Monday, July 28, 2008

A Cappella in a Will Ferrell movie?

I didn't see Step Brothers this weekend, but one of our readers did. And he mentions there's a big a cappella moment in the film.

The San Francisco Chronicle review confirms this, and says a cappella is a bright spot in the movie! The review reads: "We meet Derek in his car, on the way to his mother's house. He and his family are doing a regimented a cappella version of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' by Guns N' Roses, and he almost gets in a car accident yelling at his wife for her bad pitch. It's hard to explain, but inspired. If only more of the film had featured his snarling face."

We couldn't find the exact clip, unfortunately. But here's the Binghamtonics singing "Sweet Child O' Mine." I imagine it sounded a lot like this in Step Brothers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Cappella 'Mad Men'

Folks, the excellent show Mad Men returns to AMC on Sunday evening. And guess what? Co-star Rich Sommer—he's got a cappella in his past!

Before he was boozing it up on Mad Men, Sommer sang in the world-famous Concordia Choir at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He even links to the a cappella choir from his website, where he says, "I liked being in this choir." Way to be proud!

Here's a clip of Sommer in Mad Men:

And here's the Concordia Choir:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That's Vantastix!

Dick Van Dyke and his a cappella quartet, The Vantastix, have a new children's album out called "Put On a Happy Face." It features classics like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "It's Not Easy Being Green." Nice work!

Click here to give it a listen!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Great Names in A Cappella History: Lesson 1

There are a lot of unforgettable names in collegiate a cappella. Most of them are puns. You've got the Jewish a cappella group at Cornell, the Chai Notes. You've got the law school group, The Scales of Justice. But it's rare to find a group whose name is a sexual innuendo pun. This deserves a special shout out.

Fifteen years ago, a co-ed group at SUNY Binghamton formed. They called themselves: Rhythm Method.

This makes me laugh.

For those of you who never took junior high school health, the Rhythm Method is a form of "natural" contraception. (Read more in the Wikipedia entry here.) I tracked down one of the founding members of Rhythm Method, Alison Gabel Silverman, to find out how they came up with this very funny name.

No great story there, sadly. No uproar from the university. No parental complaints. Just a great concert tagline. At the end of each show, co-founder Eric Shimanoff would say to the crowd: "The Rhythm Method would like you to know that we don't endorse the rhythm method as a form of birth control."

Not everyone got the joke. Alison: "I remember someone once saying, Why is the name of the group the Rhythm Association?" You can't please everyone. (Get it! More puns!)

Here's a clip from Rhythm Method's 15th anniversary concert:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Cappella: 'More Than It Hurts You'

I reviewed Darin Strauss’s beautiful new novel, More Than It Hurts You, in the June issue of GQ, writing, “Nothing in Darin Strauss’s previous big novel, Chang and Eng (historical fiction, conjoined twins), prepares you for the emotional wallop of More Than It Hurts You. At its core, this one is a thriller—one that connects the dots between a young handsome couple on Long Island, the unknown illness that plagues their newborn baby, and the hospital bureaucracy that may pose the greatest risk to all involved. The question everyone wants answered: Who hurt this child?” (Read the full review here.)

A section of the novel is set at Tufts where, yes, one of the characters sings in an a cappella group. The author, Darin Strauss—himself a graduate of Tufts, class of 1992—was nice enough to get on the phone to discuss his own brush with a cappella.

Obvious question: Did you sing in an a cappella group at Tufts?
I auditioned for the Amalgamates. But I didn’t get in.

Ouch. What insipired you to audition?
I’d played guitar and wanted to become a singer and thought it would be fun. I guess it was kind of cool on campus. I’m not sure if it is today. But it seemed like a less nerdy thing than you might think. Here’s one of the reasons I thought of joining: One guy—I think in the Beelzebubs—affected this real pretentious cool guy vibe. He walked around campus with a cane, even though he didn’t need one. I thought him and his cane were cool enough that I should try out. I’m bitter cause I didn’t get in.

The cane is hilarious. You’re in good company, by the way. Jessica Biel was rejected from the Mates, too. Were you disappointed?
I remember being so nervous. I bombed the audition. I was mad at myself. I thought I was better than I comported myself. I stunk it up.

What was your audition song?
I’d heard some a cappella version of “Is She Really Goin’ Out With Him?” I thought that sounded cool. I tried to do it by myself. Without the harmonies and the Joe Jackson, it didn’t sound so cool.

In the novel, one character sings in a Jewish a cappella group. Why include this reference? What made you even think of it?
A cappella was such a big part of campus life. I thought it was funny that there was now a Jewish a cappella group, which there wasn’t back then, I don’t think. It shows that a cappella is a big deal on campus, but also how ridiculously segregated college life can be. Not only is there a Jewish life organization but a Jewish a cappella group you can’t get into unless you’re a Jew. It sums up college life. It seemed like PC-meets-college-nerdiness.

The Jewish a cappella group at Tufts is called Shir Appeal. The name’s a pun, obviously. Shir is the Hebrew word for song. Peel is the Hebrew word for elephant, which happens to be the Tufts mascot.

That’s awesome. Shir Appeal—as in utterly appealing.

More Than It Hurts You is in stores now. Click here. to order a copy from Amazon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"It's the old Waiters."

Dedicated readers of this site will know that, as an undergraduate at Cornell, I sang with Cayuga's Waiters.

This video below just surfaced of the Waiters Class of '88 singing together at their 20-year reunion. This will one day be me--gut and all. And nothing would make me happier.

PS--The true genius of this video isn't so much the music (in this case, what has become our signature song, "Me and the Boys,") but rather the woman gabbing at the start. "You know what's so perfect about this?" she says. "It's the old Waiters. Not the new ones. You know? It's the Waiters as they were." Ha!

If there's a better song than "Danger Zone"...

...I haven't heard it.

Here's Hyannis Sound (the new class) performing the Top Gun classic last month.

A cappella Theater.

There are two—count 'em two!—a cappella stage shows coming to New York.

The first, Perfect Harmony, is up now. According to the press materials: PERFECT HARMONY is a new comedy about the search for truth, love and high school a cappella championship glory. Perennial powerhouse, The Acafellas, and their female classmates, The Ladies in Red, bare their dreams, hopes, and struggles to blend, as they battle to win Acapalooza, The National Championship Jam, and discover the true meaning of harmony.

The show is playing thru July 24th at Theater Row on 42nd Street. To see the show for only $15 (regular ticket price $18), use the code SATB or TTBB to buy four or more tickets. To Buy Tickets and For More Info, click here.

The second is called IN TRANSIT, and it's running August 8-10 at the York Theatre Company space on Lexington and 54th Street. The plot (according to the press materials): A cappella on the express track! From below the city's streets springs a brand new musical, inspired by the rhythms and sounds of life on the subway. There's not an instrument in sight as a colorful array of commuters find their way in NYC. Mixing reggae, pop, soul, beat box and more, IN TRANSIT is unlike anything you've ever seen-or heard-on stage before.

For ticket information visit or call 212-935-5820. Tickets are $35. But save 10% if you use the discount code PITCH.

More on both productions soon!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bubs on the radio.

Celebrate your July 4th by listening to the Beelzebubs (and other noted a cappella groups) on Vocal Chords—an excellent a cappella radio show hosted by Rick Alloway of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Assistant Professor Alloway was kind enough to chat with me about Pitch Perfect and the changing face of a cappella. That segment (along with a handful of good tunes) will air—and stream live—on Friday in the second half of his show. Info below. Enjoy!

Show: "Vocal Chords"
Time: 8am-10am central daylight time Friday morning July 4 (repeating in the same time slot on Sunday morning, July 6)
If you're in Nebraska, check it out at 90.3 KRNU. Or, to stream on the web, click here or go to the college radio section of iTunes, under 90.3 KRNU.