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Archiv für November, 2010

A Cappella – A Global Micro-Niche

24. November 2010 3 Kommentare

reflections on George Chambers’ blog post at Cham Chowder

Introduction by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog.

This discussion is far from old, our American aca-friends, twenty years ahead (compared to most EU scenes) in reflecting on the art form, have debated this again and again: As singing a cappella is an art form including styles, compositions and sounds from the Middle Ages to Electro, from the Baroque miracles of Bach to post-modern beatbox urbanism, will this extraordinarily diverse form ever attract more attention by mainstream media and audiences?

(Oh my God, I used the terms “art form” and “mainstream” in the same paragraph!)

So let’s be a bit more precise: We certainly don’t expect Take Six to be on page one of the tabloids, it’s not our goal to see King’s Singers centerfolds in teen magazines and we probably won’t see The Sing-off replacing football, baseball, hockey news.

But what we sure want is (more) media attention. Without media exposure it’s hard to sell anything. So it’s all about getting the music into mass media, which is not exactly easy for three main reasons:

Firstly, everybody wants to be there. Never have there been more pr agencies (with much bigger budgets than yours and mine) and pr departments pushing and shoving to get their message across. Secondly, people simply can’t take more information. You can call it information overload or filter failure – people just can’t consume more bits and bytes and if they try to, they will forget very quickly. The third reason is the basic problem of the a cappella scene already mentioned above: Singing unaccompanied is not a style. It’s a technique. And listeners don’t really care how the music’s made they hear on their radios, iPods etc. – as long as this music makes them feel good.

That’s why despite the difficulties explained above there are huge opportunities for the art form of contemporary vocal, a cappella and choral music. It sounds like bad (business) news, that this music is and will probably always be a micro-niche of the national and international music markets. The good news is: This micro-niche is huge, as today we live in a global village. Also – with beatboxers and studio gurus pushing the limits of a cappella singing further and further – listeners will soon not be able to tell if this is “really a cappella”. Just listen to Naturally 7’s “Vocal Play” and you know exactly what I mean.

Come on, singers, arrangers, conductors, composers, agents, managers, promoters and all the other a cappella activists, I want to see you join forces and go for new ways of communication using the power of the internet, international travel and the growing cross-border a cappella network.

Find below an article written by George Chambers, a member of the English University a cappella group “The Oxford Gargoyles”. The article is George’s premiere as a musical blogger and it reflects nicely some of the aspects that make it difficult even for a well-known vocal group like The Swingle Singers to get their piece of the media action.

(See one of the things, the group did, to show what it can do: The Swingles promo video “Snapshots”.)

And here comes George’s post, thanks for sharing!

George Chambers

George Chambers, singer with The Oxford Gargoyles, first-time VB guest blogger

George Chambers’ blog post, first published November 22, 2010

The Swingle Singers are one of those established musical institutions that the music world seems to have forgotten. And why do I start this first blog on a rather Victor Meldrew-esque statement? Because last week I witnessed what has to be the best concert of my a cappella life… and yet nothing has appeared in the press. In fact, UK a cappella gets hardly any press coverage whatsoever. I suppose part of the problem lies in its placing in the media – where do you list a cappella concerts? They sit awkwardly on the fence between pop, classical and jazz, but surely that is so often their charm.

Personally a couple of numbers really did it for me – Sara Brimer’s haunting solo in Nick Drake’s ‘Riverman’ effortlessly ebbed and flowed its way around a simple but haunting waltz-like accompaniment. From my Gargoyle arrangements I’m always worried of over-arranging… but this proved quite the opposite. I don’t know the arranger, but I know they’re probably prime Swingle stock. In comparison I’m a bit dubious about the Swingles’ and Richard Niles’ new ‘Romeo ♥ Juliet’ project which is a reworking of Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’. Do we need a reworking of West Side quite yet? Hm, I do wonder. I’m still actually quite enjoying the original. The Swingles performed the two complicated arrangements with vigour, but ‘complicated’ is where I think a problem is brewing. I’m all up for experiment, but I couldn’t help listening thinking ‘that’s Bernstein’, then hearing a flurry of crunchy extended chords thinking ‘that certainly isn’t Bernstein’. It may prove to be a blessing, who knows. At the moment it sounds jilted, and often complex for the sake of adding extra 9ths or 13ths to perfectly acceptable Bernsteinian chords.

I’m excited to see what the Swingles pull out of the bag for the next few instalments of  ’Romeo ♥ Juliet’. What cannot be argued is that no other a cappella group can claim to have such vivacious variety as the Swingles, or so I believe, anyhow. From traditional folksong arrangements to Corea with some well programmed Beatles pit stops along the way, the group provided the audience with a good two hours of toe-tapping tunes. This is there the Swingles really excel – they give the audience exactly what they want: highs of Glee-esque a cappella in the tour de force numbers such as Alexander L’Estrange’s arrangement of Quincy Jones’ ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ and ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’, followed by a few blissfully serene (with, of course, wonderful mood lighting to accompany) homophonic ballads to balance it all out.

The Swingles show how a cappella should be done, and to add to it all they are lovely people as everyone found out post-gig… We should be proud of our Swingles – I may have not seen any reviews, but for a performance like I saw, i’d be happy to give them five gleaming stars any day.

You can reach George Chambers via or follow him on Twitter: @geocham. And – as always – I would be delighted about you commenting here at Vocal Blog, thanks for joining the conversation!

The Real Academy – A School for New A Cappella Music

16. November 2010 Keine Kommentare

by Peder Karlsson, Headmaster The Real Academy (

Peder Karlsson The Real AcademyIn recent years, the world has seen a tremendous development in new ways of making music in/with a cappella groups. A wide variety of genres are represented among the vocal groups, to an extent that simply did not exist twenty or so years ago.

It seems to be a global phenomenon – you can find an awakening interest among young people to start new vocal groups in all countries.

In a traditional choir, where a conductor leads the rehearsals and conducts the concerts, the singers naturally assume a relatively passive role.

In a small vocal ensemble, on the other hand, where each singer is the only person responsible for singing his or her part, it follows as a natural course of things that all group members are involved in the creative processes. In rehearsals, it is very common that A Cappella group members share the leadership role.

New rehearsal methods
What consequences does this have for the development of rehearsal methods for vocal ensembles and choirs?

It goes without saying that traditional choral practise methods needs to be transformed in order to be incorporated into small(er?) vocal ensembles.

In the case of rhythmic music styles; pop, jazz, gospel, soul, folk, r&b, etc, this is particularly evident, since articulation and phrasing in these music styles are very different stylistically from classical choral music. Peder Karlsson, vocal group Vox Fox (Reykjavik)

Music education for vocal ensemble music
In most countries, the education available for leadership in vocal ensemble music is based on classical choral music rehearsal methods. Of course we all have a lot to learn from the choral masters! But as music changes in how it is performed, the educational systems need to change as well.

If you want to open up a new school for vocal ensemble music, and build it from scratch, where is the natural place to start? Vocal group Dynamic (Stockholm), Mette Maagaard (Vocal Line), Peder Karlsson

Since we live in a world where information technology provides us with new opportunities to meet and exchange experiences, the logical answer is: (on) the internet!

Welcome to The Real Academy – a school for new A Ccappella music, presented by The Real Group!

Peder Karlsson, Headmaster

Photos courtesy of Markku Pihlaja.

Are you a singer, teacher or vocal coach with new ideas in music education? Do you have experience in learning online and learning music online? What can you contribute to Peder’s concept?

We’re happy to read your comments, thank you for joining the conversation!

A Cappella’s For Sharing – The Heathrow Vocal Flashmob

2. November 2010 17 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

>> including an interview with artistic director Shai Fishman ( <<

Some say the art of the flash mob (people gathering “spontaneously” in public places and suddenly doing something more or less spectacular) is dead, as marketing specialists of global companies have started to use this kind of event for their marketing. Others say flash mobs are the natural consequence of trends like advertising reactance, the power of YouTube and general mobility. Speaking of mobility, it might not be pure coincidence, that T-Mobile, who already successfully used a flash mob performed by hundreds of dancers at London Liverpool Street station, chose Terminal 5 of London Heathrow airport to stage for their brandnew “Welcome Home” advert.

The reason why I’m writing about it on Vocal Blog is simple: This time, the responsible advertising agency decided to start the 3-minute commercial with a sentence that sounds quite familiar to a cappella fans:  “No instruments were used in this film.” So this time the marketers had the idea of using only human voices to express the slogan of the telecommunication giant’s campaign, “Life’s For Sharing”.

Logistics were impressive, considering the fact that this shooting took place in a high security environment of an international airport. 18 hidden cameras had to be installed and a system of communication connecting the director, the film team, the singers and actors set up. After three weeks of arranging, casting and rehearsing at David Beckham’s football school, the London Soccerdome, the production included almost 300 singers and extras performing at the arrival section of Heathrow’s Terminal 5.  The shootings lasted from 6am to 9pm with one hour break for the team and included the repeated performance of the following songs:

1. Etta James – At Last

2. Mel Tormé – Comin’ Home Baby
3. Mark Morrison – Return of the Mack
4. Iggy Pop – The Passenger
5. Thin Lizzy – Boys are Back In Town
6. Kaiser Chiefs – Oh My_ God
7. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
8. Peters And Lee – Welcome Home

Jo Eteson playing the vocal violin

The ad was launched on Friday, October 29th 2010, only few days after the 15-hours shooting.  And as I’m writing this, it has been online for only 3 days…and already more than 800.000 views on YouTube.

The idea for an a cappella flash mob was created by T-Mobile and their advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Shai Fishman, L.A.-based Israeli studio wizard and creator of the a cappella extravaganza The Voca People, was hired by the production company (Smuggler) and developed the idea to find as many singers as possible who can either contribute instrumental sounds or who perfectly fit one of the lead vocals parts of the songs mentioned above. He finally found himself with the cream of the crop of English contemporary vocal music, from professional session singers to members of the best UK a cappella groups and beatboxing virtuosos.

To give you an idea, there are some of the artists who were involved: Florence AndrewsSophia Behn, Katie Birtill, Noa Bodner, Billy Boothroyd, Beverly Brown, Rachel Cameron, Bryan Chambers, Alyusha Chagrin Fraser Collins (The Magnets), Dean Collinson, David Combes, Belle “Bellatrix” Ehresmann (The Boxettes), Matt Elson, Kineret Erez, Jo Eteson (The  Swingle Singers),  Willy Eteson (Ex-Swingle Singers), Tanya Fear, Joanna Forbes-L’Estrange (Ex-Swingle Singers), Kevin Fox (Swingle Singers, Ex-Cadence), Andy Frost (The Magnets), Jo GibbJonathan Glew, Shimi Goodman, Simon Grant, Helen Hobson, Rachel Mary Holbrook, Timothy Howar, Tobias Hug (Swingle Singers), George Ikediashi, Lydia Jenkins, Alison Jiear, Neo Jessica Joshua (The Boxettes), Paul Kissaun, Alexander L’Estrange, Shona Lindsay, Iain Mackenzie, Yoga Manickam, Callum McIntosh, Emer McParland, Anouska Mond, Jake Moulton (The Housejacks), Christopher Jay (Swingle Singers), Philip Nicholl, Gemma O’Duffy, Andrew Playfoot, Lucy Bailey (Swingle Singers), Janet Ramus, Errol Reid, Yvette Riby-Williams (The Boxettes), Johanna Marshall (Ex-Swingle Singers), Jo Servi, Olive Simpson, Patrick Smyth, Laura Tebbutt, Charlie Tighe, Nebulus Tommatron, Steve Trowell (The Magnets), Clare Wheeler (Swingle Singers), Hannah Wilding Whittingham, Mark Wilshire….looking forward to your comments as this is probably only the tip of the vocal iceberg.

Jake Moulton playing the vocal jazz flute

I had the pleasure to do an interview with the mastermind behind the creation and production of this extraordinary a cappella event, Shai Fishman.

Shai Fishman

Shai, many a cappella insiders know you as the “spiritus rector” behind the extremely successful YouTube and live act “The VocaPeople”. How did you get the flash mob job?
T-mobile wanted to up the ante on their “Life’s for Sharing” campaign, after the huge success of the “Dance” video. They decided to top it with this one by adding singing to the dancing and performing it live, A Capella. They saw the VocaPeople’s “History of music in 3 minutes” video and seeing that I am the arranger and music director of the vocapeople, they decided to have me musically direct and arrange this campaign, in my style, with people actually being a full human orchestra, no instruments, no sound effect, all live, unprocessed, human vocals. I met Henry Alex Rubin, the genius director of this commercial, in LA and we  discussed bringing me to London to audition 300 of the best singers in the business and then staying for another 2 weeks, actually teaching them, as I did with the vocapeople, how to actually produce these instrument voices, in my own “special” way.

This production is part of a corporate marketing campaing. Has it been an issue to be part of a corporate marketing campaign for some of the singers?

Initially they were all made aware of the outlets for this campaign and since we have half the swingle singers, half the magnets and most of the boxettes, I’m sure they all did their homework and discussed this with their management prior to agreeing.  Plus, on a personal note, I think that what we did here definitely helps all the people involved, and promotes the groups they belong to, as well as them personally, as this was done with the at most regard to the art of A Cappella, which we all love so much.

Do you think these kind of events can help to make vocal and a cappella music more popular?
I sure hope so.  Plus, judging by about 10 million viewers we have for the vocapeople and around a million for “welcome back” already, i think it speaks for it self, doesn’t it?  This was a labor of love for everyone, from the client T-mobile, to the agency Saatchi & Saatchi and the production company Smuggler films to Henry and myself.  It was clear to everyone, doing this, how much we loved creating this and how respectful we were of the incredible amount of talent we had to work with.
Are the groups allowed to use their taking part for the group’s pr work?
I do not know, as this is dependent on their relationship with the group, but I should think so, seeing that this has the power to help promote the groups, in a big way.
This is a very real part of what they do with their groups everyday, on stage.
What was the most difficult thing musically to make this happen?
Well, Good luck trying to arrange and perform a live A Capella arrangement for 225 singers….!!  The simple logistics of it are staggering, but more than that, it’s trying to make everyone visible, audible, actually letting all this talent shine through the arrangement and still being able to have my personal trademark sound be heard and recognized.

Tobias Hug & Fraser Collins blowing their horns

What was the most thrilling moment of the production?
For me it was the first rehearsal.  I knew I had unbelievable amounts of talent to work with, but only had a chance to see a few at a time, while auditioning them and later, during my group workshops. As soon as I handed them the original arrangement and actually heard it performed by my  initial group of 25 core singers, it was clear to me that something incredible is happening here.  From that point it just got better with each rehearsal.  A few other moments come to mind: First rehearsal with the second, larger group of 75 people (which brought the amount of singers to 100) and then incorporating the 3rd group, adding 125 people, which was a huge thrill for me, conducting 225 people singing my arrangement.  Seeing it all take place in T5 and watching the people react to all this being performed live, was also a very memorable moment.  This production did bring a lot of excitement to everyone.  I’m sure a few records have been broken, doing this.

Anything more you would like the Vocal Blog readers to know about the happening?
I would like to thank my team from Fish-i ( Yossi Joseph Cohen and Kostya Vasilkov and all the people who continue to support the A Cappella community and the genre of Vocal music and thus, my work.  I think that this event shows that this genre if far from being predictable or old fashioned. I promise that, in my work, I’ll continue to surprise and create new sounds and new concepts in vocal music and continue to bring the most unexpected arrangements and song choices, performed by A Cappella artists from all over the world. I hope more companies, clients and audiences will continue to vote by clicking, coming to see shows and spreading the word about Vocal and A Cappella music.

Thanks, Shai for having you on the blog.

Beatboxers Richard Lianhart, Andy Frost & Bellatrix

This is a extraordinarily long blog post – but I think the event itself deserves this exception to the “1-page rule” of blogging. If you’ve been around at Heathrow as a singer, spectator or a (real) passenger, let us know about your personal experience. If you have an opionion on a cappella pr and marketing in general, let the Vocal Blog readers know about it. And please add links and photos if you’ve got interesting footage of the London vocal flash mob.

We’ll certainly add more links, pictures and interviews with The Magnets, The Swingle Singers and The Boxettes in the days to come.