Deke And Dylan’s Wisdom Distilled in “A Cappella Arranging”

Every writer has faced stumbling blocks: the threat of a blank page; the surfeit of inchoate ideas; the troublesome passage that resists clarity, even after its third reworking. An artist who has tried her hand at arranging vocal music—in any genre, for any number of singers, and with any level of technical proficiency—has met these foes, plus some more that are custom-built to annoy the arranger: you suddenly find that you can’t cover the third of the chord without your tenors making an awkward jump; you found a mistake, fixed it, and then found that the ‘fix’ threw something else out of whack; your charts made perfect sense when you were typing, but now the parts seem confounding in rehearsal. Oh, what we wouldn’t give in those moments for some practical, hands-on advice.

Deke Sharon has been distilling, popularizing, and proselytizing the art and science of arranging vocal music for two decades. He has shared his hard-earned wisdom in the form of one-hour workshops at a cappella summits, multi-day intensives in and around his San Francisco home, and CASA blog posts. Most recently, he has partnered with prolific arranger Dylan Bell to produce what they hope to be the definitive manual on the topic of contemporary a cappella arranging.

Read the full review on CASA.org.

Advertisements

Winter Shows in the Northeast

Fantastic music coming up in Boston and New York. Here are some shows I’m especially excited about:

Fri 12/14 — Winterbloom (Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, Meg Hutchinson and Natalia Zukerman) @ Club Oberon (Cambridge)
Fri 12/14 — Jonathan Coulton @ City Winery (New York)
Wed 12/19 — We’re About 9 @ Passim (Cambridge)
Thu 12/27 — Dar Williams @ the Bell House (Brooklyn)
Sat 12/29 — Mieka Pauley @ Johnny D’s (Somerville)
Sun 12/30 and Mon 12/31 — Ellis Paul @ Passim (Cambridge).  He does an annual New Year’s show, and it’s great.
Fri 1/11 — Groovelily @ Bull Run (Shirley, MA). They’re not touring much these days; catch this show if you can.
Sat 1/12 — Mieka Pauley @ Rockwood (New York)
Tue 1/15 — the Mountain Goats @ Carnegie Hall (New York) — wow!
Sun 2/3 — Shawn Colvin @ City Winery (New York)
Wed 2/6, Thu 2/7 and Fri 2/8 — Richard Shindell @ Passim (Cambridge). Get tickets early; these shows will sell out.
Sun 2/10 — The House Jacks @ Passim (Cambridge)
Thu 2/14 — Judy Collins @ Metropolitan Museum (New York) — really, wow!
Fri 2/15 — The Bad Plus @ ICA (Boston)
Sat 3/2 — Delta Rae @ the Middle East (Cambridge)
Sat 3/2 — Ingrid Michaelson @ Lincoln Center (New York). I might make an east coast trip just for this show.
Sun 3/3 — Suzanne Vega @ the Bell House (Brooklyn)
Thu 3/14 — Ari Hest @ Union Hall (Brooklyn).  I’m really psyched about his new record. Catch a stop on his tour if you can.

Lots of other great people hitting the road in the next 3 months — check out dates for Antje Duvekot, Sufjan Stevens, Medeski Martin & Wood, Leonard Cohen, Erin McKeown, Ellie Goulding, Della Mae, Melissa Ferrick, Tegan and Sara, Mumford & Sons, Brandi Carlile, Josh Ritter, Diana Krall. Not that there’s ever a drought for the music scene in NYC and Boston, but when it rains, it pours.

Early 2013 in PDX

Portland has a vibrant music scene, and a lot of great folksingers are coming to town in early 2013. If you’re in PDX, check out:

Fri 1/11 — Red Molly @ Alberta Rose
Sun 1/13 — Dar Williams @ Alladin Theater
Thu 1/31 — Liz Longley @ Alladin Theater
Wed 2/6 — Suzanne Vega @ Alladin Theater
also Wed 2/6 — Ellie Goulding @ McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom
Sat 2/16 — Delta Rae @ Star Theater
Mon 3/4 — Erin McKeown @ Mississippi Studios
Thu 3/21 — Josh Ritter @ McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom

If you’re going to the Mountain Goats show this Sunday 12/16 at the Alladin, then I will see you there.

“Black & Blue” by the JMU BluesTones

Instructions for experiencing “Black & Blue” by the JMU (James Madison University) BluesTones:

1. Load up the album on a portable music player.
2. Apply decent headphones.
3. Bundle up. It’s March.
4. Press play.
5. Go for a walk.
6. Strut unintentionally.
7. Marvel at the girl drummers’ kick drums, especially on the third track.
8. Also at some strong solo performances, especially on the third track.
9. Enjoy the relaxing wind-down of the last two tracks.
10. Go home and make some cocoa. That was a cold 44 minutes. (But worth it, right? Good. I’m glad you thought so.)

Where is the Annie Lennox, the Anna Nalick, the Imogen Heap, the Sara Bareilles? Delightfully absent, that’s where. WIth no offense intended to pop covers—believe me: I, too, have sung my fair share of Sarah McLachlan—it’s refreshing to hear an album of the power ballads we shall call Diva Rock. The song choices are equal parts R&B (Beyoncé, Jordin Sparks) and country (Carter’s Chord, Jessie James), with a dash of straightforward rock at the beginning (Paramore) plus one misplaced gem of the indie singer/songwriter persuasion (the Rescues).

Read the full review on CASA.org.

June at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC

If I were in New York City, I’d be living at the Rockwood this month.  You can’t miss:

  • Pieta Brown on Thursday 6/2 at 7:30pm
  • my good friends Delta Rae on Thursday 6/2 at 9pm
  • Mieka Pauley on Saturday 6/4 at 9pm
  • Schuyler Fisk on Tuesday 6/7 at 10pm (of Joshua Radin fame)
  • Alex Wong on Sunday 6/12 at 9pm  (of Vienna Teng & Paper Raincoat fame)
  • Allie Moss on Friday 6/17 at 7:30pm (of Ingrid Michaelson fame)

And that’s just the stuff I thought you couldn’t pass up; check out the rest of their stellar lineup: http://www.rockwoodmusichall.com/.   And then take up residence on the Lower East Side.

An Interview with Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap is a Grammy Award-winning British vocalist and songwriter (as well as multi-instrumentalist and producer). To contemporary a cappella singers and fans, Imogen hardly needs an introduction: between her three solo records and her work as half of the duo Frou Frou, Imogen’s songs like “Let Go” and “Hide and Seek” are ubiquitous in high school, college and professional a cappella. Imogen chatted with CASA writer Marisa Debowsky about singing, songwriting, and her recent project, surrounding the song “Earth”, which has generated a wave of energy as well as exposure to new fans for many a cappella groups in the past year.

Marisa Debowsky (CASA): Tell me about your vocal background. How did you start singing? How do you think about the voice?

Imogen Heap: I started singing naturally: I like talking, and talking became melodies; I accompanied myself on piano when I was younger, and started putting words to melodies at 12 or 13 — puberty, mood swings, bullied at school, so I had subject matter to write about. I sang in school choirs when I was younger and did some writing every year for the choir (a carol or hymn as end-of-year project). Singing was just fun, really; I never planned on doing it professionally, just a natural thing that I liked doing. I knew that I wanted to do music, so studied classical music, arrangement, composition, and anything to get to grips with how to write for orchestra (cello, clarinet, piano); the older I got, the more songs I started to write; I played around with a keyboard, making up beats, writing with computers. At 15, I started recording, and I could hear the things I’d play, how they sounded back. Then I started to layer them up.

I always treated my voice like an instrument, because that’s how I was taught. My singing style comes from a cross between classical and learning instruments and how to accompany. Rather than thinking of vocals as the lead, I might think of a vocal line as accompanying something on piano. A vocal line is also a way to record an idea quickly: rather than getting up to get other instruments, it’s quick to record a vocal track. I like making sounds with the voice, as well as making lyrical lines.

The only pop music I listened to as a kid who had influence was Michael Jackson: he uses lots of vocalism that’s not lyrical, which I subconsciously incorporated. I breathe rhythmically, often filling in space with vocal sounds.

Read the rest of the interview on CASA.org.

Imogen Heap’s “Earth” Project

Imogen Heap is a Grammy Award-winning British vocalist and songwriter (as well as multi-instrumentalist and producer). To contemporary a cappella singers and fans, Imogen hardly needs an introduction: between her three solo records and her work as half of the duo Frou Frou, Imogen’s songs like “Let Go” and “Hide and Seek” are ubiquitous in high school, college and professional a cappella. Imogen chatted with CASA writer Marisa Debowsky about singing, songwriting, and her recent project, surrounding the song “Earth”, which has generated a wave of energy as well as exposure to new fans for many a cappella groups in the past year.

Imogen Heap’s musical life began with singing, and throughout her career, her albums have been layered with creative vocals. “I always treated my voice like an instrument,” Imogen recalls. “My singing style comes from a cross between classical and learning instruments and how to accompany. Rather than thinking of vocals as the lead, I might think of a vocal line as accompanying something on piano… I like making sounds with the voice, as well as making lyrical lines.” Going one step further: both Imogen’s last record (“Speak For Yourself”) and her newest record (“Ellipse”) feature entirely a cappella tracks.

“My first a cappella song was Hide and Seek,” says Imogen. “It’s three takes of vocals (one at the beginning, two in second chorus, three at end), and then I played the harmonies through the keyboard.” By contrast, “Earth” is a heavily layered and complicated vocal track. Like a poet looking to deepen her focus by putting free verse on the shelf and setting her pen to a sonnet, Imogen approached the song with the intention of using her voice as the only instrument: “I decided to do “Earth” a cappella as well. I had written a b-side called “mic check”: it’s just me saying “mic check” with various drum beats, and I enjoyed that challenge. It’s good fun: I like giving myself limitations — it makes me be creative in different ways. For example, writing a song with only piano: I might use the sustain pedal as kick drum, or tapping of hammers as a rhythmic part. So when I recorded “Earth”, I got to make all kinds of sounds that I couldn’t possibly do myself.” The result is an energetic, imaginative, beautifully-engineered track.

In concert, Imogen often performs complicated vocal arrangements (and even improvisations) using live looping, but recreating the studio version of “Earth” was never the goal: instead, the concert version of the song became a collaboration with other singers around the globe.

Read the full review on CASA.org.