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Artikel Tagged ‘VOCAbuLaries’

Bobby McFerrin + SLIXS & Friends

21. September 2013 1 Kommentar

by Michael Eimann, SLIXS (GER)

Michael Eimann & Bobby McFerrinAn unbelievable weekend expired. We are all enchanted by the spirit of music, the joint music-making, and the power of the perfect sound.

2 months ago we got the mission to assemble an 18-headed choir for a concert at the “Solidarity of Arts Festival” in Gdansk (Poland).  This choir should contest one part of the three hour programme with Bobby McFerrin . The music was a mixture of different songs from the “Master of  Vocal Art” plus circlesong – improvisations. The highlight were musical pieces from VOCAbuLaries that came up in 2010 – wonderful compositions and arrangements by Roger Treece.  The bases were McFerrin-motifs which Treece had found in Bobby’s sound archive.
Time was short, even more fantastic was the result. Without any reason we feared that we can’t get together enough colleagues of choice on a short-term basis. Due to the circumstance that everybody wanted and could take time off for this special concert, we didn’t have to compromise in choosing the best singers.
We all met on a sunny Sunday in the castle Baumersroda. The lord and the lady of the castle, Marschel Schöne and Garnet Meiß,  along with their beautiful daughter Capaldi opened the gates and their hearts and prepared a classy home for the rehearsals for 4 days.  In the ballroom of the castle we could begin to put the pieces of the concert together. On the second day Karen Goldfelder from New York City consorted with us. Karen is responsible for Bobby McFerrin’s concert programme in the agency „Original Artists“. Since she is a singer as well, we incorporated her in the choir as an additional alto singer.  From the beginning, the collaboration with her has been pleasantly relaxing and extremely productive.  In general, we realized that we showed a lucky hand in the assembly of voices, not only in connection with the consonance. Also the characters of the singers seemed to have a perfectly balanced and harmonic sound. All in all it was the ideal precondition for a successful project. All the participants were highly motivated and only focused on the common performance with „the voice“.

The musical work happened fast because everybody was very well prepared. Soon after, an euphoria started to spread due to the wonderfully homogenous and the enormously powerful sound that was rounded off by a clean intonation.  Awareness grew that we were part of an unique ensemble of soloists and by courtesy of the sensitivity of each individual, no loner detuned the instrument “choir”.

All this happened in the marvellous ambience of the tenderly refurbished castle. We constantly caught ourselves saying: „Oh, how beautiful“. It got almost cheesy when a voice group assembled at the well to sing to the three peacocks of the house. We generally sang and practiced permanently and it wasn’t over after the rehearsals. It was then, during the jam-sessions, when it became clear what great artists were brought here together. The lord and the lady of the castle (we tenderly called them king and queen) cared for us discreetly but impressively, with an open fire, sauna, and good talks… The crowning glory of our stay was a trout meal, individually prepared by the king himself, at a festively decorated table with wines from the region.

With all our hearts we hit the road to Poland on Thursday morning at 4am. We went by plane from Berlin to Gdansk where we arrived tired out at about noon. But we didn’t have time to relax. The close-knit schedule instructed us to do the first rehearsal after two hours. And this rehearsal should have been our baptism of fire.  It was the first time that the entire organizational staff along with the management, the sound engineering team, and of course Bobby McFerrin himself listened to the choir.  You could sense the excitement among us (but luckily invisible for the eye). Especially Karen was nervous about the reactions. We were prepared for the possibility that Bobby could listen to our work without comment, give thanks, and leave – since he has also been distinctly exhausted after the long flight. However, all of these worries vanished when Bobby joined in the song “Come To Me” after the first beat and sang with us visibly impressed. His reaction afterwards was joy and relief for all of us: „I’ve never heard this tune so funky. Thank you so much. I was very tired, but now I’m revived “. But things turned out even better: Against all expectations he insisted to guide the 23rd psalm himself. This was a magical moment for all the persons present in the room. He said a big thank you to everyone for this beautiful moment and was profoundly touched. You could even see tears of emotion shine in some of the attendant listener’s eyes. After some circlesong-improvisations and the common singing of “Wailers” and “The Garden” from VOCAbuLaries, everyone was so enthusiastic about the power of voices that we spontaneously arrived at an unprecedented decision: For the first time in the history of VOCAbuLaries the musical pieces should be performed without the usually inevitable “backup tracks”. After this promising beginning we had a little time to explore the marvellous city centre of Gdansk.

On Friday, sound check and final rehearsal were on the schedule. Everything went well thanks to the impressive competence of the sound engineering crew around Daniel F. Vicari, who has been Bobby’s sound man for many years.

From then on everyone has been waiting for the big performance. The open-air-concert started at 9pm in the centre of Gdansk. Bobby’s backing musicians took turns on three stages that were located next to each other, while he attended the particular parts. The Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra that was conducted by Bobby started the evening off. The next part was the Polish jazz legend Urszula Dudziak.

Then it was up to us to give everything! The feedback of the approximately 35000 visitors to our “Come To Me” was overwhelming. And this even increased until our last song. Obviously, Bobby had as much fun as we had, and therefore it was a real treat to sing his songs with him. When we sang “Wailers” you could literally take hold of the energy between singers and the audience. This feeling changed into a pure euphoria on both sides. Fabulous – what a feeling!

But the night was still young, even though the majority of our work was done. At first, Slixs consorted with the Polish fusion band Laboratorium and Bobby for an interpretation of “Freedom Is A Voice”. After the Bulgarian choir The Bulgarian Voices – Angelite, the Atom String Quartet and the fantastic SpiritYOUall Part, all of the artists assembled around Bobby for the great final with the song “Glory”. That piece of music was acclaimed with a never-ending applause for a magnificent evening.

What should we say? Of course, there was an after show party suitable to the occasion with many good talks, fraternizations, bright faces of the artists, the organizers, and the management. And there was vodka, lots of vodka, until the new day dawned.

Was that it? No, this wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. On Sunday, just before our departure, we received the message from Bobby and the management that Slixs and friends are going to accompany the VOCAbuLaries tour in Europe next year in exactly the same ensemble. Somehow it was the only logical conclusion to this unbelievable week. Thanks to Karen Goldfeder, Maike Lindemann, Maria Sonnica Yepes Gutierrez, Sophie Grobler, Minerva Díaz Pérez, Jane Maturell, Irene Latzko, Christoph Mangel, Tim Ludwig, Stephan Eisenmann, Christian Nolte, Arno Brechmann and of cause to Bobby McFerrin!!!

Find more info at

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?

Backing for Bobby

4. Januar 2011 1 Kommentar

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.

Roger Treece - the mastermind behind the "Vocabularies" project

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!

Bobby Mc Ferrin

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 ;-)

Vocal Line

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.

Feel free to follow Vocal Blog on Twitter – it’s a fun way of getting connected and staying up to speed with the most innovative people aka tweeps in the vocal scene. Registering is VERY easy, so is following @vocalblog. And – if you haven’t done so, join the Facebook group for pictures, links, videos – all about a cappella, vocal and choral music worldwide. Thanks for joining the conversation, see you at London A Cappella, January 12-15 (I’ll be in town on the 12th – with The Real Group! -  and the 14th, I’d love to meet up if you’re around).

Roger Treece and Tobias Hug: Backstage at Bobby’s

12. Juli 2010 6 Kommentare

Roger Treece, musical director and composer with Bobby McFerrin talking to Swingle Singer Tobias Hug.

Can you imagine working on an album for a total of six years? Recording more than 400 tracks for every song on that album? Working with singers from all over the world who contribute to this one album?

Now, Bobby McFerrin seems to be the one who really can do the unimaginable, but even King Bobby needs someone who does a bit of legwork. So when Linda Goldstein, Bobby’s manager had the idea of making his music available to choirs all over the world, she found Roger Treece. Based in NYC, Roger is a composer, arranger and sound engineer whose talent perfectly matches Bobby’s genius. And he made it become reality: “VOCabuLarieS“, an epic masterpiece of voices, a symphonic work of art based on music and musical fragments by Bobby McFerrin.

Currently, Bobby and Roger tour the world and do concerts with local choirs. However, as you might have imagined, the music composed by Roger is not exactly regular choir repertoire. It’s amazingly complex stuff. That’s why the choirs that were chosen to work with Roger and Bobby are the top rhythmic choirs of the world.

The Jazzchor Freiburg (conductor: Bertrand Gröger) is one of Europe’s leading jazz choirs and was among the “chosen few” – meeting Bobby “The Voice” McFerrin in Vienna in June and in Lörrach/Germany ( on the 15th of July.

We are happy and honoured to have Tobi Hug, bass singer with the London based Swingle Singers (and also singing those two “VOCabuLarieS” gigs with Bobby) interviewing Roger Treece after the first of the two shows.

Did you see a “VOCabuLarieS” show? How do you like the album? Post your comments now and join the a cappella conversation!