Congratulations to…

Aaron at Acaville Radio, the winner of our first CD giveaway contest, who will receive a signed copy of the new Ball in the House CD. More on why he was selected in a minute, but first let me just say how exciting and rewarding it was for me to take a look at the cross-section of respondents to this contest.

We had pure fans, folks who run a cappella-related websites like Aaron and Trevor (from Popappella), performers like Daniel Alan (from The Edge Effect), and folks who inspired me to start this blog like Chad Bergeron from The Acapodcast.

Thanks to all who submitted responses, and I have to confess I am not surprised it came out fairly even in the PRO and CON camps regarding the use of instruments or backing tracks on The Sing Off.

I chose Aaron as the winner because of the depth and consideration of his responses, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his position.

As Aaron points out, language carries significant meaning. As someone who spends every day writing for my professional career and then spends more free time writing for this blog, I fully appreciate the power of word choices. I acknowledge that “a cappella” conveys something very specific to many people- vocal music performed without instruments. I appreciate that the distinction between unaccompanied and accompanied vocal music seems like it should be a natural line in the sand, one being “a cappella” while the other is not.

The problem from my perspective is that the last time we really truly had all “a cappella” in any kind of traditional popular music context was probably street corner doo wop. In the decades since, we’ve added microphones (which allow for direct manipulation of sound- try making an effective guitar fuzz sound with your mouth and no microphone), and more recently pedals. The last time I saw Arora, when they were still Sonos, Katharine Hoye sang half the basslines with an octavizer pedal. The show was still awesome, but is that the kind of a cappella Aaron suggests? I don’t know. There are no right answers.

It gets even murkier when you talk about what can be and frequently is done in the studio. I listen to well over 100 a cappella albums a year (between my responsibilities at RARB and Voices Only), and it is increasingly rare that I get a sense the group sang much of what I am hearing anywhere close to the way it comes through my speakers. Groups of 5 members are recording songs with 30 different vocal parts. Their parts are being chopped up and tuned, moved around to the point where they barely resemble a single performance.

Does this bother me? Not really. I still enjoy knowing that it derives from a human voice, but it generally doesn’t give me the chills that I get from a beautiful chord ringing in an acoustically pristine room, where overtones are winding their way into my ears. I think this is what Aaron is getting at- we who are especially enamored with or inspired by a cappella music often appreciate it most in a room, with those chords hitting us in just such a way. Does the addition of instruments or backing tracks reduce the enjoyment in that kind of setting? I suspect it does, at least for many of us.

However- Continue reading…


I finished a new AcaVids a few days ago, and was getting ready to post it today when I realized the date.  Living about 30 miles from Ground Zero at the time, later learning that a good friend’s father was lost, of course I will never ever forget that horrific day or the tragic and deep impact it had on all our lives.

Music can have the ability to help us grieve, celebrate, and hopefully heal. Here are some choral pieces that I have performed, each of which touched me in ways I cannot fully explain. I am excluding some of the choral “classics” like the Mozart, Verdi, and Brahms Requiems in favor of some lesser known, but equally powerful pieces.


First, the Durufle Requiem.


Next, the Rutter Requiem.


Last, and what is probably my favorite pieces to perform, Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.


Hold your loved ones a little closer, be grateful for what you have, and we’ll be back with the regular AcaVids segment next week.

Benefit Concert

A month ago, I would have thought it impossible that Long Island, a suburb of New York City which is more populous than many states (it would be 13th in population), could look like a war zone.  Of course, that was before the storm.

I was lucky- we were only living without power for 6 days. My parents went 2 weeks without power or heat. Many went longer.

I was lucky- a tree came down from across the street, landing on power lines, but it didn’t come down on my car. Or my house. Or me.

This tree is still blocking half of the street in front of my house. And since I don’t have a chainsaw, I’ve only been able to cut up the branches which rested 15-20 feet on my lawn.

Many others were not so lucky.

Believe it or not, there’s a house back there. I grew up with one of the occupants.

My dad standing next to earth torn up from a massive tree


This tree caused roof damage to 2 neighboring houses.

I know folks around the country have been hammered with requests for donations, and I can imagine they are tiring of such requests. All I can say is this- we all believed this kind of devastation was impossible. For over a week, dozens of MAJOR intersections across Long Island remained without power, and without police officers. There were many accidents.

You probably heard that we couldn’t get gas into the stations that had power, so people sat on lines at gas stations. My boss sat at one such line for 12 hours, on the word of the owner that he was going to get a gas delivery at some point that day.

But as stressful as all this was (and trust me, driving in the dark down major roads towards major intersections with NO lights is quite stressful), it cannot compare to the people whose homes have been totally devastated.

So, when I heard that Marc Silverberg wanted to put on a hurricane benefit concert in Huntington, I told him I’d do whatever I could to help.

Here’s the details:

Friday, November 30, 7:00 pm

Long Island A Cappella Presents: 

Hurricane Sandy Benefit Concert
Central Presbyterian Church
240 Main Street
Huntington, NY 11743

Featuring: Good Old Days Quartet, Satellite Lane, Sigma Cappella, FTC Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Notes and Keys

All Proceeds Go To The Victims of Hurricane Sandy

Tickets: $10 at the door for regular admission. $5 for patrons who bring an item for donation (food, clothing, etc.)

If you live on Long Island or even in the tri-state area and have a car, come on over. We could use the support. If not, maybe you could share word with anyone you know who lives in the area. We do have a Facebook Event page here.

If you want to help in some other way, email me at



Sorry for my recent absence… combination of repeated illnesses caught from 2 children in daycare and impending deadlines at work have pushed this blog to the back of my priority list. However, I have some posts in the works, an interview or two, and a few changes to existing pages, so stay tuned and remember you can follow the blog and get all updates as they happen below. Thanks!


A Valentine’s Vocal Love Story

It is hard to believe, but it has been 13 years since I used my a cappella group in a way which would certainly change my life forever. It occurred to me tonight that very few of our friends were with us back then, and so they likely have heard bits and pieces of the story, but not the whole thing. And while I am sure it is far from the only story involving an a cappella group serenade on Valentine’s Day, it is certainly a story worth sharing in my humble opinion.

It was February, 1999, in Potsdam, New York. I had transferred to the Crane School of Music the previous fall from NYU, and the shift in scenery from metropolitan, cosmopolitan New York City to rural, miniscule Potsdam was stark and dramatic. Instead of a college experience where students melted away into the background the second they left their “dorms” (apartment building dorms), at Potsdam there wasn’t much to do where you didn’t see everyone you knew.

The summer before I left for Potsdam, my high school girlfriend broke up with me, but we stayed friends and “friends”-in-other-ways. So, when I got to Crane, I still spent a fair amount of time on the phone or AIM (instant messaging… you know, it was an early way to chat online? No? humbug!) to Kenyon College, OH. But I met a girl in my dorm that fall, Karen, and I was smitten. I found out that she was a Music Education major, played the horn, and lived a floor above me in the dorm. She was from Long Island, like me, albeit 45 minutes east of my house.

In late October, the Pointercounts were performing at an annual swing dance, the Harvest Ball, and I saw her there that night. I told her if I didn’t see her later in the evening, I just wanted her to know that she looked beautiful that night. She was NOT my date to that event. <gulp>

I did end up seeing her later that night, at a party, and we talked and played drinking games until the wee hours of the morning, when we all trekked back to our dorm. An hour or so later, I went to the bathroom, when I saw her in the hall and said, drunkenly, “I had a dream about you” before heading back to my room.

Over the following weeks, we spent time talking, learning about each other’s lives and getting to know each other. We stayed up until 4:30 am, sitting in the 3rd-floor lounge of Knowles South, and talked for hours in a music listening room at the music library (when I missed one of only 3 rehearsals I EVER missed while being in the Pointercounts for more than 2 years). We flirted, we talked about going out, but she was convinced that I wasn’t over my ex-girlfriend, and I couldn’t totally disagree. I pined for her, and hung around her dorm room until her roommate forced me to leave numerous times during finals.

During the winter break, I did finally decide things were over with my ex, and I told Karen as much during our 8-hr drive back up to Potsdam in late January. She didn’t seem convinced or interested.

As Valentine’s Day approached, the Pointercounts began selling Valentine’s Day serenades for a measly fee. We would travel to any place on campus or off, for something like $5, and serenade the chosen target with any one or two of 4 songs. I decided to arrange a song, Earth Angel, for a baritone solo which I hoped I would sing. I don’t exactly recall the process, but I did get the solo. As Valentine’s Day approached, I found a way to add one Valentine Sing into our schedule without anyone really noticing. Don’t worry, I did pay my $5.

But then I had to make sure that she would be there, in her dorm room, at the chosen time. I told her roommate to MAKE SURE she would be there, and Valentine’s Day finally arrived. As we ran all over campus and town that day, I repeatedly asked to see the list. At least twice, I crossed off the one which said Karen- Knowles South. I felt it might be too bold a statement, too embarrassing, or simply awkward. I was also nervous because I thought another member of the group, with whom I was friends, might be interested in her as well.  But each time I wrote the name back in. When we arrived, we sang the song and my voice wavered. I never felt particularly comfortable singing solos, preferring to sing bass or VP (more natural for me), but I was especially nervous this time. When we finished, she and Nicky (roommate) and Pete (Nicky’s boyfriend-now-husband) clapped, and Karen said she wanted to talk later after we finished our Valentine’s Day sings. The time we spent on the remaining serenades was both the longest and the shortest hours of my life.

That night, I got back to my dorm room and sometime later she showed up at my door. She asked if we could close the door and talk, and I said yes. I was expecting rejection, was expecting to be let down gently. Instead, I got a kiss. And then, while we kissed some more, several guys from the group came banging on my door, I am certain intending to interrupt what they suspected was happening.

We have been together ever since.

I asked her a few minutes ago, “Would you still have gone out with me if we didn’t sing to you?”

Her first answer: “NO!” Then she thought about it for a moment, and replied “Maybe. I don’t know. But if I didn’t, I would have been stupid.”

I don’t know about that, but I know arranging that song and spending that $5 was the best investment of time and money I have ever made.

PS- 5 years later, I got a few of those guys back together along with a few others and I proposed to her in a restaurant when she absolutely did not expect it singing, you guessed it, Earth Angel.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Karen, and thank you for keeping an open mind (and perhaps a blind ear).