their internal compositions, Caroline Shaw's four-movement "Partita for 8 Voices," won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music — arguably the most prestigious award a composer can win. Their self-titled debut features music by hot young composers — William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans, Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Rinde Eckert, Tuneyard's Merrill Garbus and Shaw herself — and won a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. On the way to becoming one of the premier new-music vocal groups in the country, they've also found favor with the Pitchfork crowd and NPR listeners. It's all perfectly in keeping with founding director Brad Wells' vision of a band, "not an f-ing choir."

Read lots more.

Posted by John at 12:01 AM | Comments (0)