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Archiv für Februar, 2014

Bass Talk

by Jeff Meshel,

Jeff Meshel portrait

“Girl Talk” has always been a source of endless fascination to people, especially those of the male persuasion, for whom it remains a total mystery. (Ex songs by Neil Hefti and Elvis Costello). Less mysterious perhaps, but here’s “Bass Talk”.

Tuukka Haapaniemi (Finland, Club for Five, major-league basso profundo) and Jeff Meshel (Israel, Vocalocity, amateur low baritone) met recently at the London A Cappella Festival. After initially arguing about who knows a certain blonde soprano better, they decided they liked each other and wanted to become friends.

Here are some excerpts from their recent Skype follow-up chat.

Jeff: Club for Five is a full-time gig for you guys?

Tuukka: Club For Five has been a full-time job for all the singers and for our manager since 2005. We also have our own sound engineer with us in all (amplified) gig, no matter the size of the venue.

Jeff:  How much do you perform?

Tuukka:  About 20-30 concerts or bigger gigs in addition to our annual Christmas concert tour (in Finland), which last year had 20 concerts and about the same amount of TV/Radio performances (we released a new Christmas album, so there were a lot of promo things). And on top of the concert and bigger gigs we also regularly perform in corporate events. So the total amount of performances under the name of Club For Five is roughly somewhere above 100 per year. I’m actually just waiting now for a rehearsal to begin.

Jeff: How often do you rehearse?

Tuukka: It’s periodic. Before a tour or whenever it’s necessary, every day for weeks at a time.

Jeff: Do you have additional gigs personally?

Tuukka: We all have different things we do outside of CFF. Besides the not-so-regular TV/Radio commercial voiceovers, musically I sometimes do a bit of classical singing as well. During the past few years I’ve been a bass soloist on Uri Caine’s Goldberg Variations, Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi and Einojuhani Rautavaara’s All Night Vigil among some minor appearances.

Jeff: How many professional modern a cappella groups are there in Finland.

Tuukka: Three – Rajaton, Fork and us.

Jeff: And a wider circle of semi-professional groups, and an even wider circle of amateur groups?

Tuukka: Right. There are lots and lots of choirs everywhere. Even companies have their own choirs.

Jeff: I know the group Ensemble Norma.

Tuukka:  Yes, they’re very good. I’m meeting with Ida next week. She’s going to interview me as a professional a cappella singer for a paper she’s writing for her studies.

Jeff:  Please give her my very warm regards.

Tuukka: How do you know them?

Jeff: I met them at the first Real Group festival, in Västerås, Sweden. We got a bit friendly there, and then I ran into them again at the festival in Aarhus last year.

Tuukka: They’re very good.

Jeff: Yes, very good, and very cute. (Both basses laugh.) Tell me, are there many a cappella jazz choirs in Finland.

Tuukka: (thinking) No, not really. Lots of regular choirs. Even gospel choirs. But not really modern a cappella choirs. By the way, I saw the clip of your group, Vocalocity.

Jeff: Oh, great. How did you like it?

Tuukka: Really excellent. Tight, good groove, intonation…

Jeff: Thanks so much. And do you realize, we’re brand new? That clip was filmed after only about 12 rehearsals.

Tuukka: Really?? That’s very impressive.

Sven, Tobi, Tuukka, Jeff at LACF2014Jeff: Thanks. We’re working now on getting ourselves settled, finding our voice, our identity, refining our style. Line Groth is coming next week to rehearse us. I hope she’ll really kick butt.

Tuukka: (deep laugh) Oh, I’m sure she will.

Jeff: It’s not so simple, this question of identity. I like to think of us as a professional choir composed of amateur singers. I don’t think that ‘amateur’ means less good than ‘professional’.

Tuukka: Absolutely. I used to sing in a professional choir, the Finnish Radio Choir. We were 16 paid professionals. And you know, we could sing anything, three rehearsals, no problem. But there was no soul.

Jeff: Exactly. That’s an advantage that amateurs can have over professionals. I used to experience that in the theater. I worked in both, amateur and professional.

Tuukka: I think it has a lot to do with inter-personal relations. In an amateur choir, the social aspect plays a big role. Because it’s social, people get to know each other, care about each other. So the group grows a soul, and from that a musical personality.

Jeff:  Well put.

Tuukka: Listen, we’re starting our rehearsal now—

Jeff: Go, have a good one. Good talking to you!

Tuukka: Yes! We’ll do it again soon. Namasta.

Jeff:  Namasta.


Jeff was born in the US in 1948. He lived in Cincinnati until 1970, when he moved to Israel. He’s lived in Beer Sheva forever.

He’s worked as a high school teacher (English, theater); assistant principal of a high school;  a playwright and director; and for more than a decade now as an editor for a large hi-tech firm.

He used to read a lot of fiction. Now he’s more interested in good film and television. (FSt: And quite a bit in a cappella music and the vocal music community – and that’s so great!)

Get ready, USA: The Real Group is coming!

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog founder and Real Booking Agent

FSt beim Schwedenfest Wismar

Can there “the best” group in one genre? Hard to tell. Tastes differ and what is “good” in music anyway? We in a cappella have this strange longing for perfection, for absolute harmony and all too often we sit in concerts, nit-picking and analyzing if this or that could have been sung in a different, maybe “better” way. Everytime I find myself diving into a cappella nerdiness I try to remind myself of how this works in “regular” popular music: Did anybody care about the “beauty” of Mick Jagger’s voice? Was Lou Reed actually singing? And what about Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Thom Yorke, David Bowie or Björk? Nobody really wants them to be “perfect” in that unified way. They are loved because they are authentic, they are different and because they are real.

Talking of real. When I first met Matthias Becker, German jazz vocal guru, he mentioned The Real Group to me and answered the “Who’s best?” question very clearly. “The Real Group are the best.” That was about 15 years ago and today, after having worked with the group for more than four years, I must say, Matthias was certainly not wrong awarding The Real Group the status among the champions of the art form of contemporary vocal music.

However, shows of The Real Group, their modesty and their obvious enthusiasm for what they do (after almost 30 years with only two line-up changes), virtually make you forget about competition, “best of”-discussions and analyzing of chord progressions. Emma Nilsdotter, Katarina Henryson, Anders Edenroth, Morten Vinther and Anders Jalkeus (not to forget sound wizard Jan Apelholm) have created something better than a market leader or a no. 1. They have developed and keep on developing a work of vocal music art that is unique, one of its kind. And thus any comparison is unnecessary. Just enjoy the most amazing cover versions from Michael Jackson to Count Basie, from Swedish traditionals to a medley of US chart breakers that have been written and produced by Swedish producers. And then listen to originals of an incredible depth and intelligence. OK, there’s maybe one thing that The Real Group is really best at: Combining a fantastic level of a cappella singing AND being incredibly funny when singing and talking about the psyche of the typical choir tenor singer (“Our Tenor”/”Unser Tenor“), Emma’s experience with cinnamon buns from Texas (“A Minute on your Lips”) and their hoppla-ing version of “Gangnam Style”: “Stockholm Style”.

The Real Group has been all over the world and some American friends have complained that they feel a bit neglected. They miss all I described above and they are right: With a growing number of concerts in Europe and Asia, US shows have become quite rare. However, the time of waiting is over, at least for some states in the US, as the group is preparing for a 8-days US tour. Here’s a little greeting to their fans from yesterday’s concert in Lörrach, Germany, where over 600 enthusiastic old and new fans went wild after two sets of Real Magic.

And for all of you, who don’t really know the group, here’s a series of videos, the group recorded in Stockholm’s hippest quarter, Södermalm. These videos need no explanation. Just watch. And buy tickets for the US tour, here’s towns and dates. (Ticket links at

  • Friday, Feb 7th, Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Sunday, Feb 9th, Sedona, Arizona
  • Monday, Feb 10th, Tempe, Arizona
  • Tuesday, Feb 11th, Claremont, California
  • Wednesday, Feb 12th, Oceanside, California
  • Friday, Feb 14th, Jenison, Michigan
  • Saturday, Feb 15th, Highland Heights, Kentucky
  • Sunday, Feb 16th, Fort Worth, Texas

I’m Florian Städtler and I listen to all kinds of music: Miles, Metheny, Metallica, Mozart are in my collection. And when I want to feel that very special vibe that a great musical community evokes, I dive into a cappella. Some say I’m a star, which of course….is true: A superstar in a super-niche. But what a lovely one. The niche, I mean. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to both have won real friends on my travels to festivals and can be a proud little booking agent for some of the best…no, the most unique groups on planet a cappella. If you want to join me, follow me on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube – and let me know about your a cappella adventures!

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