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Archiv für Juli, 2012

Surprise Vocale à la Francaise: Ensemble 101

by Mike Solomon, singer with Ensemble 101 (France; pronounce: “Emsemble Five”)

The Ensemble 101sings. They also speak, grunt, whistle, bark, snort, and chirp. Their music celebrates a multicultural, transgressive and transgendered society whose plurality is navigated effortlessly through virtual networks. Constantly mixing high and low brow, they have no scruples being simultaneously radical and reactionary through their recordings and staged shows.Most of the members of the Ensemble 101 met in le Palais Royal, a Baroque music group directed by Jean-Philippe Sarcos.  Mike Solomon, the contralto and composer of the group, returned to the Palais Royal for a second stint after having taught in America for a year.  “Coming back to France, I knew that I wanted to form a group.  I already knew Eudes Peyre, whose voice I love, and I was on the lookout for other singers who I could work with to create something new.” Eudes felt the same way: “Working with Mike was always great and I was excited to work with him in this new project.  As a young professional starting out, it’s important for me to be in an ensemble where we’re all friends.  Rehearsals are very efficient and yet fun and casual.”

Soprano Marie Perbost was the next to join the group.  Marie says, “What I love about the Ensemble 101 is that it situates itself in a unique place in French a cappella.  No other group in our milieu composes all of their own stuff.  Mike writes for my voice, not for some abstract soprano.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m creating and not just executing a style.”  Ryan Veillet joined the group soon after: “I was working with a number of different ensembles when I met Mike.  When I’d perform new music with these ensembles, there was very little rehearsal time and little to no interaction with the composers. It’s refreshing to be a part of a truly collaborative effort where the composers’ intentions and our contributions become indistinguishable.”Elsa Dreisig, a friend of Marie’s, was the last member to join the gang.  “I think what matters most to all of us in the project – the reason we’re in it and the reason we’re so passionate about it – is the music,” she says.  “Not just because we like singing and creating it, but because it flies in the face of common wisdom about new music and accessibility.  Rather than seeing things as a tradeoff between authenticity and popularity, we said to ourselves that if we pushed ourselves to the limit of our artistic sensibilities, people would appreciate what we do not in spite of but because of our commitment to the aesthetic that we believe in.”

Florian Städtler (Vocal Blog editor) on ensemble 101′s music: “It’s not easy to describe this group’s style in a few lines. One thing I know for sure: They absolutely unique in what they are doing and they easily cross the boundaries of standard “contemporary a cappella”. A wonderful mix of sounds, theatrical elements, virtuoso singing and Zappa-meets-Bobs-meet-McFerrin humour. Well, not exactly easy listening, folks. And a punch in the face of all top40 (collegiate) vocal music lovers. This is vocal art that takes ensemble singing to places that most of the regular a cappella people haven’t even even dared to think of. Ensemble 101 is a musical treasure chest, that will have one half of the audience running away in terror, and leave the other half in speechless fascination and praise. Another gem in the Pan-European mix of vocal styles and a cappella cultures. “

The future is looking bright for the group.  They have several concerts lined up for their inaugural season in 2013 and they are rehearsing and recording new work all the time as they build up a fan base on their Facebook page and share their recordings on YouTube.

Mike Solomon holds degrees in music composition from The University of Florida, Queen’s University Belfast, and Stanford University. After a yearlong Visiting Professorship at The University of Florida, he is currently the Composer in Residence at the Dunkirk conservatory in France and contralto in the Palais Royal. Mike is also an active theorist and music technologist and has presented articles on analysis and engraving at several national and international conferences.
Mike is the recipient of the Italian Institute of Culture’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space Composition Prize, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Composition Prize and the Erik Stokes Prize. His music has been played at festivals such as the Festival For New American Music, the Boston New Music Initiative, Sounds New, the Society of Composers, Inc. National Conference, Twelve Nights, and the International Computer Music Conference. The city of Saint-Chamond has presented two portrait concerts of his music and he has recently been commissioned to write an opera for London’s Iris Theatre Company.

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The 2012 A Cappella World Tour Report (1): Mainz, Hong Kong, Baltimore

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog founder and editor.

FSt with Aaron Sperber (The Exchange)

I’m sitting on a sofa in the unusually pleasantly air-conditioned hotel lobby of the Hilton Baltimore next to  bunch of the most talented singers of the US a cappella scene: Aaron Sperber, Alfredo Austin, Reynaldo DeGuzman, Richard Steighner, Kieran Kriss and Christopher Michael Diaz.  We’re all in that after show-travel day-lunchbreak-food coma, combined with individual degrees of jet-lag and self-inflicted sleep-deficit. The Exchange, brandnew all-star vocal group with members from all over the US, was my choice for the North American part of – well, yes, no less than the project of my dreams. Did you ever have this moment when you realize that something that began as wishful thinking (or a “vision” at best) just happens?

Being both an event planner and an a vocal music booking agent, I’ve already had opportunities to work for companies as an artistic and programme advsior. Some clients even went for innovative approaches, which included customized performances of a cappella or beatbox artists in the framework of corporate events. However, this has been the exception to the rule and it was all on a regional level. My “vision” was (and is) the idea that goes with the working title “Corporate A Cappella” staged by an enterprise that might be described as a “Human Voice Event Company”.  I see myself as the middleman between corporate event planners and the immense and diverse talent of my mucical niche “vocal/a cappella music. I want to be the creative director for  top events around Europe, adding the crucial element of involvement and the magic of the human voice to conferences, business meetings, trainings and incentives.

And then came the day when with one phone call it came true: “Herr Städtler, we heard that you are an expert for a cappella music. I have a question: Is is possible to teach one song to 300 people in 60 minutes or less?”  “Well, basically yes, it’s possible, just tell me a bit more about it…”

With Kwok-tung Fung (Vocalasia)

This phone call turned out to become the project, I had dreamed of. The caller was the creative director of one of Germany’s leading event planning agencies, who before starting to sell innovative event concepts to blue chip companies, had introduced the legendary “Circ du Soleil” to Europe. When the project turned out to be roadshow on four continents with stops in Mainz, Hong Kong, Baltimore and Sao Paolo and that a pro vocal group was a vital part of ensouling the two-day events, I was not only sure, that you CAN teach a song (in what finally turned out to be) 20 (!) minutes – I was also certain that this is the kind of creative directorship I want to do for a living.

Having done the premiere and blueprint event in Mainz (Germany) with Montezuma’s Revenge (NED) on June 11th/12th, the second roadshow in Hong Kong with Taiwan-based a cappella group Vox Vocal Band, I’ve just finished part 3 of what I myself call my 2012 A Cappella World tour with The Exchange, already looking forward to my collaboration with Salvador (Brazil)-based vocal group Banda de Boca. And it’s simply amazing, no: incredible, how so many things just fell into place.

I started Vocal Blog to increase my vocal music network and learn more about a cappella worldwide. This has turned out as a super-active, big-fun online AND face-to-face communication tool (or “global vccal music communication baby”, as it says on website). It gave me the self-confidence to suggest to my client “How about choosing one group from every continent (instead of picking one group from Europe, that travels around the globe)?” – “Could you do that?”, the client asked. I said yes and was on the phone with movers and shakers like Christine Liu (Vocalasia) and Christopher Diaz (Mouthoff Show) only hours later.

Fifteen years in the corporate event business were helpful, too. I had learned that corporate event planners need very precise descriptions and meticulously planned schedules. And I developed a  sense of what corporate events need most, if they are to be successful: Reliable ways to emotionalise otherwise purely informational and factual meetings. Tools and methods that  get attendees involved, interactivity with large groups and the occasional magic moment to remember. The certainty that vocal groups and beatboxers can serve exactly that purpose combined with the experience of a global “best case” makes me very excited. With groups like The Exchange, who are both young, super-talented, hungry and highly professional, the opportunities in both “Corporate A Cappella” and in educational work (with kids, youngster or adults) seem endless:

The Exchange live on stage in Baltimore

Imagine The Swingle Singers being the soundtrack for corporate anniversary (happened in 2007), The Real Group performing at Hamburg Airport (will most probably happen in 2013), The Boxettes performing at a gala in a  Museum of Modern Art (happened 2011) or Postyr Project performing in an  industrial production plant (will hopefully happen soon). With the adequate artistic advice, these will be more than the money-driven occasional corporate gig. This could be meaningful and real inspiration – made by the human voice for a business world that truly needs to refocus from a facts-and-figures-only-attitude to meaningful relationships between companies, customers and employees.

What’s more, the practical aspect of vocal music can’t be exaggerated: No drumsets, no cables, no monitors, no limits to choreography and staging. We can deliver almost every style in the world from straight-ahead jazz to classical, from hiphop to heavy metal, from salsa to Swedish folk music…and groups from all countries, regions, cultures. It’s all about flexibility, if you want to succeed in the corporate event business, and vocal music’s got it.

The success of the current global roadshow is amazing. The trips are exhausting, but having the time of my life, how can I be tired? I’m just thankful to have this opportunity and at the same time feel obliged to work on as many opportunities for the vocal community as possible. Every decently paid corporate show can make two or three “on-the-door”-deals on to-be-conquered a cappella ground possible. I’m currently looking for more groups who would be interested in the corporate a cappella topic and would be happy to receive complete repertoire lists, top-notch promotional videos and a description of corporate work they have done in the past.

With Christopher "Mouthoff" Diaz

As always, comments and feedback make me an extremely happy blogger: It’s all about conversations. They trigger new ideas and fresh inspiration. Special thanks to all those who made this A Cappella World Tour possible and such a wonderful experience: Hans Cassa (arranger of the “Voices of Sales” song, MC in Mainz), Robbert von Unnik (producer of the “Voices of Sales” event jingles), Montezuma’s Revenge, Issac Hsieh & Vox Vocal Band, Kwok-tung Fung (my wonderful guide in Hong Kong, Vocalasia), Clare Chen, Christine Liu und Catherine Liu (Vocal Asia), Wuming Chen and Deke Sharon (who made my visit of “The Sing-Off China” possible), Amanda Aldag (crab feast planner, CASA),The Exchange, especially living a cappella legend, Christopher Michael Diaz (MC in Baltimore), the event planning pros of circ, Visumpoint, my Palestinian cab driver Ibrahim and the Baltimore Hilton.

P.S. Great news to end this post: Christopher Diaz (founder of the Mouthoff podcast) will write his first Vocal Blog guest post next week about our encounter in Baltimore, MD.
P.P.S. Here are the links to the Facebook photo albums of Hong Kong and Baltimore.
Florian Städtler is founder and editor of Vocal Blog. If you want the inside scoop on a cappella, vocal and choral music, you might consider following Vocal Blog on Twitter, joining the Vocal Blog Facebook group and even liking the Vocal Blog Facebook Fanpage. If this is still not enough, Florian loves to meet you in the real world. To know where he is, search for Twitter hashtag #VBontour or send an e-mail to