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Artikel Tagged ‘Jeff Meshel’

AAVF 2015: “Like Woodstock – just better.”

A Facebook chat dialogue between Jeff Meshel (“Jeff Meshel’s World: Song of the Week”) and Florian Städtler (Vocal Blog/Acappellazone) about Aarhus Vocal Festival 2015, friends and family, the value of competition and Israeli golf courses. (Excuse the “experimental” layout…remember: Content is king!)

  • Jeff Meshel

    Hey, Mr. Städtler! Where the hell were you? You missed the finest bash ever. AAVF was uplifting, inspiring, fun. I so much missed sharing a beer with you.

  • Florian Städtler
    27/05/2015 14:49

    Florian Städtler


    Hi there, Jeff. I can’t believe I missed this. One of the half dozen events that form the core of what they call the vocal music community. Can you imagine how much I wanted to come? And how hard it was to see you, your group and the whole a cappella family celebrate the art form…and yourselves. Let alone having that beer with you, that we haven’t had since back then, on a ship in Stockholm….2012!!

  • Jeff Meshel
    27/05/2015 15:04

    Jeff Meshel


    It was a remarkable event, right up there with the best festival events I’ve attended. Everything was great–the performers, the workshops, the informal concerts, the networking, the hugging, the after-party bashes. The organization was quite good–the meal package enabled everyone to hang out together during the breaks, which is a big benefit. I’m so full of inspiration–ideas, fun, admiration for all the groups I heard, ideas I exchanged. And love–getting back together with all (well, most) of my dear ACA-friends. Where were you??

  • Florian Städtler
    27/05/2015 15:15

    Florian Städtler


    I was at a very different event….hold on, no: Actually it wasn’t that different. First off, it has a longer tradition than most of the vocal music festivals we travel to. Secondly, with 88 people attending, it seems small – but it really isn’t. And thirdly, it brings together people from distant places to meet, eat, sing, have fun, talk, take pictures and hug. Once a year, and unfortunately always on “Pfingsten” (Whitsun/Pentecost) our tribe gathers for a big family reunion somewhere in Germany. This started right after the German reunification, 1991. I went to this place, into that restaurant and met all these relatives, 60% of whom I had never seen before! So as the dates collided like at AAVF 2013, I had to make this tough choice: Biological vs. vocal family…What would you have done in my place?

    Jeff Meshel portrait
  • Jeff Meshel
    27/05/2015 15:22

    Jeff Meshel


    I don’t know your family (but I do know a lot of your friends). And I know that you can choose your friends, but not your family, so that’s a big advantage for friends. I actually don’t have very many blood-family members left. But I am blessed with a lot of singing friends from all over the world, with whom I feel closer and closer with every passing event. ‘Knowing people’ in our vocal community isn’t binary. You can’t count them like the number of FB friends. Each time you meet, the connection deepens and becomes that much more meaningful. So I had the experience, as always, of both meeting lots of new people, making former acquaintances into friends, and former casual friends into real intimate friends. Still, blood is thicker than water, so I guess you made the inevitable correct choice. Just bad luck on the dates.

  • Florian Städtler
    27/05/2015 15:36

    Florian Städtler


    Everytime I tell my friends about a family meeting including almost 100 people (everybody who stems from my my mother’s mother and her two siblings), they say they haven’t heard about anything like that. So I don’t even know how thick the blood of my grand-counsins son-in-law is in comparison to some of the people who have become my second family through continuous communication and activities around the topic of singing together in groups. You’re probably right that friendship and relationships are hard (or not at all) to measure. So I probably should be very happy to have two groups of people who give me these feelings and moments you described above. Not having been there, I now want to know a bit more about Aarhus: What are your top3 AAVF memories (don’t think, just type!)?

  • Jeff Meshel
    27/05/2015 16:31

    Jeff Meshel


    Two of them are pretty easy (and public). Vivid Voices killed the choir competition. They were just overwhelming. Creative, entertaining, impressive. Everything. Giant WOW for them. Signe Sørensen and her group Mariagerfjord Pigekor were a knockout. Not just the music, but the back-story, how she went into schools with no vocal tradition and built this wonderful group of committed, engaged, creative girls out of thin air. She was really inspiring.

  • Jeff Meshel
    27/05/2015 16:35

    Jeff Meshel


    The third memory is personal. I brought my 2-year old group, Vocalocity. It was a dream come true for me. More than that, a fantasy come true. I felt like a young father showing his new baby to his father. I couldn’t have been prouder, showing off to my dear friends how this dream has been realized, and watching my 30 ‘kids’ encounter so much overwhelming talent (and warmth). So for me, it wasn’t just participating in the festival as an individual, as I’d done in the past, it was also leading a group of talented young enthusiasts, exposing them to the musical wealth and communal love of our a cappella tribe.

  • Jeff Meshel
    27/05/2015 19:34

    Jeff Meshel


    Let me share one other personal thought. My group, Vocalocity, participated in the choir competition. None of the ‘kids’ (they’re mostly in their 20s, with a mix of a few of us up even into the 70s) had ever been to an event like this. They came with a lot of competitiveness and confidence, some of which they got from me. But I tried to balance it with the sense of love and sharing which is so strong at AAVF and the other a cappella events. We hoped, even expected to do pretty well in the judging—but we didn’t, and we were pretty down about it. Then one of the kids, a very talented musician, said to me, “You know what? This just shows that we need to think further outside the box.” Taking the competition in the best positive way, and an inspiration and incentive to improve ourselves, while acknowledging the fine achievements of others—that made me very proud.

  • 28 May
  • Florian Städtler
    28/05/2015 15:02

    Florian Städtler


    It sounds absurd, but “losing” a competition might be more valuable than winning. I remember bringing The Boxettes (now dissolved British all-female beatbox vocal group) to the Vokal Total competition in Graz. Of course they went there to win, but they didn’t match any of the rules of “proper” a cappella singing. They just put on their show which was loud, rough and made to dance and bang your head. They were disappointed and frustrated when they learned about not being understood. They actually won the audience (!) price, but much more importantly they decided to go their own way with even more determination. Are competitions a force for good in the vocal music world? In this world that is so emotional, full of harmony, empathy and mutual respect? This is a whole new discussion and there are arguments for both sides. I think Vocalocity, who are a fabulous bunch of singers, was one of the many winners at AAVF: They went there, they gave their very best and they entered a process of growth and self-reflection. Congratulations!

  • 28 May
  • Jeff Meshel
    28/05/2015 21:23

    Jeff Meshel


    I agree with you wholeheartedly. From my career in the past as a playwright and director, I can tell you in full honesty that I learned very little from my successes and a great deal from each failure. I struggle to find the justification for a competition in the world of a cappella, at least in the norther European scene. I’ve never attended an American event, which I know are usually competition-based. But the European scene seems to me so generous and encouraging and loving, that I really find the whole idea of competitions quite uncomfortable. I believe there are major figures, such as Peder Karlsson, who refrain from participating in them as a judge. How about this as a compromise?–Groups submit clips to the festival board, or a panel of judges working in their name, and half a dozen groups are chosen from the many applicants to perform for 15 minutes each. All love. All winners. No losers.

  • Jeff Meshel
    28/05/2015 21:27

    Jeff Meshel


    Getting back to AAVF 2015–I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I actually attended Woodstock. The original one. And I can bear witness that I felt more real love in Aarhus than I did in Woodstock. Because I know so many people, and meet so many new friends each time; and because we’re all there to create and hear beautiful music right up close, rubbing shoulders with the artists and engaging fellow enthusiasts in workshops. We really are part of a community, and I for one am very proud and thankful about that.

  • Florian Städtler
    02/06/2015 12:36

    Florian Städtler


    Wow, Aarhus, “like Woodstock – just better!” Our Danish friends will love that quote. Maybe one more question about Vocalosity’s performance: What were the actual details, the judges commented on? And how did the choir members deal with it?

  • Jeff Meshel
    02/06/2015 13:05

    Jeff Meshel


    The judge’s comments were great! They were very positive, complimentary, with good constructive criticism. I think we’re stronger on communicativity, passion, weaker on precision (in accordance with the character of our country, perhaps). So their comments will help us focus on those aspects. On the other hand, we got some compliments on our blend, which made us feel really great.

  • Jeff Meshel
    02/06/2015 13:08

    Jeff Meshel


    We’re still very young, only two years old. I think the bottom line is that we still have a lot more growing to do to define ourselves. Someone told me a joke about when they were building the first golf course in Israel (there’s only one). They brought in an expert from England on how to get that fine, green grass. “You need to plant the right kind of seeds, water it properly, weed it as I’ve shown you, apply the proper fertilizer at the proper times, and wait 400 years.”

  • Jeff Meshel
    02/06/2015 13:09

    Jeff Meshel


    The choir members got a lot of respect for the other groups. We definitely came away with the feeling that we gave it our best, we did a very respectable job, and we have lots more work to do.

  • 2 June
Florian Städtler
02/06/2015 12:36

Florian Städtler

It sounds like you came away with quite a lot.

  • Jeff Meshel
    02/06/2015 19:57

    Jeff Meshel


    Oh, there’s more! A couple of very nice people (and talented musicians) asked if we would like for them to write an arrangement for us. Christmas in May!


KategorienMain Tags: ,

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!)

Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Garden’ (“VOCAbuLarieS”)

by Jeff Meshel  (ISR), originally posted on “Jeff Meshel’s World” on April 19th, 2010

Jeff Meshel portrait

Segments of songs from “VOCAbuLarieS”, Official clip of the song “Say Ladeo”

I’m probably going to step on some toes (again) this week. So I apologize in advance.

I really have no convincing defense against the charge that I’m a musical snob. Do you think it’s fun being a snob? Let me tell you, it’s not. We effete prigs get to sit in the corner and be judgmental while everyone else is having fun clapping hands and dancing. And what’s worse, is that this time I’m even stepping on my own toes.

Because Bobby McFerrin is a really nice guy. He’s neat and cool and creative and serious about his art. And about as talented in his craft as Michael Jordan and Leo DaVinci were in theirs. You know, the physical and technical and creative ability to do things that according to the laws of physics shouldn’t oughta be able to be done?

Just to get us on the same page – Bobby McFerrin (b. 1950) is hands-down the greatest vocal artist around today. Since 1982 he’s released about a dozen major CDs, focusing on a cappella vocals (both solo and multi-tracked) and collaborations, with classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and with jazz pianist Chick Corea and others. He has the distinction of begetting not only a phrase, but also a cultural mindset with his most famous recording, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. He appears extensively as a solo artist and as a conductor/singer with many leading symphony orchestras. The guy doesn’t rest.

And everyone, including yours truly, is saying that his new CD, “VOCAbuLarieS“, released just a couple of weeks ago, is the CD we’ve been waiting for from him.

“VOCAbuLarieS” is seven tracks longs, a pastiche of some 1400 vocal tracks recorded by 50 singers–a tapestry of symphonic richness, much fuller than the 1997 improvised outing “Circle Songs”. It’s almost purely a cappella, with the exception of an occasional dash of soprano sax and a little support from some friendly bongos, congas, kalimbas and whatever.

The music is a dream–a snatch of lyric, a waft of melody, elusive, ephemeral, incredibly intricate and amazingly colorful and detailed, floating, free of the fetters of gravity. Like a dream, natural or chemically-induced, it is wondrous and ineffable. You wake up serene and smiling and peaceful and wowing–and then you try to tell the dream, and it dissipates, slipping through the gaps between your words.

So it is with “VOCAbuLarieS”. All seven songs are modal, and all morph from theme to theme, lilting and lovely and uplifting. The sound palette is that of the universe–McFerrin and his collaborator composer/arranger/producer Roger Treece have created a fusion of sounds drawing from South Africa (especially in “In the Garden”), Danish rhythm choirs (“Wailers”), world-mix (“He Ran to the Train”), Arvo Part neo-Gregorian (“Brief Eternity”) and Disney soundtrack (“Baby”). But all the tracks meld and slide from one world to another, and the overall effect is the space travel between them.

Outer space. No melody, no chord progression, no fetters. No gravity. Is being gravity-free an empirically desirable state? Isn’t ‘vapid’ a synonym for gravity-free? What about gravitas? Some grit? Some irony? Some intellectual toughness? “And there was day and there was night, And there was dark and there was light” and the melodic equivalents? Cmon! I’ll readily admit that Bobby McFerrin really is a spiritual person. But spiritual people usually make me uncomfortable.

I have some sense of the technical achievement of this CD. I’m probably the only person on my block who listens to the vocal jazz Scandinavian groups and choirs (Rajaton, The Real Group, and especially Vocal Line). That’s where I go to find rich group vocal experimentation. And “VOCAbuLarieS” has just upped the bar. In terms of the wealth and depth of vocal textures, it’s a masterpiece. I think any sympathetic lay listener will get that, and it’s no mean accomplishment. I myself am impressed, amazed, overwhelmed.

I’ve been having some issues lately about not going to concerts. A surprising number of artists I admire have or are about to visit our fair shores–Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, The Swingle Singers, Chick Corea. I’m not going to any of them. The shlep and the commonality turn me off. Like I said, an unsufferable snob. I’d certainly go see Bobby McFerrin in concert, even though his CDs get relegated to background music in my playlist universe.

He does some remarkable things live. Here’s a very popular clip in which he “Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale” to the World Science Festival. It’s fine and funny, how he non-verbally ‘explains’ to scientists how the language of music works. But here’s a clip I like much more–a spontaneous, musical audience participation improvisation. It includes a similar demonstration of the innate hardwiring of the language of the pentatonic scale, but kicks it up a level into real music. Want some more? Here’s a mock-baroque duet with the Azerbaijani singer/pianist Aziza Mustafa Zada; my guess is that this is based on a piece I don’t recognize–no humans can improvise on this level out of their heads. Here they’re scatting on Carmen.

And here’s one I like even better, one of his better-known songs, ‘I Got a Feelin”. But you have to watch it to the end. He may be spiritual, but he apparently knows the world of the flesh as well, and has a very wicked sense of humor.

But, meanwhile, back at SoTW–the song we’ve picked is the fifth cut, ‘The Garden’ (of Eden). He wrote it for his 1990 CD, “Medicine Music.” Here’s the original version. It was kicked up a few levels by in 2008 by the incredible Danish jazz choir Vocal Line, under direction of the very talented Jens Johansen. Here they are showing their stuff in a live performance the song. It could well be that they’re backing Mr McF here. I did read that they’re going to NY to help him present “VOCAbuLarieS” in concert. Apparently there has been some cross-pollination going on between Mr McFerrin and Vocal Line. Sure wish I knew when and where and how that happened.

And I sure do hope that more of the very talented American luminaries interact more and more with the wonderful vocal group music that’s being made in The Northern Countries. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the accomplishment of “VOCAbuLarieS”.

I’m sorry I didn’t have this CD to listen to back in my heady college days, when I was more in a state of head to float with it. Today, I’ll have to make due with being blown away by it, rather than moved. Well, ‘blown away’ isn’t such faint praise, is it?

Aarhus Vocal Festival 2013

by Jeff Meshel, originally posted as letter to Vocal Blog founder Florian Städtler (on the day of Florian’s birthday) on Jeff Meshel’s World on May 23rd 2013.


Dear Florian,

Morning Warmup

AAVF 2013 is chronologically over, but still pumping in my veins and breathing in my soul.

It was a wonderful, educationally enriching and communally loving experience. It would be impossible to give you an overview, but I’ll try to relate to you some of my personal experiences, in hopes that the subjective view will give some sort of representative impression of what went on.

It was all pretty well organized, user-friendly. My hotel was only a five-minute walk from the site, which was a big advantage. The biggest problem was not enough hours in the day—wanting to simultaneously attend all the workshops, watch the small group and large group competitions, hear the midday concerts in the foyer, grab some food, and schmooze!!


Level Eleven

Pre-FestivalSono and Naura were both new for me, young Danish groups of about 20 singers, both really high quality, interesting repertoire, flawless performance, charming appearance, setting the bar high for the rest of the festival.

Friday – The Mzansi Youth Choir and the Boxettes gave two very different examples of how far contemporary a cappella can go and still knock out the crowd. The Girls Choir of Mariagerfjord were ‘just’ another one of those perfect Danish choirs.

Saturday – Since first hearing them in Vasteros in 2008, I’ve become an impassioned devotee of Vocal Line, so it was of course a really great thrill to hear them again. The combination of Vocal Line, VoxNorth and Eivør wasn’t easy for me. It was a new aesthetic, speaking in a musical language I was less familiar with. It sounds fascinating to me, and I plan on exploring it in the future (in the present, actually—I’m listening to Eivør as I write!)

SundayWeBe3 was a totally new treat for me, improvisation at its purest, and you know I’m a purist ;-). The Real Group and Rajaton both gave short but absolutely first-rate sets, showed why they’re the acknowledged leaders of our cult. It’s the third time I’ve heard both, and maybe the best. Level Eleven had some high points, and promises more to come in the future.


Monday – The group that completely blew me away was Jesper Holm’s Touché, as I had never even heard them recorded, let alone live. I knew they were a 12-voice group singing Count Basie big band charts and complex Gene Puerling arrangements from Singers Unlimited. What I wasn’t prepared for was the total, absolute technical perfection Jesper has achieved with these guys. Brassier than Basie, subtler than the Singers Unlimited, and purer than Gene Puerling, their mastery of these genres was TOTAL. The delivery was crystal-clear, as pure as glacial water. Even the soloists sang with superhuman control. And I was particularly impressed by how steeped these kids are in the vocal jazz tradition. They really do know where they’re coming from. And I can only dream where they’re going. More about that below. Just to make you even sorrier you weren’t here, I’ve posted the entire set as soundcloud links on Jeff Meshel’s World.


Reach Out and Touch a Star

Jens, Jeff, Line, Jim

It’s a strange situation at these festivals – you listen to the artist at home, think about their music; read about the upcoming concert; buy a ticket, buy a plane ticket and reserve a hotel; travel, with all the anticipation and excitement and build-up; and then an hour after the show you’re drinking a beer with the artist, with him telling you how he felt about the show. We’re used to admiring our ‘idols’ from afar. The warmth and intimacy of a festival such as this is a big part of its utter charm.

I met a guy on the train who was coming from Belgium to hear Bruce Springsteen in Denmark. They say Bruce is a really nice guy, but you’re watching him with 20,000 strangers from 3 kilometers away, with 500 armed guards in between you and him. Here, an hour after the show, you share a beer with the artist and hug him and thank him for the fine show, and he tells you how excited he was… Who de boss now?


Line Groth Riis & Anders Hornshøj, “Just Sing It”

They started with the incomparable dynamo Line Groth Riis leading 800 people singing two ultra-cool arrangements, with really fine, overpowering results. Go beat that. And that’s just for starters.

The Single Singers had to prepare four songs, three of which were quite difficult, in two rehearsals with no clear conductor. No mean feat that! It seemed quite impossible at the beginning, but somehow it worked at the end. The really great thing that happened there for me was singing Vocal Line’s version of Peter Garbiel’s “Don’t Give Up” with Jens Johansen himself conducting! So, that was a thrill in and of itself, but the really inspiring aspect was singing the song, being part of the tapestry of that beautiful, divine arrangement. I had listened to the song many, many times, but there’s nothing like singing it from within. (Guess what is going to be Song of The Week on my blog tomorrow?)

Jim Daus Hjernøe workshop

I joined five other workshops, each one an education in and of itself.
The amazingly talented Roger Treece, the man behind Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS” was really pushing the envelope of grasping how rhythm and pulse work. It was sometimes a stretch to follow him, but yet a lot of fun.
Everyone was raving about Jim Daus Hjernøe’s workshop in Sweden, and I finally caught up with him here. “Rhythm and Groove” was uplifting, mind-expanding. He made so much sense out of central elements I’d never been aware of previously. I told him that in my next incarnation I want to come study in Aarhus. He responded that they have a really good remote learning program. If only I had the courage! Me, studying with these giants?

Single Singers rehearsal

I attended Katarina Henryson and Anders Edenroth’s “All Ears” workshop. I’d heard them go over the same material before more than once. And you know what? It gets better each time. Eighty strangers walk into a room, mostly fairly talented amateur singers. Then Katarina and Anders start teaching you the Art of Listening. And at the end of two hours we did a group improvisation – with our eyes closed!!! – about seven minutes of beautiful, transcendent, magical music. Just mind-boggling. Just these two hours were worth the 12-hour trip.
And Jesper Holm’s Advanced Vocal Technique. The program said ‘Harmonic complexity, swing feeling, jazz phrasing, sound and blend.’ Yes, that’s what he did. But I was reminded of the Yeats’ poem: That girls at puberty may find/The first Adam in their thought,/Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,/Keep those children out./There on that scaffolding reclines/Michael Angelo./With no more sound than the mice make/His hand moves to and fro./(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream/His mind moves upon silence.) The absolute precision of his approach showed again that ‘God is in the details’. It was a truly inspiring workshop experience. Jesper is my new role model for doing a job well. And I’m proud to count him as a new friend.


I met SO many people—friends from Vasteros 2008, friends from Stockholm 2012, more recent Facebook friends, and new friends from Aarhus – too many to mention. I made a list of about 25 people that I had memorable interactions with, but I’m not going to list them because I know there were another dozen that are escaping my fuzzy brain, and hopefully another dozen that I’ll get to know now by writing. I did notice that the hugs have gotten tighter over the years, that each subsequent meeting with these fine people deepens the connection from the cordial to the friendly to the beginning of real involvement.

As you know, I do a lot of talking and thinking and writing about music, and I was fortunate enough to have three serious, focused, professional conversations.

The first was with Peder Karlsson. I first met Peder at Vasteros in 2008. I had brought a group from Israel and had briefly corresponded with him via email. On the first day I was nervous, confused, excited. Peder walked by, and I asked him timidly where the Whatever Room was.
I was a novice, a nobody, an attendee from afar; he was The Star. He looked at my nametag, looked at me, let out a shout of “Jeff!” and gave me a bearhug. I knew something different was going on in this community. Then in 2012, our second meeting, we became a bit friendly.
So now in 2013 I told Peder that I wanted to Skype with him about the history of TRG. He said, “Now!” For an entire morning, Peder told me about the origins of The Real Group’s music. There was a bit of an argument: I was maintaining that TRG invented our contemporary a cappella, while Peder was (over-modestly, I think) asserting that TRG drew from a number of different existing sources. In any case, we both agreed that this is fascinating piece of AC folklore, and it will be my pleasure to work our discussion into a printed interview in the near future. Oh, and now I can comfortably say that I feel Peder is a friend.

This is just one example of many–too many (and too personal) to recount here.

By the way, the origin of TRG’s music issue has riveted me for a long time and spilled over into several other conversations I had. Bill Hare had a lot of first-hand knowledge to share, and Jonathan Minkoff was gleefully maintaining that just about everything I think is diametrically opposed to the truth. Fortunately Judy Fontana was there to keep us from trans-Atlantic blows, suggesting the theory that vocal percussion was developed simultaneously on either side of the ocean. I’m gonna be thinking about that, Judy!

The second conversation was with Roger Treece, whom I’d asked in advance to meet with. I was aware of his work on “VOCAbuLarieS”, and really wanted to hear how Vocal Line was connected to that project. I also wanted to learn more about where Roger is applying his very prodigious talents these days. We had a great, honest, intimate talk which I hope to write up in one form or another (assuming that the glass of water I spilled on the table didn’t erase the file on my recorder). I sincerely hope Roger finds the perfect venue in which to work in the future, because I think his talent is unlimited and he can be a formative voice in a cappella in the next generation.

The third conversation was with Jesper Holm. I’d met Jesper very briefly in 2012, barely long enough to discover that we have a lot of overlapping interests and that I possess an obscure Singers Unlimited CD that he covets. I gladly brought it to Aarhus as an offering, looking forward to getting to know him a bit. We talked for less than an hour, but reached incredibly interesting places. We discussed the very substance of vocality, where group vocal jazz is today, and where it might go in the future. We also raised some ideas about utterly new vistas to explore, and concrete plans about how to do that. We were talking about inventing a new musical language. My blood is still pounding over that conversation. I hope that when the clouds clear, the substance remains and that Jesper sets out on that very profound journey.

What I’ve Taken Home

Oh, just so many ideas. And techniques for making better music. And exposure to new types of music. And hopes and plans for the future. And friendships. Membership in a most special community. And a whole lotta love.

I was at the original Woodstock festival. Given the choice of going back there or going to the next AAVF—no competition, man. Hands down, it’s Aarhus. Something is very sweet in the state of Denmark.

Really, I have only one serious complaint about the festival. You weren’t there, Florian. You and my old buddies Kongero and my new buddies The Swingles and my future buddies The Idea of North.

So I guess we’ll just have to make plans to meet again in Aarhus in 2015.

Till then,


Please feel free to visit Song of The Week, where you’ll find lots of postings on a cappella and other musical genres.

The Swingle Singers: ‘Sinfonia from Partita No.2 in C Minor’

by Jeff Meshel, originally posted on (a wonderful music blog!)

The Swingle Singers – ‘Sinfonia from Partita No. 2 in C Minor’

The Swingle Singers, 2013

I had the great pleasure last week of hanging out with The Swingle Singers. They were coming to our little corner of the globe for a couple of concerts, and graciously agreed to give a workshop for the growing local a cappella community. Both the workshop and the concert were knockouts, and I highly recommend you following their tour calendar and trying to catch them the next time they’re in your neighborhood. Here’s what they look and sound like today. Ain’t no one who won’t enjoy them, from the most casual listener to the most effete snob.

I wrote at some length in SoTW 139 about the history of the Swingle Swingers, the context in which they sprouted, the path they’ve traveled, and especially where they are today. In short, the original Swingle Singers were formed in 1963 in Paris under the direction of Ward Swingle singing Bach instrumental scores in eight voices with a jazz bass and drum accompaniment. They disbanded after a successful decade, and Ward regrouped in London. This new incarnation worked for the next thirthysomething years, into our current century, as an evolving a cappella group performing technically polished treatments of a standard range of folk, pop, classical and traditional music. In recent years they’ve become associated with the “contemporary a cappella” movement, which I’ve written about extensively, becoming a world leader in this burgeoning cult.

Ward Swingle

They’re creating new and exciting music, and they’ve just begun. They’re planning on recording a lot of new material for their 50th anniversary, and judging by the two samples from their recent concert, some new ground is about to be broken. One very impressive piece featured a fluid harmonic center gliding between keys while being driven by a programmatic rhythmic scheme. Bartok would sit up and listen intently. The other began with the bass creating a beatboxing backing loop, then added Billie Holiday’s vocal track from ‘Don’t Explain’ isolated from its backing and run through a compressor/limiter and distorted, à la ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’!! Then the group overlays this potpourri with a demure choral ‘accompaniment’
overriding Lady Day. Say wa??

The original Swingle Singers

Clare Wheeler, the very talented arranger and alto of the group, told me that for much of their audience, ‘The Swingle Singers’ means singing Bach in a jazz setting. But for her and all the current Swingles, it means creating new, innovative, interesting music. Just like Ward Swingle did fifty years ago, when he pretty much invented the mindset of crossover and opened up the music world to the potential of classical music in popular contexts, vocal jazz and so much more. In fact, she told me, the 86-year old Ward Swingle heartily approves of ‘the new stuff’ and encourages the youngsters to pursue new directions rather than slavishly copying the original Swingle music.

“For him, The Swingle Singers is about being innovative. We see ourselves as a band, striving to create good music, not a party trick slavishly adhering to a principle such as doing everything strictly a cappella.”

The Swingle Singers, 2013

I loved hearing that, and was encouraging Clare to be bold and continue taking bold chances, because they’re a hip, young, fun group of musicians. But they also carry that name, and with it a mantle of noblesse oblige and the aura of that great, groundbreaking music that I was singing twenty years before any of the current Swingles was born.

So I sheepishly asked them if they knew my very favorite piece from one of my very favorite albums, the ‘Sinfonia from Partita No.2 in C Minor, BWV 826’ from the very original “Bach’s Greatest Hits”. ‘Sure’, they said, ‘it’s still in our repertoire, but we haven’t sung it since Ward’s party a few years ago.’ Wow. I sure would get a kick out of hearing Clare and Jo and CJ and Kevin and Oliver and Ed singing that ‘Sinfonia’, with Sara singing that crazy, divine virtuoso lead which will forever be one of my very favorite pieces of music.

It begins with a formal choral introduction, then launches into an extended scat solo that makes you wonder what Johann was smoking back there behind the chapel organ. That’s followed by a long polyphonic fade (actually if you look at the score it’s only two voices, but in Bach’s hands that sounds like twenty.) I’ve listened to it some three trillion times, and I can sing about 80% of the notes. Not that it’s challenging music or anything.

Glenn Gould practicing

Just to start off on solid ground, here it is by my favorite babushka, Tatyana Nikolayeva.

And here’s the piece by our favorite Canadian whacko, Mr Glenn Gould.
It’s actually pretty restrained for him. But if you want to witness the madness lurking beneath that veneer of respectability, check out this clip of Glenn Gould practicing the Sinfonia.It’s not recommended for children or those weak of constitution. You might want to fasten your seatbelt and take a valium before watching this one.

Christine Legrand

Here’s what it looked like back when the world and I (and The Swingle Singers) were young, the original Swingles singing the original Swingle Bach. The lead soprano is Christine Legrand, Michel’s sister.

And here’s the ‘original’ recording, the one I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to sing along with for fifty years, longer than these seven whippersnapper Swingles have been swingling combined. What do they know?
Well, they’re lovely people and fine musicians, tall singers on the shoulders of giants. They actually know quite a lot, and I’m looking forward to them showing more. But nothing can alter the lifelong love affair I’ve had with the original Swingle Singers, 1963, singing ‘Sinfonia from Partita No.2 in C Minor, BWV 826’.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

005: Glenn Gould, Toccata in Cm (J.S.
077: J.S. Bach, ‘The Art of The Fugue’ (The Emerson
Quartet, ‘Contrapunctus 9′)
139: The Swingle Singers, ‘On the 4th of July’ (James