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Jenny Oaks Baker and Alexandria Sharpe to perform with American Festival Chorus and Orchestra


Cache Valley Fun (blog) has posted a nice write-up on the upcoming American Festival Chorus Christmas performances. Give it a read!

 

Cache Valley Fun

The American Festival Chorus and Orchestra will present its annual Christmas from the Ellen Eccles Theatre concert this Friday and Saturday in Logan. This year the concert will feature violinist Jenny Oaks Baker and singer Alexandria Sharpe.

“This year we have two guest artists,” said Craig Jessop, director of the American Festival Chorus. “We have Jenny Oaks Baker and she’s just outstanding. She’s a Utah girl, but lives and works in Washington, D.C. as a violinist. For many years she’s been a member of the National Symphony Orchestra. Soprano Alexandria Sharpe, she’s coming to us from Ireland. She was a member of the group called Celtic Woman and has traveled all over the world.”

Sharpe and Baker will perform with more than 300 musicians in front of a sold out crowd.

“The singers are all volunteers and are members of the community,” Jessop said. “The orchestra are professional players. We…

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Charter for a New Men’s Acapella Group in Cache Valley, Utah


The website for the Men’s Acappella Chorus of Cache Valley can  be found here: http://bit.ly/L7dBAn.

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This blog is to declare my intentions of forming a new Men’s Acapella Group in Cache Valley, Utah and to solicit men (any guys really) to join and help organize this group.

Before you read this, if you are interested at all please contact me and let me know. You can comment on this blog, you can email me at detmer14@gmail.com, you can call me if you have my number, contact me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, any instant messenger, or talk to me in person. Please share this with all your friends you think may be interested. This group will gain popularity and prestige only by word of mouth.

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Update May 8, 2012:

We have begun rehearsals and have an initial group formed. We also have a hompage where we have posted more details about the group, a discussion forum containing discussions members have been having about the group, a page describing music we are working on and could possibly work on, and a rehearsal calendar.

This is our homepage: http://bit.ly/L7dBAn. Please visit this page if you are interested in the group in any fashion.

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I have always wanted to be in an men’s acapella group. While growing up in the 90s, I listened to a lot of Voice Mail, which was formed right here in Cache Valley by USU students. I also listened to some earlier recordings of BYU Vocal Point. I had also developed a love for the music of the King’s Singers while doing choir in High School and College. The human voice amazes me; especially the men’s singing voice. The human voice can create almost any sound with training. I love the female voice as well, but being a Bass singer myself, I feel a kinship to the male voice. And I am bias when I say I love the sound of a great men’s group; one that is well-disciplined and has refined their sound.

While at Junior College at the College of Eastern Utah (CEU) – now known as USU Easter, Dr. Russel Wilson – director of choral studies – started a men’s group of students. I was hooked instantly. It was mainly a Do Wop group singing songs like “Goodnight Sweetheart”, “The Longest Time”, etc. I actually came up with a name for the group too: Flipside. This showed some relation to vinyl records such as groups like the Platters. We even put on a concert in the student center. Russel Wilson had acquired some headset mics that we used. We had choreography, everything. And it was a blast. But I have really missed this.

I have attempted multiple times to get men’s groups together. My first year after transferring to USU, I tried to get a campus Men’s Choir club going. But there just wasn’t enough interest or enough dedicated people. I guess that makes sense being that it was a student club. It’s hard to expect students to be very dedicated. I gave up the idea until recently.

For 3 years, I had some great roommates that were also musically inclined. In fact, all of them were in a band together, called Three Weeks. The three of them and I would often sing in our LDS church meetings together. We would come up with our own parts on the fly. We didn’t necessarily stick to the hymn arrangements. And every now and again they would let me sing with their band.

After getting married, I didn’t have those roommates around anymore. Last year I was asked to sing in my LDS church ward. When I perform, I don’t want it to be mediocre. I want it to wow and amaze. So of course, I wanted to get a men’s acapella quartet together, which we did. And it was amazing! So much fun. I tried to do this one other time without success. People were either too busy or they didn’t feel the way I did about it.

So I’ve decided I would like to reach out to the public and my friends to see who might be interested in forming a men’s acapella group. No, I do not want this to be a men’s choir with piano accompaniment, nor do I necessarily want a conductor standing in front. Such groups are wonderful – I’ve even been able to participate in one recently. But everyone has to follow the conductor, and while there is still teamwork and a group effort, it’s nothing near as intimate as an acapella group. A group that rehearses in a tight circle so they can hear each other and feed off of each other’s energy. A group that shares ideas, a group that shares techniques, a group that educates each other. A group that, after sufficient time together, can perform at drop of a hat. No need to lug around a piano, keyboard, or other instruments.

Now the problem with trying to start such a group is that everyone has their own idea of what they want it to be. I’ve seen it with bands. And a difference of opinion can bring down the entire group. And I really do not want that to happen. I want this group to be ultra fun, and not cause stress or bad relations. I want this group to be accepting of other people’s voices and talents, but also strive for excellence and not settle for a mediocre sound. I am torn on how I want to approach this and I would like input from those interested in possibly joining such a group. I would also like suggestions from those who may not join this group, but like to give their opinion in such things in order to provide a wonderful resource for entertainment in the community.

I see multiple directions this group could go and I’m not sure which would be the most appropriate for those involved or which would be the most fun for the group. I know many men long to be in such a group, but feel they lack vocal training to be a good impact on the group. Many men are afraid of rejection. Many are afraid of getting “in over their heads” and trying to tackle something too difficult. It would be nice if this group could provide people in these situations a way of having fun singing in a men’s group without pressure. And also provide them a way of improving their voice and talent. Such a group could still put on wonderful concerts, fun for the whole community. But such a group has potential to be large and have a huge variety of voices. Being such, it is difficult to develop those “tight harmonies” that we’ve heard groups like the Temptations, the King’s Singers, and Acapella groups achieve.  But I’m thinking there is a way to have a piece of each pie.

Many Choral groups use a larger group as their talent mine. In High Schools, there are often large concert choirs, and then a smaller show choir – often called “Madrigals”. This happens at all colleges and universities as well. There is a larger group that may or may not be auditioned, and a smaller, more strictly-auditioned group. USU has their University Chorale and their USU Chamber Singers. I’ve heard rumors that even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does this. Recently, Dr. Craig Jessop of the American Festival Chorus indicated he wanted a smaller group of anywhere from 16 to 60 singers that would be called the American Festival Singers – a subset of AFC if you will. These smaller groups tackle more difficult material. They learn pieces faster. They have a much “tighter” sound than a large chorus. Think of any wonderful Chamber Choir music you’ve listened to. The Robert Shaw Singers or others.

This could potentially be possible with a men’s group, although on a smaller scale. But I’m not entirely sure this approach would work. Just as Dr. Craig Jessop, I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Is it possible to have enough people for both groups? Would guys bail out if they weren’t included in the smaller group? I would not want such a group to fail. Or would the men involved be understanding of who was in the smaller group?  Does the smaller group need to be auditioned? Ideally, I’d like the smaller group to be very flexible, grabbing people from the larger group as needed. People have busy lives and often have too much going on to be able to participate in a concert. So in would step people to fill spots. Maybe we want a small quartet for one performance, but want a double, triple, or quadruple quartet for others. Guys could come and go from the group as needed due to… well, LIFE!

So there could potentially be concerts for the larger group and side concerts for the smaller group. I would also like this group to act as a pool of resources for people needing to get a group together for any performance – a church performance, community performance, a family gathering, etc. The men/guys can meet others in the group and have “side-bars” to get their own groups together as needed. You see what I’m doing here? I’m trying to provide a way to heal my own frustration with trying to get groups together. And I’m hoping this idea appeals to many men here in Cache Valley.

I would also like this group to be versatile in the type of music we sing. Men’s groups often migrate to performing solely barbershop music. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love barbershop music, and I would like this group to do a good helping of barbershop. But I want to include other types of music as well. I’d like to be able to do songs such as the King’s Singers and also boy’s/men’s acapella groups such as Voice Mail, Vocal Point, Rockapella, etc. I’d like to have the ability for the group to really “rock it” with some songs. I would also like to be able to do some tight chamber singing – such as the King’s Singers do. Some Madrigal singing – singing without the vocal effects recreating instruments. But I absolutely DO want to some acapella music with vocal instruments if at all possible.

Here are some the influences I would like this group to have, but I’m very flexible:
King’s Singers, Swingle Singers, Chanticleer, Cantus, Acapella groups (Voice Male, Vocal Point, Eclipse, Rockapella, and many others), Barbershop in all its forms, Do Wop groups / Motown groups (Temptations, Del Vikings, Billy Joel songs, Four Tops, etc.), Chamber groups such as Anuna, Cambridge College Singers, King’s College Singers, Robert Shaw Singers.

The influences would also be very flexible. I want the group members to contribute ideas of songs to do. To try out new stuff – potentially not even to perform, just try it out. We would experiment with our repertoire.

I sincerely hope this interests a lot of you men out there. I want to develop camaraderie with you guys. I’m a pretty fun guy, and I want us all to have similar attitudes to this group. Please let me know if you are even a little interested. I would hate for this idea to fail due to not enough guys being interested.

I would also like everyone’s input on these ideas. What do you like? What don’t you like? What would you change? What additions would you make? What direction would you want such a group to head into? I want to see what your ideas and mesh them with mine. I want this group to appeal to EVERYONE. And I think we can make it work for everyone. Have you thought of joining such a group before? Have you thought of starting your own group before?

I would also like this Charter to be flexible for the time being. I’ll add others’ ideas as well as my own as it becomes more organized. Ideally, I’d like to get some sort of meeting scheduled to discuss ideas with group members. It will take time to get this going, but I would not like to dilly dally. Otherwise, such an idea never picks up speed or enough momentum to carry itself.

If you are interested at all please contact me and let me know. You can comment on this blog, you can email me at detmer14@yahoo.com, you can call me if you have my number, contact me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, any instant messenger, or talk to me in person. Please share this with all your friends you think may be interested. This group will gain popularity and prestige only by word of mouth.

Here are some ideas I have for the purposes or ideals this group will strive for – call it a mission statement maybe:

To have fun singing as men above all!
To share ideas for men’s acapella songs and share music you love.
To develop our vocal talents together by helping each other get better. Help each other develop good vocal quality.
To prepare songs to perform at any type of event.
Hopefully to develop a group that can “tour” Cache Valley and put on concerts if it develops enough fans.

Undecided aspects of this group (give your input please):

Rehearsal schedule – it’s often very difficult for some people to meet on a weekly basis. Would it be better to meet twice a month? Or weekly, but be understandable if people can only make 2 a month? Those who are more dedicated may get opportunities to do more.
Should there be auditions for this group in any fashion? Do you want any part of the group to be auditioned? Or do you want it completely open?
Where to rehearse? Need ideas on locations that have a piano and hopefully decent acoustics. I do not have connections to be able to rehearse in community centers. I would love it if someone could help out with that. Or maybe we’ll need to meet at someone’s houses. We will really have to observe how the group evolves and adjust as needed or desired.

Action items that need to be taken care of:

I need to create a Google Site to house group information and documents. As well as house a calendar and a group forum.
Come up with a time for an initial meet and greet to discuss the group.

Additional skills and resources that would be really nice for this group although not necessary for any member:

People with access to schedule concerts at venues.
People with access to sheet music. We need to develop a small music library of some sort for the group.
People with organizational skills.
People who can compose music – It would be nice to have someone who can help write music if we see a song we’d like to sing but don’t have the music or want our own arrangements. This person doesn’t have to sing at all.

Review: Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Guest performers Nathan Gunn & Jane Seymour from Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011


Sunday, December 18, 2011, my wife, her mother, her Uncle, and I attended the Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert. Their guest performers were soloist Nathan Gunn and actress Jane Seymour, who did the narration.

The concert was quite delightful. The stage was decorated wonderfully. There were wonderful technical effects to enhance the experience such as falling imitation snow during the story and song of Good King Winceslas, lighting up of the organ during songs, and other visual effects. Both Nathan Gunn and Jane Seymour gave marvelous performances. Nathan Gunn was very candid and “down to earth”. He put forth a noticeable effort to befriend the audience. Personally, I appreciate when any performer can do this. Especially one with the notoriety of Nathan Gunn. Many such performers give off the air of being too important and “inaccessible” to the audience. Jane Seymour’s narration blended well with the rest of the performance and brought a warmth to the event.

The Choir, themselves, sang wonderfully as usual and as expected. However, I do have some constructive criticism about the program as a whole. First, it seemed that the initial 2 or 3 songs by the Choir did not have correct audio settings to broadcast on the speakers. It seemed that we could only hear the Tenors and not the other parts. If this was the problem, then it also seems they were able to get this issue fixed after a few songs, for we were able to hear the entire choir perfectly after a few songs.

Secondly, I for one enjoy the addition of a non-tradition or less well-known Christmas song or two. But there seemed to be an abundance of these songs throughout the night. I am familiar with a large quantity of Christmas songs. I grew up listening to songs that the common person would no know. But there were a decent amount of songs I had never heard in any form before. This would not be a problem if the performance were balanced out with recognizable songs to keep the audience interested. But it appeared that the unknown songs took up at least half of the performance. This is ok and they were fun to listen to, but in my opinion, people go to hear the Choir sing Christmas classics that they know.

Lastly, and most importantly, it did not seem like a “Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert with guest singers”, but rather the Choir backing up Nathan Gunn with a couple performances where they were the main part. This really disappointed me being that I expected near half of the performance or more to feature the Choir as the main performer. After all it IS the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s concert is it not? So shouldn’t they be featured the most, rather than acting as a backup act?

I did not get a chance to attend the Christmas concert a few years ago when the King’s Singers were the guest artists, but I have seen various parts of recorded material from the concert. And it seems there was a much better job done of featuring the Choir with the King’s Singers being the guests of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And I am a HUGE fan of the King’s Singers. But I thought it was appropriate for them to be the “additional” act instead of upstaging the Choir.

I am still very glad we were able to attend. As I said, Good King Winceslas is one of my favorite Christmas songs, and they did a wonderful job narrating the complete story of the song. They really brought me the Christmas mood with that one. These are just some thoughts that I had of the overall performance. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Here is Blair Howell’s (Deseret News) review of the concert series: http://bit.ly/sGClNv
And here is Ed Reichel’s (www.reichelrecommends.com) review of the concert series: http://bit.ly/sZMCP5

And I just found another article by Blair Howell introducing Nathan Gunn and his preparation for his performances with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: http://bit.ly/vZXvHh 

You can follow me on twitter @AFC_BenBurt. Please also follow the American Festival Chorus on twitter @AmFestChorus. You can also follow the American Festival Chorus on Facebook at http://bit.ly/tLymHN. The official Website of American Festival Chorus is www.americanfestivalchorus.com

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