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A cappella Education Association …

September 30, 2013

One way to inject pop music and energy into their ensembles is to include contemporary a cappella groups in their school day. But many teachers don’t have the knowledge, skill set, or repertoire to incorporate this fast-growing style of music into their existing program. The A cappella Education Association, a new national organization abbreviated AEA, is aiming to help expand the resources available to teachers in order to help that process. Founding members J.D. Frizell, Brody McDonald, and Kevin Spalding spoke with me recently about the group’s goals and what they have in the pipeline ready to help teachers looking to get into the a cappella game.

“A cappella music is the perfect intersection of student excitement – we get to sing stuff on the radio!? – and vocal proficiency,” says Spalding, head choral director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. “Singers must hold their own part on as few as one to a section, memorize complex arrangements, and perform with energy and great visuals.”

Spalding’s school group, Forte, has been runner-up at the International Competition of High School A Cappella for the last two years in addition to winning numerous recording awards including the coveted Best Overall High School Album. Most school choral directors are unsure how to wade into the a cappella waters , something McDonald would like to fix.

“If the director hasn’t done a cappella themselves, they are intimidated by things like sound gear, vocal percussion, and rhythmic syllables,” says McDonald, who holds a Masters in choral conducting from Bowling Green University and directs multiple choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School in Ohio. “We plan to help teachers overcome that fear by providing information about such topics that can translate a cappella into a musical framework that is more familiar. ”

“Our goal is to reach teachers who are not currently involved, and help them get in the game,” says Spalding. “By starting from scratch, [with a new organization] being formed BY teachers FOR teachers, we will help alleviate any concerns teachers naturally have about getting involved in new styles of music.”

Legal a cappella arrangements for high school are hard to find as most music publishers don’t carry titles. The AEA wants to provide a common place for arrangers around the country to share their original songs and get them in the hands of educators.

“We plan to have a library of original pieces arranged so that members may download music for free without fear of copyright infringement,” says Spalding. “We’ll have original music from folks like Deke Sharon, Ben Bram, Christopher Harrison, Street Corner Symphony, Alex Phan, Bryan Sharpe and others.”

“You wouldn’t believe how many groups get stuck on King Singer’s or Deke [Sharon]’s arrangement books just because they don’t know anything else,” says J.D. Frizzell, the group’s President. “I was there 6 years ago.”

To provide this content, the AEA website (http://www.acappellaeducators.com) is being readied for launch. The site will have a variety of resources for teachers that expand beyond sharing arrangements and include resources for teachers without a background in this type of music.

“We want to create a comprehensive, interactive website that will allow members to access resources (written, video, audio) on subjects like recording, vocal percussion, visual performance enhancement, arranging, and rehearsal,” says Spalding, who notes the group will incorporate newsletters and presentations at existing music education conferences to further this goal. “We also will begin to address issues of a cappella pedagogy, including pop vocal technique and elusive topics like vocal percussion notation.”

The national board of directors and 15 state-level presidents are already in place. Content is being developed within the organization to roll out in the near future with the goal of expanding the choral directors that see a cappella as a viable option while also reinforcing those who already do.

“The AEA leadership is seriously committed to the task at hand,” says Frizzel, the Director of Fine Arts and Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis where he oversees the K-12 program and directs three choirs. “They are willing to do the hard, behind-the-scenes work that no one else wants to do, while maintaining a long-term perspective.  If the focus of its last six months of planning is any indication, the AEA will be tremendously effective in its mission.”

Though they are passionate about a cappella music, they aren’t banking as a cappella being the end-all in choral music, and would eventually be open to collaborations with other organizations once the a cappella community is large enough.

“It’s also very important for people to know that we have a love for the traditional choirs as well and that we know that both traditional and contemporary do so much to help the kids,” say Spalding. “Through contemporary a cappella I’ve seen such huge musical growth with my kids and this is also a legitimate art form.”

The trio is joined by a host of other committed individuals serving in board and state-level roles. They plan on going live with the site later this year. If you would like to donate to get them off the ground, they have a CrowdTilt account going strong.

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Remember

September 11, 2013

I finished a new AcaVids a few days ago, and was getting ready to post it today when I realized the date.  Living about 30 miles from Ground Zero at the time, later learning that a good friend’s father was lost, of course I will never ever forget that horrific day or the tragic and deep impact it had on all our lives.
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Music can have the ability to help us grieve, celebrate, and hopefully heal. Here are some choral pieces that I have performed, each of which touched me in ways I cannot fully explain. I am excluding some of the choral “classics” like the Mozart, Verdi, and Brahms Requiems in favor of some lesser known, but equally powerful pieces.

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First, the Durufle Requiem.

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Next, the Rutter Requiem.

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Last, and what is probably my favorite pieces to perform, Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.

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Hold your loved ones a little closer, be grateful for what you have, and we’ll be back with the regular AcaVids segment next week.

Be Interesting, Distinctive, or Both

September 3, 2013

My name is Dave, and I’m a fan of grunge music (Oh, wait, we’re not allowed to call it that…alternative rock? whatever, you get the point). The music we listen to during our adolescent years is crucial; it becomes a part of our very being. Perhaps it’s because we’re feeling so much at that age, and the music we attach ourselves to helps us explore and define what we’re feeling.

In any event: I was an adolescent in the early nineties, which means- Nirvana! Pearl Jam! Soundgarden! Stone Temple Pilots! Alice in Chains! Jane’s Addiction! I could go on and on, but that would be a different post.

So, what the hell am I talking about this for? One of my all-time favorite bands is Pearl Jam. I’ve seen them live a dozen times, I own every single album and more than a few of their live concerts on CD or DVD. I first bought their debut album, “Ten”, on cassette and I still own that cassette (though I have nothing to play it on). The album was released in 1991 and I came to it the following year, at age…13! So, yeah, I related to growling angst.

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The next year, a “new” band named Stone Temple Pilots released their debut album, “Core.” I bought it, and like many of my friends thought it was a muddier rip-off of Pearl Jam (I later learned that STP actually formed several years before Pearl Jam).

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The critical reaction was similar, with a lot of reviews pegging them as a lesser version of Pearl Jam or Nirvana. On their next album, “Purple,” Scott Weiland (lead singer) stopped his growling style (reminiscent if not derivative of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) and started singing in a more distinctive yet traditional rock/pop style. The band’s songs also started to transition away from trudging and dense to something based much more on hooks and riffs resembling traditional ’70’s garage rock. The band’s albums took on a different sound, which allowed them to fill a different void in the rock marketplace (back when there was such a thing). Pearl Jam evolved too, but because their album came out first, they did not have to weather comparisons.

I own all of the albums from both bands, and I can honestly say that after the debut albums (“Ten” v. “Core”), they all clearly occupy different space. Plus, I think you’re far more likely to hear 90’s era STP (particularly “Interstate Love Song”) on a modern “alternative” rock station than you are to hear Pearl Jam.

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So, why the long discourse on bands which are on the periphery of pop culture? (though Weiland was recently kicked out of Stone Temple Pilots again and Pearl Jam was briefly relevant for having a vague- and stupid- countdown clock to the announcement that they would release a new album release 3 months later!)

In the early nineties, there were a lot of bands jockeying for a small amount of space. Rock music so rarely becomes the focal point of pop music culture, and this was one of those times. The bands I mentioned earlier were fighting, with other bands from earlier (end of Guns n Roses, prime form Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.) and newer bands (Silverchair, Candlebox…yikes) for the top of the charts. In some ways, this reminds me of what so many a cappella groups seek to do now- essentially, the same things. Stone Temple Pilots became one of the top-selling bands of the ’90’s because they found their niche.

You need to find your niche too. If you’re doing the same types of covers, in the same types of styles, as every other group out there, you’re dramatically limiting your group’s potential.  Find your own style, your own sound, your own identity and you can be something unique and uniquely successful. Stop for a minute, and think about the a cappella groups who truly have their own style… Arora (nee Sonos). Postyr Project. Swingle Singers. Of course Pentatonix. And yes, there are a few others.

You know what you like about those groups, and substitutions can’t and won’t match up.

It’s exciting when a newer group explores it’s identity, like Fermata Town’s jazzy spin on pop music. It’s also rare.

If your group isn’t trying to break boundaries or establish an identity, you’ve got your work cut out for you. First, you’re singing a cappella music, which means you’re usually singing something that another band or artist wrote and made famous (or at least made recognizable). Why should someone listen to your version which lacks the sonic range of a real bass, drums, synths, etc? Second, you’re singing a cappella music that other groups perform too. (see my two diatribes on song selection here and here). You will be compared to other groups that your audience has seen live or on YouTube, and it’s entirely possible you’ll suffer by the comparison. When you offer the same thing every similar group has already offered, the odds are against you, which is why you need to find a way to be distinctive or interesting. Try something wildly surprising or out of character, in terms of song selection or arrangement. Play around with effects pedals, or body percussion, or something else which the audience will remember.  Find a singer who can perform solos with a memorable and/or original delivery.  Do whatever you can to increase or enhance your stage presence.

Otherwise, you’re likely to end up like these guys.

Pitches Be Trippin’ – Acavids 08/19/13

August 20, 2013
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It's funny because you tried.

Let me crash-course you basic acafolks.

Pitch Perfect is a comedy that everyone can enjoy. The movie did well in ratings, seriously boosted some music/acting careers, and came out with some awesome music. It’s mainly the tale of a female a cappella group who transform from outdated music and step-touch choreo to top 40 beat and bass-dropping superstars. However…that’s not really how the whole book works out.

Oh. You didn’t know that it was a book? Awkward.

The movie’s plot is loosely based off  this book by Mickey Rapkin, currently senior editor at GQ.

It's a book. Visit a library.

It’s a book. Visit a library.

The book follows three well-known groups for “a season of a cappella” (lulz, we have seasons now): Tufts University Beelzebubs (the “traditional” group: well-established, well-funded, grounded in history), University of Oregon’s Divisi (“THE GIRL GROUP”…don’t make me go off on this), and University of Virginia’s Hullabahoos (the “goofy” guy group who walk that thin line between hilarious and cocky).

But who are these groups REALLY? Well, maybe you saw the Bubs on Season 1 of  NBC’s The Sing-Off. They were fan-favorites from the beginning, rousing the audience with their first performance of Magical Mystery Tour, a medley of Beatles’ songs. However, this might be more up Pitch Perfect‘s alley:

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Yes yes, this is the song the Treblemakers sing in the movie. It’s weird seeing it so very live, right? The Bubs did very well on The Sing-Off, coming in as the first season’s runner-ups. The Bubs have gone on to do more things in a cappella, like singing on some TV show called Glee, churning out tons of great albums, setting standards for good a cappella, etc. etc. moving on.

Like Mama Rose says, “You gotta have a gimmick.” The Hullabahoos of UVA are known not only for being a very talented group of gents, but they also don bathrobes at their performances. For those with a keen eye, you can actually see the Hullabahoos (yes, the REAL MEMBERS) in the movie, right at the beginning of the ICCA Finals. In fact, they sing this song:

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It’s a very popular song with guy groups, but the Hoos certainly do pull it off nicely. Obviously a super cool moment in their history. Not many groups can say that they flew down to Baton Rouge and shot scene in a movie together, right?

Finally, you have the Barden Bellas who are based off of the lovely ladies of University of Oregon Divisi. The book actually opens up the way that the movie does, following Divisi as they meet disappointment at ICCAs time after time. (It’s worthwhile to point out that there is no sign of projectile vomit. I know you were waiting for that reassurance.)

Although it wasn’t quite as iconic as the mash-up medley at the end of the movie, Divisi’s rendition of Usher’s Yeah! was a huge turning point for female a cappella groups everywhere. It proved that we could get down with the dudes and kill it. It showed that we didn’t always have to be “classy and sassy” (URGH); that, like guy groups, we were versatile. Men can be both goofy and serious, and you know what? Ladies can, too. Check it:

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This was really a very quick overview, and there’s quite a lot that I didn’t cover. I didn’t tell you about how ICCAs began. I didn’t tell you about how these groups travel for gigs, record albums, or how they deal with ingoing/outgoing members. There’s so much to learn about a cappella, and Pitch Perfect (the book) isn’t a terrible place to start.

Take a second, visit your local library, and give it a read! It’ll be good research as you go back to your respective colleges with your fiery ambitions and acadreams for the school year.

Always, always be learning. Nobody likes a basic pitch.

– Heather

NOTE: Nodes will not give you bass notes, only excruciating pain and lifelong sorrow. You should actually seriously learn this because vocal health is important. Warm-ups, proper hydration, and proper breath support every time. 

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[Editor’s note/shameless plug: You can also read more about the differences between the book and movie in an article I did for CASA last fall which you can find here]

AcaVids 8-7-13 #RANDOM

August 7, 2013

The past few weeks have featured terrifically organized, thematic collections of videos from amazing contributors Heather Newkirk and Tara Marie Ahn. This week, I’m going rogue. NO theme. NO organization. Just a taste of what you can find if you go down the rabbithole of YouTube a cappella. Strap on your seatbelt, it’s gonna be a winding, jagged ride.

We’ll start with something new. Pentatonix. We love them. You do too. If you missed their Livestream concert, here you go. Enjoy.

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Next, we’ll take it back. Way back. Ever heard of The Bobs? (and I don’t mean these guys). Sure you have. But do you remember this:

 

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Speaking of television appearances, if you don’t live in Norway, you might have missed Pust a few years back.

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I don’t know what to say about this next one except for: Russians! Singing Ray Charles! With a rap section! WHAT?!

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On the extreme opposite end (careful of whiplash!), it’s German metal a cappella with Van Canto!

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I hadn’t seen this before, but 15 million views says a few of you probably have. If not…

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I don’t really know what these are, but… well, watch.

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Happy hump day, everyone!

AcaVids- #VCN2013 The HOTTEST festival of the year!

July 31, 2013

If you attended VoCALnation 2013, you can agree that this blog title is more than accurate! For those of you who were not there, I assure you it was not just the groups who were bringing the heat at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia ! (Okay, no more bad hot weather puns!)
Bottom line, we were in a beautiful church-with NO AIR CONDITIONING. I am far too accustomed to the modern comforts of cool, even cold surroundings, especially in the midst of a heat wave. This, however, did not stop me from getting as much video and photos as I could! Surprise, surprise, right?)

Friday night was the CAL showcase. Host group KeyStone Vocals opened with ‘Below My Feet’ and ‘Brave’.  It has been a real treat to see them several times since their performance at VoCALnation last year. I have seen the journey and growth they’ve shown over the year and look forward to what the future holds for them. They, along with members of Broad Street Beat and Project Philly volunteers, worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to make sure groups were taken care of and that things ran smoothly.

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There was a strong representation of the DC a cappella scene represented with half of the groups hailing from our nation’s capital. It was a treat to hear Capital Hearings take the stage once again.  They, too, have worked hard this past year and it showed on stage. It may have been solely due to the heat, but it was a treat to see the gentlemen with their sleeves rolled up and without their jackets. I enjoyed seeing a slightly more relaxed visual with their performance.

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Next up was the newest DC area, all-female group, The District‘s debut performance.  Well known soloist, Mallory Zuckerman lived up to her reputation and delivered a powerful vocal on ‘Emotions’.

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Continuing with DC groups, the next to take the stage was Euphonism. I’ve  seen them a few times since last year’s VCN and I loved that they changed up the feel of ‘Your Love’ with a surprising and pleasant reggae spin.  (Apologies for the loud ‘Woooo!’ when I realized they were mixing things up for us!)

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KeyStone Vocals closed out the first half with an unplanned, but appropriate rendition of ‘Frosty The Snowman’ in an effort to help us think cool thoughts.

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New York (yes, there are CAL groups from places other than DC!) group, Restated started us off for the second half of the showcase.  I enjoyed their energetic performance of ‘Dance in The Graveyards’.

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Hailing all the way from Iowa (it took them 19 hours to get here!) quartet, Sunday Afternoon took the stage next. I have been dying to see them perform, as I missed their set at SingStrong Chicago.  They wowed the audience with their spin on ‘Are You That Somebody/Love Like This’. I am looking forward to what lies ahead for this group!

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The final DC group, VoxPop brought another solid performance.  They started with a fun, upbeat 80’s medley that drew the crowd in right away.

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One of my most favorite parts of a festival weekend is seeing as many AcaBombs as I possibly can.  It’s an opportunity for groups to perform and be seen by many.  I was able to catch Empire A Cappella (NYC), Capital Blend (DC), Stay Tuned (NJ-yay!), and festival staple, ThePickUps (all over). If you plan to attend a festival, definitely consider joining in for ThePickUps performance, which is always a lot of fun!

Empire A Cappella ‘When The Levee Breaks’

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Capital Blend ‘Feel Again/Dog Days Are Over/All Of These Things That I’ve Done’

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Stay Tuned ‘If You Could Only See’

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ThePickUps ‘Still The One’

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The Professional Showcase featured Fermata Town (Boston) and Cognitive Resonance (CogRes for short) (NC) opening for headlining group, Groove For Thought.

If you follow the a cappella scene at all, you must have heard of Fermata Town, as they have had a HUGE year. I was lucky to have met founding member, Dan at #VCN2012 where he left inspired.  He really put it to good use, as Fermata Town has enjoyed a HUGE year, winning a CARA Award for Best CAL Album, winning the Boston Regional Harmony Sweeps, and winning the Outside The Box A Cappella Festival. They brought their best to #VCN2013 and showed us exactly why they have had such a great year! They ROCKED!

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I was blown away by CogRes at #VCN2012 last year. They were such a standout and delivered such a powerful vocal. I enjoyed watching their passion as they performed each song. They, too, have just gotten better over this past year.  I need to move North Carolina closer to New Jersey so I can see them more often!

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As per usual, this post is way too long and way too late. (Thank goodness deadlines are rather flexible with Dave!) Also, additional videos can be found on my YouTube page on my #VCN2013 playlist. In summation, I cannot be a bigger advocate for attending festivals!  EVERYONE SHOULD GO! It is such an empowering, enriching, educational, and inspiring weekend of beautiful music.  Hope to see you at the next one! 🙂

#alltheacalove,

Tara 🙂

@OooImSoExcited

Gettin’ Swingle Wit It. AcaVids 7-15

July 15, 2013

On Friday CASA announced the headliner for SoJam 2013, and I was like ^^. I Carlton’d so hard because it’s the Swingle Singers from the UK! You have no idea how lucky we are that they’re bringing their beautiful euphonies to us, filling our souls to the brim with happiness.

You think I’m joking, but I’m being 100% serious.

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Let’s go into some history, shall we? The original group was created in the 1960s by Ward Swingle. (Pause and recognize how cool his name was.) Until 2011, the group consisted of two sopranos, two altos, two tenors, and two basses. The ever-changing group has collected several Grammy awards and nominations throughout the years. The Swingle repertoire is just as impressive, as they cover not only popular songs, but also classical pieces written by composers like Mozart and Bach. They really manage to cover every audience in some way. Despite having only seven people today, the Swingles manage to mesmerize with their jazzy arrangements, singing every beautiful note with purpose.

…but you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out some of the amazing music the Swingles have performed over the past few years:

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Okay, so this technically isn’t just the Swingles, but it was a cool way to open up the vid section. Note Jo’s crazy-good violin in the opening, Tobias’ impressive trumpet, and Sara’s wailing guitar. Ten points to you if you recognized The Boxette’s Bellatrix and Mo5aic’s Jake Moulton. Really a great move on T-Mobile’s part, especially now that the media has warmed up to a cappella, and how heart-warming was that? C’mon.

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I feel like this is the first time I heard the Swingle Singers, and I was completely in awe. This video truly personifies the Swingles’ ability to take a piece written for instruments and turn it into a compelling vocal production. They invigorate the music and really make it their own. Aside from the music, this video is pretty awesome. I love a good tango.

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Another well-known name in the world of a cappella, Peter Hollens and the Swingles collaborate to cover the classic Poor Wayfaring Stranger, with brilliant arrangement, vp, and baritone line provided by Tom Anderson. This is a cover that could bring your high school choir teacher to tears. The Swingles just redefined the word soprano for you. You’re welcome.

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Those sneaky Swingles. Here they are with Soul Bossa Nova on the Tube, laying down a tune on the subway. (I hope that guy turned his iPod off.) I’m always impressed by Tobias’ use of cup, so…nice one, guy. If this could happen on every public transportation ride, maybe people would grumble less. Just a thought.

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Finally, a song that could move the hardest of hearts. Björk is not an artist that people normally jump to cover because her music is so unique, using various sounds and instruments difficult to replicate with the voice, but the Swingles don’t shy away. This song really pushes them as musicians and vocalists. Just listen to all of the different noises they make on top of those beautiful chords to set the tone. The string section? It’s unreal. I cry every time I hear this piece just because it stirs so many emotions. How could your heart not feel something after such a performance, especially realizing that this was live? It’s inspiring in every way.

Hoo. Okay. Wipe those tears.

Did you fall in love at first click? Good. Then you should check out and support their 50th Anniversary Album project! Just click here to learn more about what these master musicians have up their sleeves and how you can help to get the ball rolling.

Oh, and don’t forget to come to SoJam to see them live!! Or to see me do this at their concert:

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(I just really like Will Smith, guys.)

Cheers!

– Heather