|| Touring with
the King's Singers
On the road again….. by Doug Anderson
It all began in 1976 at the B. C. Music Educators Convention when John Trepp made sure that I came home with an LP recording of “Lollipops” by The King’s Singers. The Singers, founded in 1968 at King’s College Cambridge, were a hot new item in Canada but were yet virtually unknown in the U.S. My ears glowed—I was hooked. Another guest teaching assignment in Canada the following year allowed me to expand my LP library with three or four additional titles purchased at the college library. I developed a listening lesson, “Choral Excitement, Through Timbre and Energy” using this material and schlepped it around to various choral gatherings where the reaction was always the same: “Where can I get these recordings?”
It must have been in about 1981 when the Singers made a surprise appearance at Beall Hall at the University of Oregon School of Music for an audience made up mostly of area choral directors, and their students, who had gotten a call earlier in the week from Dean Trotter “...we have The King’s Singers in Eugene on their way from Seattle to San Francisco. Bring your singers, let’s fill the Hall for them, and come meet them at a reception which follows.” It was there that I got the answer “where to get their recordings” in the U.S. Jeremy Jackman told me they had just signed an agreement with Moss Music in New York to distribute their expanding catalog of LPs and tapes. I was encouraged to make contact with Moss who helped me develop a catalog and supplied me with product to sell one or two mail orders a week from my attic office in our home in McMinnville, Oregon where I was Director of Vocal Music at the High School and Methodist Church. My Walter Mitty dream at that time was, “Man! Wonder how I can get my catalog on the sales table at their concerts?” Little did I know!
In 1985, The King’s Singers did an evening spotlight concert at the ACDA National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, and, with their permission, DJ Records was their official presence in the Exhibit Hall. They were dynamite, with America’s refined choral directors on their feet stomping and cheering for more. Picture this: we shared a single booth, eight-foot front, with Stanley Schmidt and his new Omaha company, Collegium Records who was promoting a young English composer, John Rutter, and the Cambridge Singers. John was in the booth with Stan some of the time and The Singers would come by to sign things and we were swamped! I ordered a ton of stuff to be sent directly from New York to my booth but even with unbelievable sales I had quite a bit to take back to my attic in McMinnville. Then in the early fall of 1986 our phone rang and it was a call from the London agent of The King’s Singers: “We have just had a falling out with the folks who do our U.S. tour sales. We understand you may have some recordings left from the Salt Lake convention and we were wondering if you would be so kind to distribute them to the venues of our October U.S. tour? It will most likely be a one-time-deal because we are going with Capitol Records next and we expect they will do our consignment sales.” “YES!!” I thanked my Methodist angels, and soon into the project I was sure that no mega company like Capitol was going to want to fuss with the individual requests of each venue, nor be interested in taking back the unsold product, and I knew I was on to something that could be quite interesting! I was right! London calling again, “Thanks for doing our October tour. Capitol wants nothing to do with consignment sales and we would like you to continue with us if you are willing.”
In the years that followed the business grew at a comfortable pace that still allowed me to be a busy choral director and by now my dream of “having my catalog on the sales table,” my sales table, had come true many times over. I served their tours providing recordings on consignment to the “Symphony Volunteers” at each venue who did their best to sell the goods. Except for summer tours and some West Coast weekends, we were not able to leave the classroom, obviously, to travel but we did discover that when we were able to do the sales we doubled what the well-meaning “Volunteers” were able to do. As my 30 years at McMinnville High School were drawing to a close Janet and I saw an opportunity for something to keep me busy in retirement. We were very close with the Singers by now but I still did not know if they would accept “a 7 th” tagging along on their tours. “Are you crazy!? We’d love to have you along! Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” So that’s how we got to the present time. That’s more than you thought you wanted to know but I get asked nearly every night, “How did you get this job—and, can I have it when you are done??” But it’s a good story of The Lord opening windows; the recipient leaping blindly through; and Him giving the strength to carry out the assignment.
A day on the road starts before the sun is up to take the first flight out of town. The Singers usually take a more sensible mid-morning flight to arrive in time for a 2:30 rehearsal, but I like to get there early so that I have plenty of time to find a strange hotel, in a strange new town, on strange roads in a strange rental car. The Singers are met at the airport by a representative of the venue, and whisked away in a large window van by a driver who knows the way to the strange hotel. Every concert day they have a two-hour rehearsal in the hall where they will perform that night. During this time they are usually preparing new material for a concert a month or so away or refining material that will appear later in this same tour. The stage crew is setting the lights and, seldom, if sound reinforcement is needed I will work with the sound man to get a boosted acoustic feeling in the house. One or more of the Singers will come into the house to make sure the sound is what they want. Yes, it is very cool to be the only person in a 1,700 seat hall to witness how these guys put it all together. At first I just sat there soaking it all in, pinching myself all the way, until one day Steve calls out, “Doug, how’s the balance out there?” Whoa! “I don’t have my judge’s ears on, Steve, but if that’s what you want I’ll sharpen my listening!” I seldom offer any suggestions, are you kidding, but if they ask I’m prepared now! One time, at their first TV appearance on the Hour of Power from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, we were there at 8:30 a.m. for a sound check before the two services that would follow. Here they had to be on-mic and, being this close to Hollywood, the graphic equalizer was set on the “hot” side. I wasn’t about to go to their sound man and ask him to roll off the highs but I had to do something because this was not “The King’s Singers sound” I was hearing. They were doing “You Are the New Day” and I boldly went up to them with, “guys it is very bright out here. They’re not going to change the settings so make the timbre as mellow as you can—bring on the velvet.” I have never heard “New Day” any better than that morning. Dr. Schuller was speechless, “Wow! WOW! You guys are without peer. You are welcome back here any time you come to LA!”
I digressed…After rehearsal the Singers go to the dressing room for tea. This is part of their contract. They are usually served cold-cuts and fruit with tea or juice. Sometimes there will be someone with British experience on staff and they will prepare a true tea and crumpets offering which is always well received. My observation is that the guys really like a good bowl of home made soup about this time of the day. This is also a time of day when they will have brief business meetings or make some future tour sketch plans. I’ll hang out for a sandwich and fruit drink if there is food left over but I leave if the talk seems a bit private. After tea they go back to the hotel to rest to arrive back at the venue about 20 minutes before show time.
This is also about the time I start setting up for the evening sales. It is important to start this process early so the table is set before the doors open for the audience. I like to have three tables so I can set up three displays, side by side, because the more people that can get to the product the more likely they will find what they are looking for. Many times I do the sales by myself but often there will be a “Symphony Volunteer” to help. Also I appreciate the help of a few avid fans who come to concerts often and are now experienced in how to run the stand. Our daughter, Kris, who manages website sales, and my wife Janet, who manages me, are great help when they join me at West Coast venues. The concert is usually right on two hours. An important part of the evening for The Singers is to come to the lobby to meet the audience. This is a plus to sales, as well, because when the customer learns they will get to meet The Singers for an autograph it often flips the “buy now” switch. Sales are usually very good in this “get-‘em-while-they’re-hot” post-concert environment with a consistent tour average running about $3,300 (165 CDs). We had a $9,600 night at the Texas Music Educators Convention once and our best selling city is Salt Lake City, Utah where we have had several nights in the 8’s and 9’s with the top being $9,800. This takes two sales areas and a well coordinated team of volunteers. My students would say, “Mr. A. you must really be rich selling all those CDs!” “Wealthy, no; enriched, YES!” I run this as an independent business and my time is paid entirely by the sales--after cost of merchandise, travel expenses, shipping to the venue, and a percentage to the house are take out. I pack the unsold product with me on the plane the next morning to give it another chance to find a home. My “bennie” is IMG Artists in New York books 7 rooms at the hotel, now, so I get a nice place to stay, and a chance to share a meal with the guys now and then, but this, too, goes on my credit card. I usually get to start using this room about midnight for about five hours before repeating the travel, rehearsal, and sales at a new strange place the next day.
Every day is a new adventure with a book full of fun stories to tell after eleven years of doing this. A most memorable one would be in San Francisco where we did a Friday concert before I retired from the classroom. We taught all day, and then Janet and I got a flight out of Portland, hailed a cab to the Herbst Concert Hall on Van Ness in time to set up and sell. After the concert we were invited to a reception at the British Consulate and included in the guest list were several members of Chanticleer. Pretty high steppin’ for a couple who left an Oregon classroom about 9 hours before! One afternoon in New York City I spent in Clinton Studio experiencing the recording of “ Kokomo” with Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys producing and running the knobs in the control room. It was an 8 hour stint with several of the brass from BMG and IMG Artists in the room as well. At 10 p.m., with the tune “in the can,” we enjoyed the walk back up to the hotel on Broadway through Times Square which was a first-time experience for most of The Singers.
We just do sales in the U.S. but this assignment also brought us four days in Bermuda where we were treated like kings right along with The Singers and a week in England for the 30 th Anniversary celebration concerts where honored guests included past Singers Brian Kay, Bill Ives, Alistair Hume, and Jeremy Jackman; several of The Swingle Singers; Mr. & Mrs. George Shearing, and Sir Neville Marriner. We stayed with David in the Winchester area, toured the Cathedral, and then went shopping for a new sailboat! We stayed with Phil across the street from Salisbury Cathedral and went to evensong, with David filling in for an ill alto. We stayed with Nigel in the Cambridge area and took a walk through Kings College “where it all began.” He fixed a wonderful Sunday dinner for us with other guests being Andy Grey and Dave Thomas, who were with The Swingle Singers at that time, then we watched some soccer (foootball) on the telly, and during Janet’s nap he took me for a very fast ride in his very fast car! This assignment has taken me to some of the finest halls in America including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York; The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; Spivey Hall in Georgia—and also to Storm Lake, Iowa, Hesston, Kansas, and Tishomingo, Oklahoma. And this brings me to some other important things that need to be said here.
I have been privileged to experience a pretty complete “behind the scenes” picture of The King’s Singers by now. On the February ’05 tour we played Washington, DC and Rexburg, Idaho and the Singers treat each concert with equal importance. I am proud to tell you that what you see on stage and in the lobby after the concert is what I see of The King’s Singers all the time. These are fine English gentlemen who make beautiful music because they respect each other and are kind to each other and everyone we contact. I have seen them disagree with each other, but never get angry. In rehearsal they each express their own opinion, the opinion is discussed and put into the total picture and what we hear from the stage is music that truly illustrates the meaning of “ensemble.” I am also pleased to say that they often express their appreciation for my contributions to the team, sometimes even seeking my advice, and very interested in “how’d you do tonight?” at the close of sales for the evening. Thanks, guys, for letting this ol’ guy tag along! I’m a most happy fella! …and I just can’t wait to get on the road again!
The King's Singer website (Doug's page): http://www.kingssingers.com/music/recordcompany_djrecords.htm
|You can learn to scat
by Scott Fredrickson
Dr. Scott Fredrickson is president of ScottMusic.com and VocalJazz.com
Techniques and concepts to enhance the learning of beginning vocal improvisation
Have you every forgoten the words or melody of a song while you were singing it and eventually made up something on the spot? Have you ever noticed that some people are better at it then others? Now, with a few simple concepts and a little practice, you can learn vocal improvisation.
The key to scat singing is using the musical concept of theme and variation. By isolating the basic elements of a song: syllables (lyrics), melody, and rhythm and learning to alter each of them, you can develop the basic skills to become a scat singer.
Step One - Syllables
Select a song of your choice and toss out the lyrics. Sing the song using only the syllable du on the longer notes and the syllable dut on the shorter notes. When you become proficient using du and dut, select other syllables (combinations of vowels and consonants) from this list:
• Long Notes: vu, du shu, wee, zee, bee, dwee, skwee.
• Short Notes: dop, bop, vop, dot, bot, zot, dit.
Practice using these and others you may invent until you have created a new set of “nonsense” lyrics for the song.
Step Two - Melody
Start singing the song using only the syllables du and dut and change a note or two of the melody. Keep expanding your variations by adding more of your own notes until the song begins to sound like another song based on the original version.
• Instead of a melody note going up, change it to go down and vice versa. Make sure you do not change any of the rhythms at this point.
If you change too much of the original version you have become a “composer” and not a scat singer improvising “with” a particular song. Your alterations must wrap around the original song - not replace it.
Step Three - Rhythm
Go back to the original song on the syllables du and dut and change a rhythm or two.
• Make a short note longer, a long note shorter or leave out notes altogether. Do not add any new notes at this time. You are only altering the original version at this time.
Step Four - Pairs
This is where you begin to put together the three previously isolated musical concepts. Start by adding two together at one time.
• Melody and Rhythm
Start singing the original song using only the syllables du and dut and change a few notes and one or rhythms. Remember, the syllables are the original du and dut.
• Syllables and Melody
Start singing the original song using only the syllables du and dut and add a few new syllables and change a few melody notes. Remember, do not change any of the rhythms at this point.
• Syllables and Rhythm
Start singing the original song using only the syllables du and dut and add a few new syllables and change a few of the rhythms. Remember, do not change any of the melody notes at this point.
Step Five - All Three
After you have become proficient at combining any two of the three isolated concepts, try a small amount of each as you start singing the melody on du and dut . Gradually increase the amount of new material as you sing the original melody.
If you isolate the individual musical elements (syllables, melody, and rhythm) and practice them separately, you are more likely to achieve the proficiency that you desire in vocal improvisation
• Keep the original melody in your mind at all times and use it as the foundation of your improvisation.
• At first, keep your solo simple and near the original melody.
• Listen to jazz singers and compare their improvisation to the concepts you have just learned.
• Good luck and good scatting.
Dr. Scott Fredrickson is president of ScottMusic.com and VocalJazz.com and author of the new book “Popular Choral Handbook.”
Marie Lerner-Sexton is the editor of Choral Range, the state newsletter for ACDA in Kansas.
This article previously appeared in Vol. 56, #4 of the Journal
of Singing and the Fall, 2004, issue of Choral Range, and
appears here with the permission of both publications.
|On Being Mute (by Marie Lerner-Sexton)|
My normal means of communication, singing and speaking, being unavailable, I struggled with how to interact with others. I didn’t know sign language so I turned to the most traditional non-verbal communication: writing. Early on, I thought I should take out stock in a steno pad company. However, since typing is faster, the laptop computer, with font enlarged to be seen across a room, eventually replaced my pen and pad. I struggled, too, with other artistic forms of expression. Sadly, my attempted substitutes for singing proved wholly unnatural. Hours spent playing the piano and composing music contributed further to a feeling of loss, separation, and frustration.
In some sense, stifled speech caused my personality to metamorphose. My public and private selves separated into two people, as distinct from each other as I am from my brother. The conjoined self I thought I knew sprouted this previously unknown alter-ego. My private self developed an outer eye, which while in public, could be felt peering over my own shoulder like a journalist taking notes on events. My public self took on a strained and oddly phony personality. She was the unrecognizable counterpart, bursting to be noticed, “heard,” answered.
My alter-ego had a name, Marceline Marceau, Town Mime. This fanciful creature put on The Mask to act out everyday encounters. She exaggerated gesture and facial expression. Her repertoire included nods, eye and brow movement, and simple hand signals. To others, Marceline must have appeared a vacuous but entertaining character; to me, she was desperate.
Lacking an adequate vocabulary of gesture, she frequently had to pause to write down complex ideas. On purposeful outings, she prepared scripts in advance. “I would like to purchase a sundress, size 10,” one note read. Another requested simply, “A sheet of 37-cent stamps, please.” Responses varied. Owing to the hometown presence of the Kansas State School for the Deaf, some clerks began signing back to Marceline. Many would whisper their replies or grab her pen and write back. Still others spoke slowly and deliberately in the monosyllabic, nounless half sentences used with foreigners and small children. Few but the closest friends and relatives viewed Marceline as anyone with normal intelligence.
After many of these encounters, the private self would find humor in a situation. A rather manipulative game developed in which Marceline, knowing in advance the probable response of the other person, helped a friend save face before he began writing out a reply. Occasionally, mean-spirited behavior elicited a response in kind. Marceline fiendishly relished one such encounter with a rude luggage salesperson. In a prepared script, she asked him for a small carry-on bag with wheels. He, thinking she was stupid, showed her a little red, white, and green Mickey Mouse bag. Marceline shot him “such a look,” the one teachers reserve for the class miscreant.
The telephone presented the greater obstacle. The answering machine continued taking messages while Marceline’s husband acted as interpreter, mind-reader and reluctant conversationalist. Ultimately, he understood how foreign visitors, unable to respond in their own tongue, must feel. At such times, Marceline was lost in translation.
In complex interchanges, Marceline felt stalled inside a slow-motion world. Her thoughts raced ahead without a voice to express them. Mad scribbling rarely kept up with several friends talking at once. Even the trusty laptop proved inadequate to the task. Which of these friends would stop talking long enough to read the screen and hear her thoughts? Her conversation, once viewed as provocative or even compelling, remained mired in the quicksand of chatter.
As amusement at these situations gave way to frustration, the imprisoned private self became frantic, demanding, and aggressive. A harsh social reality flashed in these moments: in our society, mutes pass for normal—until they must communicate. Everyone understands a smile, a nod, a handshake, or a wave. Once beyond these simple gestures, the mute must create a way to communicate intelligence. Otherwise, the world views her as stupid, deaf, or pitiable. Marceline, lacking the verbal vehicle, longed to flee, to find a refuge from insult and exclusion, away from the artifice of exaggeration. No other alternative offered itself. She was trapped. Worst of all, she felt so terribly disconnected from the private self that her true feelings overwhelmed and exhausted her.
In her short lifespan, Marceline failed to create appropriate tools for social interaction. She couldn’t be herself without a song. She needed more time to experiment with expressive alternatives to speaking. Marceline failed to invent anything that allowed her personal complexities and intelligence to be communicated to others. The social fatigue that resulted from encounters meant that an hour with others demanded equal time for rest.
Staying at home eased the tension. Once there, Marceline paled and dissolved, freeing the other, more authentic self from its silent cell. Peace returned and frustration subsided so that reflection could begin.
I wondered why mime and writing failed so miserably as communication until, not long after my “imprisonment,” I happened to see a public television interview with the great Marcel Marceau. He spoke of his early mastery of mime and demonstrated Man Walking in the Wind, Actor with Frozen Smile, and Aging Man. The gestures in each piece were remarkably universal. Were my own efforts such poor imitations that they yielded only misunderstanding? Should I have merely cultivated Marceau’s more universally understood gesture?
Then I realized that mime, like singing, is a performance art, not a vehicle for dialogue. An audience applauds Marceau because it recognizes itself on stage. It adds nothing but appreciation to the performance. Give-and-take belongs to another realm. To have rehearsed more graceful or poignant gesture would only have added to the performance, increasing the distance between Marceline and others. The sense of belonging in society must be linked to shared spoken communication. This must be why the deaf in my community have their own culture, or more universally, why a unique culture surrounds each different language.
Mercifully, I slowly recovered my voice. With my two selves once more conjoined, I re-entered the speaking community. I felt so relieved to be whole again! However, the lessons learned from my mute existence will stay with me. I don’t believe I’ll ever again take singing for granted. Nor will I fail to appreciate the difficulty of being mute in a speaking world. Most of all, I will never find adequate thanks for my skilled and caring surgeon and his staff. Full recovery is nothing short of miraculous.
|Brunson sums up Boise convention||
The 2004 Boise NW Convention is a memory, and it was undeniably a success. That success was due to the hard work done by the R & S chairs, state presidents, and all members of the board. Without all of them working together, there would not have been concert hours full of superb northwestern choirs, incredible interest sessions, and Honor Choirs that could make all of us proud.
Some highlights: 302 in attendance – way beyond our projections! St. Mary’s International Men’s Chamber Choir from Japan and Cor Vivaldi from Spain. National clinicians such as Brenda Smith, Linda Spevacek, Gwyneth Walker to name just a few. Great interest sessions led by Northwestern Division members. Incredible Honor Choirs conducted by Jonathan Reed, Emily Ellsworth, Pat Patton, Sharon Paul, and Sandra Brown-Williams. The Dvorak Stabat Mater performed by The Boise Master Chorale closing the convention. A Jazz Night that sold out more tickets than ever before! Seeing many ACDA members enjoying the chance to sit and visit with each other. It was a great time together!