Backing for Bobby
by Cæcilie Johansen, Aarhus/Denmark
In November 2010, Vocal Line was invited to sing together with Bobby McFerrin in two concerts in the Rose Theater at the Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York. Bobby McFerrin would perform the music from his new album VOCAbuLaries, and Vocal Line would be the backing choir of the world known artist! Here is my blog on the project that we in Vocal Line called: “Backing for Bobby”!
We received the Bobby-scores in October at a time when we had just finished our German concert tour, but there was no time to relax – we had to learn 5 pieces of music lasting 6-8 minutes each in quite short time. To our luck Roger Treece, who is the key driver of the VOCAbuLaries-project, invited himself to come to Denmark and rehearse with us for four days. Roger calls the project his “life project”, and his dedication is obvious in his enthusiastic instruction and the way he is so into every little detail of the music.
In Vocal Line, we usually study about 5 new arrangements a year, because we spent so much time on every detail and expression. Therefore, it was a big challenge for us to learn 5 new pieces of this length and difficulty in such short time. But we were eager to do a good job, and it meant a lot to us because of Bobby McFerrin’s exceptional status in the vocal world. We all agreed that this might be one of the biggest experiences in Vocal Line’s career. On the day of our departure a Danish News Paper posted an article about our collaboration with the world famous Bobby McFerrin – we were exited!
But we were also a bit nervous, that we wouldn’t make it in time, so everyone were looking through their scores while listening to the rehearsing (click-)tracks on their iPods on the bus to the airport. Our flight to Amsterdam was delayed, so we missed our flight from Amsterdam to New York. But we didn’t care: We entertained the waiting travelers at the Airport with our interpretation of Jason Mraz’ “Geek in the Pink”. Three hours delayed, we finally arrived at JFK Airport – jetlagged and tired. It was 11 pm in NY, so we went to bed as soon as we reached the hotel at 80th street. The first day of rehearsal was waiting ahead.
I woke up early the next morning. It was 6 am in NY, but 12 noon in Denmark, so I was unable to sleep any longer and decided to watch the sun rise over New York instead – unbelievable, we were really there! After having had breakfast at a cosy Diner, we went to the Carroll studios, where we would be rehearsing for the next two days, and Roger introduced us to the American singers. Some of these singers are singing on the VOCAbuLaries album, and I remember being worried that the American singers were far more into the music than we were. But I could breathe a sigh of relief – the American singers were really really talented, but Vocal Line’s intense practicing paid off: We were the only ones able to sing all the music without the scores. The first test was passed.
Second test was how it would work with Bobby McFerrin, who we would be practicing with the next day. It was amazing to finally be singing with him, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed about his way of greeting us – he gave all the Americans a warm hug, but he didn’t really seem to notice that we had been traveling all the way from Denmark and had worked very hard to be his backing choir. But so what – I was still really excited about the next days’ concerts!
The two concerts turned out to be very different. At the first concert, Bobby did some amazing solo parts between the choir parts and he really involved the audience in his unique way. At one time he had some people from the audience dancing on the stage, including an old man with Alzheimer’s, and this was very life affirming. Bobby sang together with the audience, and he had two of his children singing with him – fantastic! However, the connection between Bobby and the choir wasn’t totally there until the second concert, which was amazing. Bobby, Roger, the choir and the percussionists really made music together on the second night, and there were hugs and smiles everywhere after the show! Afterwards we had a great afterglow in the Big Apple together with Roger and some of the American singers.
After all the singing and dancing, most of us were very tired on the flight home the next day. But before we could get home to our families, we had to take a little trip to Copenhagen to participate in the television show “Aftenshowet”. In spite of jet-lag and no sleep, I think we managed to look quite good and sing quite well in those 4 minutes on the TV screen ;-)
In 2010, Vocal Line has had the most hectic fall ever, but it has been filled with so many great experiences. Vocal Line is very proud to have had the chance and artistic level to share the stage with such great musicians as Bobby McFerrin, Roger Treece and the rest of the “VOCAbuLaries Group”, and we’re even more proud that Bobby and Roger has agreed to come to Aarhus and do it all again at Aarhus Vocal Festival in May 2011! 2010 has been a fantastic year for Vocal Line – I can’t wait to see what 2011 will bring!
Allright, aca-folks and vocal peeps, what’s your opinion on the “Vocabularies” project? If you’ve been among the chosen few to work with Bobby and Roger, let us know what’s your experience. I’m looking forward to your comments, reviews and reports.
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