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SMC goes all a cappella
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SMC goes all a cappella

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Men's Chorus with m-pact
Meany Hall June 19-21


A cappella originally meant 'in the church style,' since choral singing without music was mostly done in church. Now, we use it to mean 'without instruments other than voices.' A unique concert is coming up, June 19, 20 and 21 at Meany Hall. Seattle Men's Chorus is going to sing an entire concert a cappella! This is pretty unprecedented for a chorus of this size, and a great challenge for the members.

Dennis Coleman, artistic director, explains more. 'The purest form of choral singing is a cappella, just the voices alone, no piano, no instruments. Much of the great literature in the world has been written for a cappella. I've been wanting to do this for a long time.' He continues, 'It's an opportunity to choose music from all different periods, cultures, styles. Every culture and period had a cappella singing. [Instrument] accompaniment is different in every culture, but when you're dealing with just the voice, it's the connector. Voices are the same. I try to put a cappella pieces in every concert, but [we've never done] a whole concert of it. It's the best!'

Coleman describes the different pieces you'll hear. 'East Indian raga, their melody is a chromatic particular scale unique to India. The traditional instruments are sitar and table. We are using Tibetan overtone singing and percussive nonsense syllables that imitate drums. Very exotic choral music. Western audiences have probably never heard it. We're doing Russian Orthodox; our basses are reaching into the basement for those tones. Also, classical romantic European, when men's singing societies were in every city. Shubert and Mendelssohn. And some from the folk song tradition, the Philippines, and an African-American spiritual. The concert [challenges with] extreme difficulty, showing all sorts of barbershop techniques. It's very unusual for a choir to do in one program. Others have done a whole program of Baroque, or of 20th-Century music. We can't cover every style of a cappella singing, but we're getting to do quite a few of them.'

Certain songs were chosen for their GLBT focus, such as 'Not A Day Goes By' by Stephen Sondheim, and 'Everything Possible' by Fred Small - the most famous of the Gay ballads that came out of the '80s and '90s, made popular by the Flirtations, the first Gay vocal ensemble that gained a national audience in the '80s. Eric Lane Barnes has written a new Gay pride/human rights anthem called 'Come Dance With Me.'

Adding to the excitement of the program, the special guest artists are the a cappella vocal group m-pact. The six members - Britt Quentin, Fletcher Sheridan, Marco Cassone, Jeff Smith (the beatboxer), David Loucks, and Trist Curliss - have an international reputation and five albums to their credit. They have worked with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men, Liza Minnelli, and jazz legends Ray Charles and Natalie Cole.

SGN had an opportunity to speak with founding member Marco Cassone about what they do and what they expect when they sing with SMC. Marco went to school at UW and liked the area so much that he convinced the other founding members to move to Seattle in 1995, when they were formed. They were able to stay for nine years, but ended up moving to Los Angeles. Cassone explains that, 'm-pact is not our job; music is our career. Everybody does things like write music for other groups, sing on soundtracks, sing in other bands, direct church choirs. We do music all the time. The opportunity to do all those other [activities] is broader in Los Angeles.'

Coleman explains, 'What they do that is different than what we do, is they use beatbox by vocalizing the sound of drums, [and] they use one mic per voice, so they use complicated audio techniques for mixing.' Cassone goes into detail about what m-pact does. 'We treat the microphones, the sound man, like a seventh member. The Men's Chorus is like a stage actor, and m-pact is like a movie actor. Actors who act on stage have to make all of their actions big to communicate, but on camera you can be incredibly subtle. We can do the tiny, subtle moves with the help of the microphone mixing.'

Cassone says he's excited to be guesting with SMC. 'I've been friends with Dennis for a long time. There is no other community choir almost in the world that has it together like SMC does. It's extraordinary in its funding, the foundation under it and the quality of music it's doing. There are very few groups in the world that big, and few that will try something as scary or naked as an a cappella show. They're doing something really cool and daring. We're honored that they've asked m-pact.'

Cassone happens to be Gay, but the members are very diverse. 'One of the really important things for the group is to portray invention and creation. The fact that we come from the four corners of this country, really diverse socio-economic [backgrounds], there are members that are Christian, some Buddhist, from rural Wyoming, very conservative to incredibly liberal. We are a microcosm of respecting diversity.'

m-pact is currently working on two new albums. The sixth is more original compositions, and then they're doing a 'Stevie Wonder, Motown, Earth, Wind and Fire, symphony show. We'll have a full, 80-person orchestra behind us, and we'll do the vocals up front.'

Cassone wants you to know, though, that the live experience of their performance is much more powerful than a CD. 'It's really refreshing. Live far outweighs the cheap mp3 ripoff. People want to be inspired. The [SMC] demographic is really cool because it's people that are discerning, that don't just consume for the sake of consumption, so we're looking forward to serve the audience. Our music comes out differently depending on the kind of audience, the buzz, so [this concert is] going to take our sound and make it slightly different.'

Coleman promises, '[m-pact is] perfect for Meany Hall; more immediate sound. They're opening with 'Come Together' by The Beatles. Also, 'Midnight at the Oasis,' 'My Funny Valentine.' Audiences will go crazy. It's just not possible for a choir to do this individualized technique.'

The tagline for the evening? This concert should give you lots of new ideas of what you can do with your mouth! For more information, go to www.flyinghouse.org or call 206-388-1400.

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