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Home > Main > A Mindfreaking A Cappella Chocolate Cake

A Mindfreaking A Cappella Chocolate Cake

by Clare Wheeler (The Swingle Singers)

Clare Wheeler The Swingle SingersWeekly “Google Search results for the Swingle Singers in my inbox. Can I be bothered? I don’t want to get out of bed yet and this could be a valid excuse to procrastinate…then I see that “Mouth Off!” have done a review of our (The Swingle Singers) new album “Ferris Wheels”, and I wanna know!

Almost 2 years from conception to realisation, this album has been a personal journey for us. Every single person in the group brought songs that were close to the heart, many members of the group did arrangements for this album (including some inspired first time efforts!

Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson’s first arrangement for the group, “No More I Love Yous” has been nominated for CARA best jazz song! You go girl!). So when we’re talking about this album, it’s our hearts on the line. More so probably than any other Swingle Singers album so far (and I when I say this I speak entirely out of turn as it’s the only album I’m on!).

After concerts the audience generally tell you – “I liked this song, so and so is my favourite singer, I wish you wouldn’t do this, I really liked the fast ones, Lucy is really hot etc etc…”. What happens when you make an album? You get short reviews from people you don’t know, and your mom tells you it’s lovely.

In my case the jazz community you left behind remains definitively quiet as you step into the a cappella world they secretly despise and/or fear. So how thrilling to hear two musicians and a cappella in-the-know fans to talk for nearly 20 minutes, in depth about what they think about it. What an insight!

Firstly, what a glowing review! If Christopher and Dave should ever read this – thank you so much, you are both delightful! (How English do I sound?) We thought of “Ferris Wheels” as a mellow, summer-time album. The kind of thing you’d maybe listen to in your car with the window down, or on your iPod in the park. “Total mindfreak for the right brain” doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it?

When having to choose a category for the album on some radio shows, we were amused to see the cheapest category was easy listening, graded up to jazz, the most expensive! How symbolic, I thought…They say the album is “weird”. But we chose the easy listening category. Not because it was the cheapest, because that’s how we saw it! But when you sing something a million times and then listen to it a further trillion for editing, you lose any sense of perspective! And I wonder too, whether this album sits in its own little box somewhere, just outside of English choral music, just outside of the American a cappella music trend, just somewhere under “vocal”.

This current incarnation of the group has more arrangers than at other times. When I joined the Swingles I came out of Music College almost entirely considering myself a composer, thinking I’d try a little more singing in my life. So it’s encouraging for us to hear phrases like “arrangers of the world – this is your rich chocolate cake dessert!” “Arrangements are 11 out of 10. They’re 20 out of 10!”

We want to express ourselves. We carry the name of a legend, and the history of the Swingle Singers will inform everything we do to a certain degree. It’s the thing that ties us together. From choral backgrounds, jazz, a cappella, and music theatre, we make our common ground in the tradition of Ward Swingle. But in the UK where the a cappella scene is young (albeit growing rapidly) there’s no firm tradition or preconceptions here. You start with a blank canvas, do your best, send it off to the printers and hope for the best!

Did you like this article? Do you agree or (even better) disagree? We want you to let us know, so feel free to post your comments. If you want to share ideas with more a cappella and vocal activists and recommend the site via facebook, twitter or at your blog – thank you!

Do you think there are groups or people who should be featured in the Vocal Blog interview series? Do you want to interview someone for Vocal Blog? Guest posts can be submitted to, we look forward to your contributions.

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  1. 23. März 2010, 18:15 | #1

    I can’t wait to hear the CD! I ordered it last week. Why is it not available to purchase as a download?

  2. 24. März 2010, 00:05 | #2

    So sorry that I missed the Ferris Wheel tour. There’s nothing quite like a live performance. will there be another UK tour soon?

  3. 24. März 2010, 00:49 | #3

    @Colleen Keene
    Hi Colleen! We had it all ready to go for iTunes and there were some complications, which I don’t fully understand! But we’re working on it! Can I recommend the real thing to you?! It’s very pretty…and we don’t charge any extra for shipping to the US!

  4. Brian Davis
    24. März 2010, 09:00 | #4

    First of all, I want to say congratulations to you and the entire group for all the recognition and accolades Ferris Wheels is receiving! I listened to the Mouth Off podcast last night and agree with their giddy, silly, yet reverent assessment of the work achieved on Ferris Wheels. What I understood in their review but thought could have been better expressed is their “weird” and “not for your average, a cappella fan” comment. Yes, an arrangers rich, chocolate cake of harmonic density it is! I think they may have thought that the absolute, impeccable precision (that Swingle trademark) overlaying the undertone of sublime expression would be lost on the casual listener.

    I know for myself, as a musician (ok, well an opera singer….I can make loud noises! :-O ) who grew up singing in choirs, playing in jazz band, orchestra and performing in musicals, that the moment I heard the streaming examples of Ferris Wheels my sonic soul practically jumped out of my body!! Yes, we all can appreciate a well executed tight chordal progression, but this is not your average CD of just a nice vocal group doing fun arrangements. It is so much more on innumerable levels; a culmination of professionals using their abilities and talents to transcend the obvious and touch the sublime where the expression of sound speaks directly to the soul! (Rich chocolate cake, anyone?) And yes, in that regard some may choose to express that as a “weird” or “dream-like” experience.

    I am going back to my iPod to listen yet again to Ferris Wheels, to giggle with excitement and to say the first word I said upon first hearing, “Wow!” (said with my best inner-music-nerd voice!)

  5. Helen Kuzina
    26. März 2010, 21:06 | #5

    Having listened to the review for the Swingle Singers’ new album “Ferris Wheels” and following Clare’s post I have some thoughts I would like to share with you.

    The album is really weird. Simply it’s different! It differs from everything that the group has made earlier.

    Why do many people still associate the Swingle Singers with performing Bach or Beatles music although the group has never been restricted its repertoire’s diversity. But this release is “exceeding the limits” of a “usual” conception of the Swingle Singers.
    In my opinion this album became a new step of the group creation. Of course it’s not for everyone. But we could say the same about their previous releases. If we recall “Beauty & The Beatbox” – we can observe a new way of expression with using much more beatbox comparing with previous. And some people can define it as “weird” as well.
    I think “Ferris Wheels” is a new turn of the group’s evolution and perfection. The world does not stand on the same place and the progress happens in all sides of human activity. And why are we still waiting to hear from the Swingle Singers only classic? But another thought appears: How far will the Swingle Singers go with their innovations? And where will it lead? Will the group not lose it own style?

    “Ferris Wheels” is really amazing! And unlike the guys from “Mouth Off!” I can listen to it thousand times! My favorite piece here is Both Sides Now (Clare, congratulations with the great job!).
    As it was written earlier that every member of the group brought songs for this album that were close to their hearts and everyone put in this something on her/his own.
    Maybe that’s the reason of its being “weird”? Or maybe that’s why now we can see the Swingle Singers a little bit deeper?

  6. 27. März 2010, 15:03 | #6

    thanks to Brian and Helen for their comments…it is great to hear so many different perspectives on this! This kind of feedback is invaluable to us. I think there must be a huge variety of opinions on any kind of album, from listeners with different musical backgrounds, different cultural experiences and just plain ol’ taste! And Helen, maybe you’re right – 8 equal voices are going to put together something eclectic – there’s no musical director in the Swingle Singers, we all put this album together equally!

  7. 30. März 2010, 09:18 | #7

    @Jean Digby
    Hi Jean – we’re hoping for some summer concerts in London, and I think we’re playing the Isle of Wight in June. Then we’ll have our Cadogan Hall gig in the Autumn…

  8. 3. Dezember 2010, 00:22 | #8

    Great text. Waiting for you to continue the topic.

    Julia Smith
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