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Artikel Tagged ‘Bobby McFerrin’

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 http://www.slixs.info/en/bobby-mcferrin-slixs-friends/

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?

BigQ #1: What exactly is a cappella?

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog founder – inspired by Andrea Figallo (Wise Guys)

Discussing the questions on the “BigQ list” with peers from all over Europe and the world has proved that we need definitions of the basic terminology to come to good results in future discussions. There are frequently used terms that I would like to explain using sources like Wikipedia and experts who wrote about these basic topics before.

 

A Cappella 

Of course, we have to look, what Wikipedia has to say about the a cappella. Here comes the short version: “A cappella (Italian for “in the manner of the church” or “in the manner of the chapel”,[1] also see gospel music and choir) music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It contrasts with cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. In the 19th century a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music.[2] Today, a cappella also includes sample/loop “vocal only” productions by producers like Teddy RileyBjörkImogen HeapWyclef Jean and others.”

Wow, that’s a surprise: The Wikipedia summary does not reflect the world of the 2012 a cappella nerd AT ALL. Let’s dig a bit deeper in that Wikipedia article: If you scroll down a bit you find the following table of contents:

  1. Religious Traditions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish)
  2. In the United States (Recording Artists, Musical Theatre, Barbershop Style)
  3. In Europe (List of links to vocal groups)
  4. Collegiate Types
  5. Emulating Instruments
  6. See also, Notes, References, External Links
The most interesting points I found about this Wikipedia article are: What we call contemporary a cappella is just a very small part of the a cappella tradition. Three quarters of  the contemporary part are about the US scene. European a cappella is a list of Wikipedia links – it seems as if nobody has taken the time to write about the European scene in general. Barbershop and Collegiate A Cappella are BIG. There is no complete, detailed and comprehensive definition of what “contemporary vocal music” is all about. Yes, there are some musical elements (beatboxing, emulating instruments, “bands without instruments”), but is that really what defines the thing we call “a cappella”? Isn’t there something more that people think when they talk and create a cappella music today?

 

Contemporary A Cappella

The term “contemporary a cappella” (or: “contemporary vocal music”) was introduced by the founders of the Contemporary A Cappella Society (formerly: of America), CASA. When they started to promote “their kind of music”, they found that most people they talked to about their passion were thinking of two traditional, stylistically narrower and rather “conservative” form of vocal music: Barbershop  singing and Doo-wop.

Distinguishing their new approach to vocal music from the old-school, often a bit corny, square and certainly harmonically and rhythmically limited way of barbershop choirs and quartets was obviously very important to the CASA founders: They included the word “contemporary” in their association’s name. In Europe, a cappella pioneers and revolutionaries faced similar problems: In many countries like England and Norway for example, a cappella singing still is mostly associated with singing sacred music. In Germany, the tradition of the first international vocal super group, the Comedian Harmonists led to the public image of a cappella being some funny guys in tuxedos singing hilarious songs for pure entertainment and as a kind of novelty. Until today, many German groups present themselves rather as singing comedians than musically advanced singers. And if groups decide to create “serious” music (classical or light), they often fail to entertain, unable to act, move or dance without making audiences cringe.

Contemporary vocal music, from my point of view, is vocal music, that is fueled by both the music that people listen to today and that kind of vocal music that innovative artists want to create now and in the future. These singers, composers and arrangers either just want to present music that is currently listened by the regular, “mainstream” listener or (knowingly or accidentally) contribute to the development of the art form of unaccompanied singing by creating something new, something unheard of.

In a nutshell: Contemporary describes a distinction between the rather conservative, look-and-listen-back-approach and the vocal music movement starting with the vocal music pioneers Bobby McFerrin, The Real Group and The House Jacks to the next generation led by Pentatonix, The Boxettes, Postyr Project, Bauchklang, Maybebop, Sonos, The Exchange, Straight No Chaser etc. as well as milestones like The Sing-off, Pitch Perfect and the emerging vocal music festival scene.

 

Genre, Style, Instrumentation?

Technically, a cappella is an instrumentation. So it is a term defined by something that it does NOT have: Instruments. That’s why open-minded festivals, competitions, schools and teachers started to use the term “vocal music” as an alternative. Or festivals and competitions with a cappella in their names just didn’t care and created more open categories, not defining microphones as instruments anymore, adding categories with choirs that are accompanied by a rhythm section or allowing groups to use loop pedals, samplers and drum machines.

If you listen to the heated discussions between purists and pragmatists about “Is this still a cappella?”, you better move up to another level of perspective: Have you ever had this kind of technical discussion in other areas of music? Yes and no.

There is that fantastic moment in music history when Bob Dylan started to go electric. When he and his band entered the stage with electric guitars and amplifiers, you clearly hear that voice from the audience, shouting “Judas!” on the live recording. However, today, most of the fans don’t care about how their band’s sound is produced – as long as the result is authentic, exciting and entertaining. Categories that are completely and utterly subjective. Pop music audiences are not interested in musicology. Niche audiences and musical niche activists are more into that kind of shop talk, that’s why you have discussions like this in classical music, jazz and a cappella.

STOP! – Here comes another outcry of the expert: “Classical music and jazz are musical styles. A Cappella is NOT.” You got a point, Professor. But you don’t need higher education to see that: There are a cappella groups and recorded music in almost any musical style on this planet. So again and again, the movers and shakers, the thinkers and community organizers are desperately looking for categories to define the common ground of a cappella. What, after all, is the smallest common denominator? What constitutes “contemporary a cappella”? What do we have in mind if we talk about this thing a cappella? Here’s a random collection of  often divergent characteristics I’ve found in earlier conversations, posts, panels and threads:

  • community thinking
  • voices as the most human, soulful instrument
  • singing in groups brings out the best in people
  • general open-mindedness
  • the will to further the development of the art form
  • importance of meeting face-to-face
  • importance of  live performance as opposed to recordings
  • not being as nerdy and square as traditional styles
  • writing original music as a critical element of being real artists
  • exchanging ideas and experiences with peers
  • a new culture of leadership by coaching and authority (role models)
  • systematic usage of the internet to widen your horizon
  • opening up to the real (music) world without losing the community spirit
  • making yourself at home in a cosy niche

This list is by no means complete, but already gives a nice impression of the diversity and the contradictions of a – well, let’s face it – a very, very small part of  world of music. If there’s one thing sociologists don’t argue about a lot it’s the fact, that the world, our society, our culture(s) and thus our musical cosmos has become significantly more complex, atomized. A hundred years ago there was folk music, classical music and popular music (jazz was the pop in the 20s) and you had to listen to it played or sung live. Today there are probably 100+ pop styles and it becomes increasingly harder for music marketing people to find the right labels for their products to make them accessible for their atomized target groups. What does that mean to us now? And for a definition of a cappella.

There will probably never be ONE A CAPPELLA. Instead, you can choose whatever you like to create your own customized version of a music that is based on the power the human voice. Some relatively successful vocal groups have deliberately chosen not to use the term a cappella or at least to not use it for their marketing, among them Naturally 7 (USA), Wise Guys (GER), Bauchklang (AUT), The Boxettes (ENG) and Postyr Project (DEN). Naturally 7 has simply renamed it “VocalPlay”, The House Jacks invented the slogan “Rock band without instruments” and have decided against using effects and pedals live. Both basically describe the fact that they use their voices like instruments.  While this “novelty concept” made The Mills Brothers an exceptional success in the 1920s, today’s groups and trendsetters (like The House Jacks, see article linked above) more and more try to avoid the novelty image of vocal music. Danish Electro-vocal group Postyr Project decline all imitations of instruments except some human beatboxing: “If we need a sound of an instrument, we use a computer sample or other digital sources”.

One of the most fascinating and eye-opening examples of there being more than one definition of contemporary vocal music is a project that is going to turn 50 in 2013: When the very first generation of The Swingle Singers became a smashing success in 1963 by giving Bach’s “Wohltemperiertes Klavier” a backbeat plus a swing, the sheer idea of doing the unthinkable (using Bach’s holy harmonies for lighthearted entertainment and with 8 singers + double bass and a mini drum set) was enough to thrill the masses.  For 5 decades the group’s generations have developed their concept: Going fully a cappella in the early 80s, making beatboxing an indispensable part of their sound musical concept with the album “Beauty and the Beatbox” in 2007 and releasing more and more original pop and jazz material since 2011.

How boring would this journey have been, if the group hadn’t changed course every decade and adapted their art to new influences and – more importantly – to the particular talents of their members. New people mean a new group. A new group means new musical ideas. New ideas that are still based on the close-mic technique called Swingle Singing mean their new definition of a cappella.

So what’s your personal or group concept of a cappella? I’m really interested to learn about the 1001 unique definitions out there. Bring them on and at the same time explore those which seem the most different from yours.

 

The A Cappella Community

If there is not one a cappella definition, there’s probably not one a cappella community. A community is a group of people who share common values, goals and visions. The larger a community gets, the more open-minded their members have to be, the more pragmatic the formerly idealistic values and visions will be treated. I personally like this idea: Sharing a common basic interest while at the same time widening each other’s horizons by exchanging ideas, concepts, opinions. And those ideas, concepts and opinions cannot be diverse enough. Open-minded people love to be confronted with other people challenging the status quo. A valuable community is not streamlined. There is no unified opinion. People look for external feedback. They even look for disconfirming evidence to what has long been accepted truth. Collective growth and mutual inspiration beat competition, intolerance, ignorance, laziness, narrow-mindedness and arrogance.

Many of us have experienced this at a regional, national and international cappella events. They found “people like me” on the internet, as the web’s social media features automatically connect fans, followers and activists of special interests like a cappella, trainspotting, vegan food etc. So the process of finding like-minded people has become much easier. The process of forming a practically and spiritually valuable community has not become easier. Remember, we live in an atomized society. What we call the a cappella community – surprise, surprise – is everything but uniform. And the more it grows, the more diverse and inhomogeneous it gets. Here are some players:

  • amateur a cappella singers, arrangers, composers
  • amateur choir directors and singers
  • professional a cappella singers, arrangers, composers
  • (semi-)professional producers, agents, managers, promoters
  • the mainstream media (“a cappella cherry pickers”)
  • amateur and professional critics, experts, judges
  • the die-hard fan and a cappella volunteer (“aca-nerds”)
  • the regular music and occasional a cappella listener
  • non-profit or semi-professional community organizers (“the aca-hubs”)
This reminds me of our first family meeting after the German Reunification. In 1991 about 100 people from all over East and West German gathered in the small town of Bad Brückenau. Those people had different professional, political and educational backgrounds, more than 50% met for the first time in their lives. A German Post-WWII special interest group, that had only one thing in common: All of these people were relatives of my grandmother and her two siblings. Can there be anything more exciting and eye-opening than this? Our “Großfamilie”, a clan as diverse as a German group can be, has since then met in different places all across the country. And of course this group includes people with very different perspectives on the world: People who vote differently, people who educate their children differently, people who support “the wrong” football team and people who simply get on your nerves sometimes. Still these family meetings have become  wonderful opportunities to learn, exchange opinions and create…yes, a community. With all its weaknesses and imperfections, but with all the inspiration and learnings that human beings need to make life good.

 

The A Cappella Community is this to me: A place of opportunity, exchange and openness. A combination of face-to-face meetings (still the best way of communication!) and a global network of people interested in taking that age-old tradition of singing together in groups into the 21st century. The diversity of the list above, the different personal interests, tastes, philosophies and goals of the a cappella community stakeholders are not obstacles. They are the indispensable ingredients if we want to make the community prosper: The pros need the amateurs and vice versa. The regular listener needs the expert and vice versa. The pioneers need the mainstream and vice versa.

 

Let’s dive into the vocal music diversity and make cross-border, cross-style, cross-ideology exchange happen. Make all community information available, make better education available and make the community’s networking more efficient and user-friendly. If we focus on making these things happen, there will be so much added value that each and everyone of us will profit from his individual version of the a cappella community.

 

 

 

Voxnorth Singer First with a Degree in Choral Improv

by Danish singer Morten Mosgaard, based on an interview with another Danish singer, Kristian Skårhøj, originally posted on February 9th, 2012

Kristian in action

In Voxnorth we are proud to have some extraordinary singers with various exciting backgrounds – recently Kristian Skårhøj became the first European to graduate from a conservatory with a major in “Improvisation with Vocal Ensembles”. Congratulations! Kristian Skårhøj – baritone member of Voxnorth since 2008 – has been singing since he was a child. As he grew up in a religious home, singing was part of his everyday. Before dinner, at bedtime, by the piano in the living room, and at church twice a week. He grew up with choral music and the desire to add harmonies to tunes, and – according to his Mom – made up his first real song by the age of 4.

MEETING BOBBY McFERRIN
It wasn’t until a very special night in 2003 though that he discovered improvised vocal music for the first time when he attended his first concert with Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra. Kristian explains: “I was sitting in the audience with a presentness  and a sense of being a part of a very special – almost sacred – moment. The music just seemed to stream out of McFerrin and the singers, constantly in the progress and yet beautifully alive. It was just right there! And it was fresh and brand new. For almost two hours they kept making wonderful music, and once they left the stage it just lived on inside me. I left the concert hall singing! A new world of music had opened to me.”

Five years later Kristian came by an unprecedented and unique chance by making his master thesis in collaboration with Linda Goldstein, Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra: “It was a total dream come true for me! First they granted me access to numerous concert recordings from 1997 concerts – and then I got invited to join the upcoming 2008 tour with McFerrin and the group for 10 days in the US! Even though it was 10 o’clock at night and I was all alone, I started jumping and screaming in wild exaltation when I got the notice!”

The master thesis became an unprecedented collection of transcriptions and analyses of McFerrin’s works. 160 pages of transcribed circle songs and 40 pages of analysis. But not only did Kristian make an intellectual approach to McFerrin’s unique improvisation style – this was also the starting point of his own vocal ensemble with improvisation as its focal point. He named the project Songs of the Moment, and today this project is still one of Kristian’s major musical projects.

Kristian conducting “his” final concert vocal group

When asked about the difference between Voxnorth and Songs of the Moment Kristian tells: “In the beginning Songs of the Moment was strictly based on improv music, and the concerts were fully improvised. Even though I nowadays also use the ensemble to perform my written choral compositions – like The Pentecost Oratorio – the main element of the group is to make improvised music as an art form. I take these skills that I developed with Songs of the Moment and I bring them into the Voxnorth setting. For some time I was being given a blank space in the Voxnorth set list every gig to make up a circle song, and it was a beautiful moment to connect with the singers by facing the unknown together. Not just that though – Jim [Musical director of Voxnorth] kept bringing all these new fancy hand signals into the music! I was standing there working on something, and all of a sudden the music just went BOOM because Jim had made the whole group follow him on some new idea!”

GETTING ADVANCED
After graduating in 2008 with a Master in Music, Kristian decided to fully commit to vocal improvisation and he was admitted for the Advanced Postgraduate Diploma in Music program at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus in 2009. On January 8 this year, he made his ‘debut concert’ as a certified circle song and improv singer/composer – in front of almost 400 people who had gathered in The Music Hall Aarhus. “It was one of my most grateful moments! Not only had I had the opportunity to work with an all star group of beautiful singers who also were my friends, not only did they give us two full days in The Rhythmic Hall for the rehearsals but when the concert started we faced an almost full house! 400 people is a big audience for a vocal concert – but 400 people at an all improvised vocal concert? That’s a heck of a lot!!”

The concert was a huge success and Kristian fulfilled his dawning dream from 2003. He made a beautiful, varied and very present concert, making up the music from start to end in an organic flow. Circle songs, duet, trios and full jam improvisations all in a mix. Best of all. It had beautifully stunning moments as well as engaging humorous stage presence which captivated the audience and one would be surprised if some did not leave the hall humming and singing.

Morten Mosgaard (DEN) is a singer with Voxnorth, too. Thanks for writing this post and allowing Vocal Blog to publish it.

My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments

10. Mai 2011 11 Kommentare

by Florian Städtler

On a train to Copenhagen Airport I simply wanted to keep some of the exceptional things that happened to me during my three-days stay at the Aarhus Vocal Festival by writing them down. Those who are member of the Vocal Blog group on Facebook or follow me on Twitter already got a slight impression, but here’s a bit more: “My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments”.

1) Train Ride through Denmark
My trip to Aarhus went as follows: Shuttle bus from my hometown Freiburg (South-West of Germany) to EuroAirport Basel-Freiburg-Mulhouse in 45 minutes, departure 4:30am. Scheduled take-off 6:30am – due to technical problems at our destination Berlin-Tegel Airport, we actually took off at 7:30am. 4 hours changeover in Berlin, with probably the worst WiFi quality ever experienced on a European airport. The Berlin-Copenhagen flight was only slightly delayed so I made it to the 3.5 hours train ride from Copenhagen to Aarhus. And I realized again, that train rides are a nice way to get an impression of a country: You get in touch with people, hear them talking and you see much more of the landscape while you travel. Denmark and its people made a friendly and relaxed impression, just as sunny as the weather on the way.

2) Ridehuset
After having checked in I asked for the way to Ridehuset. The receptionist didn’t understand until I showed him the venue’s name in the printed booklet: “Aaah, Rdddhes(e)”, she replied in a peculiarly nasal tone but with an extraordinarily charming smile…and an extraordinarily pretty nose. I smiled back and never even tried to pronounce it again. What to the unflexible German sounded like a major logopedic incident turned out to be a most amazing room to meet and perform. The Ridehuset was a former hall for horseriding and its nice architecture was the perfect place to get together, to listen to concerts, eat, drink and relax. What makes it even better, is the fact that it is situated very close to the workshop locations, a very important fact for the vibes of any festival.

Jake Moulton, Jonathan Minkoff, Peder Karlsson, Jussi Chydenius

3) The World at One Table
Imagine a football fan sitting at one table with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ronaldinho. After the opening concert I found myself in a similar situation. I joined a table with Clare Wheeler (The Swingle Singers), Peder Karlsson (The Real Academy), Jussi Chydenius (Rajaton), Jonathan Minkoff (SingStrong.org, Blue Jupiter), Judy Fontana, Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), Christine Liu (Vocalasia), Tine Fris (Postyr), Bill Hare (CASA director and recording legend) and Jake Moulton (The Housejacks). One big difference compared to the kickers: all of them are not only great masters of their trade, but intelligent, thoughtful and really cool people.

4) A Triple P from the North

Postyr live!

Papaya, Pust and Postyr – the line-up of Friday night’s opening concert seemed to be selected by some alphabetical logic. The first letter is however their only similarity. Maybe except the fact that this first night perfectly represented the fantastic level that Northern European groups have reached today. Papaya (DK) brought the sound and the motion of African music to Ridehuset, Pust (NOR) presented their unique kind of contemporary folk-based vocal music and Postyr, also from Denmark, launched their new album, new website and new music video. Four of the five singers in the group also being members of AAVF host choir Vocal Line, they presented an amazing fusion of popular songwriting, experimental electronics and no fear of including a cello or an acoustic guitar if they think it fits. Tine, Line, Andreas, Kristoffer and Anders were just following their concept of “singing outside the box.” It became clear again: Future innovation in vocal music will certainly be driven by groups from the Northern European countries.

4) Meeting Jens Johansen

Jens Johansen (Vocal Line), Tine Fris (Postyr, Vocal Line)

Jens is the “spiritus rector” of what we today experience as the Danish school of “rhythmic choir music”. For more than two decades he has worked with students and his choir Vocal Line. Today, groups like The New Voxnorth, Vox 11, Papaya and Postyr represent the second generation of Danish contemporary vocal brilliance. And while these groups shine with flawless blending and a rhythmic precision unheard of in Europe, Jens has remained as calm, moderate and friendly as when I first met him 15 years ago. His personal achievements in vocal music and in setting up the Aarhus Vocal Festival again cannot be praised often enough.

Céline Morel & Peder Karlsson

5) France exists!
The French don’t use the term a cappella. And despite being one of the biggest countries of the European Union, France has no more than half a dozen contemporary vocal groups. It was a pleasure talking to Céline Morel (CEPRAVOI) and Thierry Lalo (Les Voice Messengers) and learning more about their will to develop new ways of vocal and choral music in France. It would be so great to find people like them in each and every European country and have them exchange ideas on a regular basis.

6) His Bobbyness’ Masterclass

Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), His Bobbyness

Rarely have I seen 500 people in one room being so focused, so involved, so intently listening. Bobby McFerrin, giving a masterclass to Jim Daus Hjernoe‘s group “The New Vox North”, is personalized inspiration. He knows how to tell a story and he knows how to create music that is never pretentious but always fascinating. He is funny and serious, very direct but never patronizing. And he stayed with us longer than one would have expected, watching workshops and competitions. Bobby McFerrin is the single most influential person in contemporary vocal music. Or – as Peder Karlsson put it: “For me there was life before and life after Bobby.”

7) Learning from a Real Role Model

The jazz choir competition jury: Malene Rigtrup, Tobias Hug, Peder Karlsson

Speaking of luminaries, who would not think of Peder Karlsson? 26 years as baritone with The Real Group and endless experience both in singing and being a teacher give him natural authority. He is a master of combining the challenge of thinking out of the box with pragmatic action. For me, the work with him on a European framework for vocal, a cappella and choral music has been a highly intensive learning process how this art form has evolved from the first pioneer groups to the vocal music movement we see today.

8) 40 Minutes with the Best Rhythmic Choir of the World

Vocal Line with Bobby McFerrin live!

Superlatives are to be treated with care. Not in this case: Vocal Line, the Danish choir conducted by Jens Johansen has reached a level of artistry that is simply outstanding. I must admit, I’m not the one who is getting easily overwhelmed by a concert experience. But the first set of the festival’s main concert (just Vocal Line, without Bobby yet)  moved me to tears. You must see and hear this group of singers. If you don’t have a heart of stone, you will realize that this is what vocal music and music in general is all about. Spiritual moments in Aarhus. Enough said.

9) The European Voices Association (EVA) kickoff meeting

We were there!

For about 18 months seven vocal music activists have worked on a common vision for an organisational structure for European vocal, a cappella and choral music. And on the last day of AAVF the “core team” presented a first rough idea of how this network could be developed. Despite the inhuman timing of the meeting (9am – on the morning after the final festival party) more than 50 participants learnt how the idea came about (Florian Städtler), what European diversity means for us (Tobias Hug), what the higher purpose of EVA could be (Peder Karlsson), what the three content “bubbles” information, networking and education could look like (Volker Bauer), why it is important for all vocal music activists to be part of the team (Tilo Beckmann) and what the next steps towards EVA will be. By the way, the meeting itself started with a collective song directed by AAVF host Jim Daus Hjernoe, also a member of the preliminary team. One more happy moment and hopefully a milestone in the development of European A Cappella.

10) The Vocal Jog #1

7:30am, Hotel Ritz, Aarhus: Feeling lonely...

Being a passionate runner I try to have my running gear with me whenever I’m on the road. There’s no better way to both get an impression of the city you are staying and getting over the side effects of an after show party. Sunday morning, May 8th, was supposed to be the day of the first “Vocal Jog”: A little run around the beautiful city of Aarhus. Friday night, it really seemed as if I had summoned a true dream team featuring Tine Fris, Line Groth (both with Postyr) and my sandbox friend Tobias Hug, who loved the idea of doing the Vocal Jog just before the Morning Singing with Bobby McFerrin. Well, and this was the only very small disappointment at AAFV 2011: Vocal Jog #1, starting at 7:30 on Sunday morning took place – but no one came…excexpt me. Well, even without Line, Tine & Tobi it was wonderful jogging down to the sea, through the forest and on the streets of Aarhus. And they promised to be there next time. You are my witness.

Have you been in Aarhus and want to tell the Vocal Blog readers your favourite moment? Post your comment/story/experience here on the blog, the top 3 stories have the chance to win an AAVF artist’s cd of their choice.

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