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Two Things on a Friday

October 21, 2011

Some notes on an an cappella workshop at Stanford and a performance in San Jose:

1. Spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon in the company of the members of Vocaldente, a men's a cappella group from Hanover, Germany and the members of Fleet Street, Stanford's premiere men's a cappella group. Vocal Dente gave a masterclass for Fleet Street on campus and then the two groups gave a performance. I learned some interesting things about the nuts and bolts of a cappella singing from the event including how to best check intonation (build a chord in pieces, starting from the root and the octave, then adding the fifth, then the third and then the melody line) and how learn to sing in time when a song has complicated syncopated rhythms (reduce the song to words spoken in rhythm and walk around in the circle shaking invisible maracas in your hands -- the combination of the stamping feet and maraca-shaking gestures effectively act as muscle memory aides.) I enjoyed the performances given by both groups. The 16-member Fleet Street ensemble has a lovely warm sound. It was hard to see half of the group though as they stand in a very tight horseshoe formation which means that if you're not sitting right in front of them, you get half of their backs. The men of Vocaldente gave very polished performances of popular songs as diverse as Lionel Ritchie's "Easy," George Michael's "Faith" and Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave." They also sang a couple of quirky German numbers. However, a 10-minute-long tribute medley to Michael Jackson was so schizophrenic that it quickly became dull and the group's countertenor (whom I gather has only been with the group for a few months) could use a little improvement. He sings with a very honky, nasal tone and his intonation is terrible.

2. Visited San Jose Stage for the first time last night for a performance of Cabaret. I had three reasons for going to see this production. The first reason was that there are a lot of people on my fellowship program at Stanford who either have never been to the theatre or rarely go. I felt that Cabaret, with its political overtones, great songs, acerbic wit and raunchy energy, would be a good introduction for my colleagues -- a bunch of very smart journalists -- to the art form. The fact that we could get half-price student tickets and that the theatre wasn't too far from Palo Alto also made it an easy sell. The second reason was that I was curious to see Jef Valentine, a wonderful performer on the underground scene in San Francisco, in the role of the Emcee. The third reason was (and I am ashamed to say this) that I had never before managed to get to a production at the San Jose Stage. Rick Singleton's beautifully-cast production doesn't disappoint. Though there is nothing particularly innovative about it (it's built very much in the dark and sexually aggressive Sam Mendes mold) the show makes for a pithy and entertaining night out. Besides Valentine, who is a natural for the role of the Emcee and whose work I am already quite familiar with, I was excited to be introduced to a bunch of fantastic local performers who were new to me. Halsey Varady's Sally Bowles is a perfect mix of misdirected siren and girlish innocent. Her singing voice is sonorous, strong and full of emotion. Brandon Mears makes for a sweet and self-knowing Clifford Bradshaw. The rest of the cast is equally superb, whether they're singing, dancing, playing musical instruments or delivering the lines in pointed, yet palatable German accents. A great night out, all in all.

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