The Swingles Take Manhattan

The purest musical moments one can experience, as performer or audience member, involve joy, exhilaration, wonder, and a bevy of similar emotions. When The Swingles perform, the audience is pretty much guaranteed to experience a generous collection of such moments. This septet of international singers (now 4 Brits, 2 Americans, and 1 Canadian) recently finished a tour of the United States which included performances at the National A Cappella Convention, an appearance at the Boston Sings festival, and a number of shows in the south and eastern seaboard. The final show, Saturday in New York City, was heavily attended by family and friends of the group’s newest member, tenor Jon Smith, who hails from Long Island (the home of Acatribe). An interview with Jon will be coming here soon, but for now I will just note that he received a raucous hometown reception at Subculture on Saturday night.

This was my fifth time seeing the Swingles over the past few years, and I walked out believing, as usual, that this was their best performance to date. It is a rare and remarkable set of qualities The Swingles possess, a stunning combination of raw vocal talent, ambitious and effective arranging skills, and incredibly adept stage presence. The group uses these characteristics to great effect across a chasm of musical styles, from classical fugues to Turkish ballads, Brit rock covers (and I do love Elbow) to tangos, with original compositions mixed in too. Saturday’s performance was no exception, as the group offered songs from its two most recent albums as well as group staples such as its famous interpretation of Bach’s Fugue in G minor (go ahead, Google it- you’ll find versions of the group performing it literally decades ago) and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” (ditto).

My wife joined me to see the group for the first time, and she (a music teacher) was impressed by the group’s intonation, phrasing, and range. Indeed, it is precisely these types of unique musical traits which bring me back to see The Swingles again and again. I have seen close to one hundred professional a cappella performances over the years, and there are few if any groups who can match The Swingles in these categories of heightened musicality.  I am always floored by Sara Brimer’s pure, unwavering descants and the exquisite control exhibited by soloists like Oliver Griffiths in “After the Storm.” One interesting development was the new (to my recollection) use of vocal looping in the set. The group did the audience a service by explaining that this was not a traditional backing track and then making light of how it can go horribly wrong where the unexpected happens as they record the loop onstage. It is exciting that a group which already does  so many things well in performance is actively looking for new ways to express its sound.

A few other details about a typical Swingles performance, all used to great effect on Saturday, which bear mentioning. The group makes excellent use of staging and pairings of singers, a technique which is visually engaging even if it is not attributable to musical necessity. The singers are also particularly good at expressing emotional investment for each song, without regard for the part they are singing. Solos and duets are powerful both musically and visually. Unlike many groups, The Swingles have seven soloists, each of whom would earn star status in any nearly other group. Smartly, the group does not abuse or exploit this obvious strength, instead giving each only one or two full solos and sprinkling the rest of the set with duets and ensemble pieces.

On Saturday night, the crowd hungered for more solos from the local Smith but were hardly disappointed with what they got instead.  I heard many audience members, from a wide range of ages, discuss afterwards how much they enjoyed various songs. The collective feeling in the room was one of elation, triumph, and satisfaction. If you’ve ever seen The Swingles perform, you know it well.

2015- The Year in A Cappella

By: Dave Bernstein,  Tara Marie Ahn, and Christopher Hoffman

 

Unless you were unplugged from society in 2015, we shouldn’t have to tell you that it was another HUGE year for a cappella.

It all begins and ends with Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect 2, with a whole lot of great albums, videos, and news in the middle.

Before we begin, we just want to note that we have revived the monthly news posts at Acatribe so pay attention at the beginning of each month for all the relevant news from the previous month. In light of preparations for this post, we are skipping a formal December post but you may find some December news scattered in here. We will also include some of the big news from the September, October, and November news posts but you can read the rest on the summary post for each individual month. As always, if you have big news you’d like to share, feel free to email us at news@acatribe.com.

Finally, if you can think of some noteworthy a cappella news we omitted (and we’re sure there is plenty), please feel free to comment below or email us and we will update the post accordingly.

Also, though she is credited as a co-author, we have to note that our own Tara Marie Ahn did a ton of the work here and is very deserving of most of the credit. Show her some love on Twitter!

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So, let’s dive right in with the box office and music charts success of Pitch Perfect 2 and Pentatonix, respectively.

Pitch Perfect 2 was…a little bigger than expected. As in it grossed nearly $70 million in its first weekend and found up at $184 million domestic at the box office, and another $103 million elsewhere, for a total worldwide gross of nearly $287 million. So, yeah. A cappella is even more mainstream than you might have thought. The movie did fine critically, for what it is, garnering a 66% at Rotten Tomatoes and getting decent reviews at Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The movie also won the Top Soundtrack and Anna Kendrick thanked Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer in her acceptance speech.

Pentatonix did more in 2015 than we can fairly recount here. A few of their notable highlights, however, were:

Obviously there is plenty more Pentatonix news from 2015, but again- we can’t possibly get to it all. Feel free to add or share in the comments below! Continue reading…

The House Jacks’ Newest Member Revealed!

The word is finally out! After recent news of Troy Horne’s (bass) return to The House Jacks, their final member has been revealed. Mark Joseph will bring his smooth, sultry tenor sound to complete the lineup.

11950988_1034317419914324_2032470071_nMark has been singing his entire life. In his earlier years he was always in a choir or group of some kind. His love for a cappella was cultivated in high school when he was a part of the jazz choir. There he realized that he wanted to be a part of a collegiate group in the future.

 

Mark graduated in 2014 from the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. There he was a member of Pitch Slapped, winners of the 2014 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). He can be heard on their album, ‘Good Life’. He also won ‘best male soloist’ at SoJam 2011.

“I love how everyone has everyone’s back in a group. There’s nothing like singing and blending in harmony with other voices. That’s so much more fun than singing alone! Also, the relationships you build in a group is my favorite thing. Makes everything that much better.”

Mark is thrilled to be a part of The House Jacks! He sees the group having a great deal of versatility, as their voices are all so different. In addition, to be in a group that has been around for 20+ years, “It’s going to be a great learning experience for me because these guys clearly know what they’re doing.”

When asked what fans can look forward to with the new lineup, Mark replied, “You can expect new music, of course, and you can expect even more outside of the boxness.”

We CANNOT WAIT to see what this rebirth of The House Jacks will bring! Stay tuned to all of their social media to keep up with news, tour dates, and more! (fb/Twitter/IG: TheHouseJacks)

Troy Horne Returns To The House Jacks!

On August 10th, legendary a cappella group, The House Jacks, bid farewell to Deke Sharon (founding band member and acaEVERYTHING) and Elliott Robinson (bass). Faithful supporters were stunned, but amid their shock and well wishes for the departing, rose another chatter…WHO WILL BE IN THE NEW LINEUP? Wait no longer, as the first *new* member to be added to the ranks is none other than TROY HORNE!

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If you have been a long time supporter of The House Jacks, you know that Troy is, in fact, not ‘new’, but rather ‘returning’ to the group as bass. If you are new to The House Jacks, Troy has a rich musical background, contagious positive spirit, and we want to give you the opportunity to get to know him better.

TK: Hi Troy! I am so thrilled to see you back with The House Jacks! However, for those not familiar with you, how long have you been singing/what are your early singing experiences?

TH: Okay! Starting off with the FIRE!! I like it! I like it. So okay…How long have I been singing? I have been singing for over 30 years. That is longer than most of the folks that are reading this have been alive! CRAY!! CRAY!! My early experiences were mostly in church and in talent shows and stuff like that. Nothing too fancy. It was a great way to learn how to engage with an audience. I love it when you are able to create a connection with the people who are listening. I think that that is why I continue to sing and perform. For me it is all about connecting with people.

TK: So true! Sometimes it’s easy to just focus on a perfect performance and overlook making a real connection to the people who are listening. Did you study music in any capacity in school?

TH: I studied music in school and really loved the experience. I would say that it was a really great way to learn and become disciplined; however, schooling is not the end of your learning how to be a performer. It is only the beginning. It gives you more tools to add to your toolbox, but you still have a lot of learning to do once you leave there. A LOT!! :-)

TK: I love that you recognize that there is always room to grow, especially in terms of performing. Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to sing professionally?

TH: Yes. I was really lucky! I knew from the first time that I sang in front of an audience that this is what I was meant to do. I still remember being around 8 or 9 years old standing in front of our church congregation and being able to hear my heart. I could actually hear it in my head. That is how nervous I was. After we finished singing, people stood to their feet and applauded for us like we were the Beatles or something. I was hooked.

TK: Yes! I can only imagine how it feels to have crowds of people so moved by what you do on stage. How did you initially become a member of the group? Did you know someone who knew someone? Or?

TH: I was auditioning for a show at Disney. I think it was Aladdin (or something) and one of the casting people asked if I would be interested in being a part of this a cappella group that they were putting together. I said YES because that is what you say when someone asks you, “Hey would you like to sing for a living?” I walked into this room filled with some AMAZEBALLS singers and was totally intimidated. Deke was the director and coordinator of the group. (I LOVE ME SOME DEKE!) Anywho, we hit it off and later when a spot opened up he asked me if I would like to be a part of a group that he was in called The House Jacks. Like I said before, I did what you do when someone asks you, “Hey would you like to sing for a living?” Haha!

TK: Had you heard of The House Jacks before then? Had you been a fan?

TH: I didn’t really know of the Jacks at that time. I just knew of Deke and if he was a part of it, I knew that it was going to be the real deal. That dude! He is something!

TK: That is for sure! What years were you a part of their lineup?

TH: It’s all a blur. I was a part of their lineup for a few years before doing RENT (*YES, he is referring to RENT on Broadway! Check your Playbills!) and then a few years after RENT and now I am back for a threepeat. I just really like what we do as a group! I can’t wait to shift the idea of what a cappella is yet again. We have some surprises coming. It’s going to be goooood. Little known fact: Did you know that I was a member of Home Free for a minute? Those guys are also so fun! Chris, Adam, and Rob were the only ones in the group at the time. Love those dudes! Shout out to Rob L…”Learn About It”….it’s a Home Free thing… you wouldn’t understand. :-)

TK: Speaking of RENT, how did you land a role in it? Had you done other Broadway shows? Off-Broadway?

TH: It was a very interesting “Come to Jesus” moment. I was sitting in my car reading ‘Backstage West’ and I saw an audition for RENT. I had never seen the play, never heard of the characters, or anything, but something inside of me said “Hey…if you go to this audition you will get the part.” Actually I talk about it in our new podcast. I will let you know when it comes out and what we name it so that people can find it. It’s a long story, and I think hearing Austin and John banter in the background as I tell it is much more interesting than me just talking about it now. So in a couple of weeks, we will put it up on iTunes. (*As a faithful RENThead, I CANNOT WAIT for this podcast. Keep your eye out for its release!)

TK: A hot topic in a cappella right now is original music and The House Jacks are known for their original songs. Were you among those who wrote for the group? Do you have a favorite song that you wrote?

TH: I was writing songs for the group at that time. One of my favorite songs is ‘Storybook’. It is a song about how love between all people a boy and a boy, a girl and a girl, or a boy and a girl are to be celebrated. It was my little musical celebration of love between people.

TK: We all need to celebrate love more often. Do you have a special memory that you love about being a House Jack before?

TH: Two words: HAR GOW! There is a place near Deke’s house that served it. I really loved walking with him to get some. Great talks happened during those walks.

TK: It’s always nice to reflect on cool moments from past experiences. Is there one thing you remember most from that time, touring, etc.?

TH: Almost staying in a hotel that was owned by a guy whose parents were proudly a part of the Nazi movement. AWKWARD! I have stories for days about touring with the Jacks, but that was the craziest moment of my life. Needless to stay we stayed somewhere else.

TK: I’m glad to hear that you found new accommodations! I cannot even imagine how awkward that must have been. Wow. Have you continued with music since then? What types of projects/work have you done?

TH: I have! I am currently working on a music subscription program of all original positive music called the Whole Music Diet. It’s online at Wholemusicdiet.com (Shameless Plug!) Did you know that when you listen to music that eight parts of your brain are activated? Music has been used to help lessen depression and even decrease pain during surgery. I think that we have been led to believe that it is just entertainment, but it is really so much more. My vision is to help people overcome, or at least lessen, their fear, depression and anxiety through music. I want to make happy making music.

TK: Music can truly transform a person. There are numerous stories about its healing benefits. Having been away from the group for some time, what made you decide to return?

TH: I wanted to be around people making music. I really wanted to create more high quality music with great musicians. I was very honored to be notified of the possibility of singing with the Jacks again.

TK: Well, I for one, am SUPER excited to have you back with The House Jacks! Finally, what can both returning and new fans look forward to with the new lineup?

TH: Originality and a high level of artistry. The new guy…(I think that you are doing an article with him later so I won’t spoil it)…is one of the SICKEST SINGERS IN THE WORLD and it is effortless!

For more fun from Troy (and to hear his awesome voice), keep your eyes peeled for The House Jacks’ podcast that Troy mentioned earlier. Also, stay tuned for the announcement of the other new member. Be sure to follow all of the The House Jacks’ social media sites (fb/Twitter/IG: TheHouseJacks) to keep current with all of their news and some fun contests.

The House Jacks: Pollinating the Aca-universe

Last night, The House Jacks announced that founding member Deke Sharon is leaving the group, as is bass Elliott Robinson. Deke formed the group in 1991 and has shepherded it through many iterations while consistently pushingdeke the boundaries of recorded and live a cappella music.

The House Jacks are an iconic group, but not the kind that rests on its laurels and cruises along playing the greatest hits. The band has many exciting plans in store for the future, which will include two “new” yet-to-be announced members. This is why we have decided to go all in on a series of features and interviews, our very own “House Jacks” week here at Acatribe and in conjunction with Acafanbase.

This first piece has been in the works for many months.  When The House Jacks released their album Pollen last fall, I was blown away. A compilation album with some of the best groups from across the globe is exciting, but one where a pillar of the community like The House Jacks collaborates with those groups to write new songs is even better. I sat down with John Pointer in December to discuss the creation of the album, and then decided to go one step further. I reached out to members of all 10 collaborating groups featured on the album. The reason this piece has not gone up sooner is simple: it’s difficult to get in touch with people scattered across five continents. If not for the band’s announcement last night, I might have waited longer to hear back from the four remaining groups.  Instead, I am pushing on to offer you a look inside the making of the first international collaborative album of original a cappella music.

 

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For more than twenty years, The House Jacks have been ahead of the curve. If you listen to their recording of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir today, it sounds pretty cool. If you listened to it in 1997, when it was released on their second album Funkwich, it was mind-blowing.  Layered textures, big booming Bonham-esque drums, and fuzzy distortion are commonplace in recorded a cappella now. In 1997 they were from another galaxy.  

“Studio tricks,” you might say, “big deal- they’ve worked with a brilliant engineer (Bill Hare) for most of their albums.” My response would be this, this, this, and this.  See you in about 30 minutes, or far longer if you search “House Jacks requests” in YouTube.  The group has been performing its patented request improvisation medley for years, and it is fun (though far from perfect) every single time. It’s a bold move from a group of musicians confident enough in their skill and showmanship to allow themselves to be vulnerable onstage.  I have never seen another group even try it.

There’s your proof that the House Jacks have been innovating for quite a while. Last fall, they released Pollen, an album which features 10 songs performed, recorded, and essentially co-written with 10 groups from 5 different continents. This struck me as a brilliant extension of the group’s quest to not only push the boundaries of recorded a cappella music, but also to take a cappella into the future. Online collaborations are not brand-new (Peter Hollens, for example, has been putting out collaborative videos for years) but the idea of a premier band creating music with some of the best international groups is truly revolutionary.

I reached out to John Pointer, baritone/tenor/beatboxer extraordinaire, and he agreed to sit down and discuss the process. What followed was a 2.5-hour discussion about the group’s history, the process of recording Pollen, and some possibilities for the future.

 

I then followed up by emailing each of the collaborating groups, eventually hearing back from members of Cadence, The Idea of North, BR6, Postyr, Maybebop, and MICappella with their thoughts on the process and the album. Continue reading…