Pentatonix

Music Musings: Calling All Choirs!! It’s A Great Time for Choral Music

To many reading the title of this article, you’re probably thinking the following… “What are you talking about?  It’s always been a great time for choral music!!”  And of course, you would be right.  For people that are choral musicians and enthusiasts, we already know the tremendous attributes of voices combined in song.  It’s a regular part of our lives.

But from the standpoint of the musical world– especially that vast and arduous expanse which is pop music– the choral arts are getting high praise and lots of new exposure.  Take this recent article from Ashley Lee of Billboard.com highlighting the successes of Texas pop phenom group Pentatonix

Alongside needle-moving, genre-defying priority releases on the RCA Records slate — Sia‘s 1000 Forms of Fear and “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s Mandatory Fun among them — is the new album by Pentatonix, highlighting one of the oldest musical forms: a cappella vocals.

But before you cry “Gregorian chant,” don’t call it a fad: Pentatonix — an electro-infused five-piece that formed for NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2011 (and won) and cut its teeth on cover songs before graduating to instrument-less videos of Lorde and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hits, original songs and brand alignments with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Oreo — has collected more than 520 million cumulative YouTube views and boasts more subscribers than Avicii and Beyoncé. So for the group’s major-label debut, PTX Vol. 3, on Sept. 23, “we expect it to be a pull, not a push,” says RCA president/COO Tom Corson. Industry sources predict an opening week of 50,000-plus units (the act has sold 475,000 albums and 1.5 million downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan), which should be good for a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200.

[…]

Indeed, the seriousness with which Pentatonix hones its craft has made a cappella an attractive booking for promoters, too. “It was challenging at first,” says manager Jonathan Kalter of handpicking seated and standing-room venues that could be calibrated to the act’s sound needs. “Once promoters understood that anywhere Pentatonix went, they’d sell tickets — which is all promoters care about — it was a matter of finding the room.”

The group just wrapped an international tour — including a North American leg that grossed $1.1 million (its top stop: New York’s seated Beacon Theatre, with more than $186,000 in ticket sales) — with a 90-minute set that included choreography, storytelling and solo moments for the singers. But can that live showmanship translate into a hit? Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying says it’s a matter of making “an a cappella sound that’s unique” without trying to emulate instruments. “It’s just five people singing, and it works.”

The above article was from the September issue of Billboard Magazine.  Just this week, Pentatonix’s newest release That’s Christmas to Me debuted at number 3 on the US Billboard 200 albums chart, above all but two “standard” pop music acts.   This marks their highest ever debut on the chart, and their highest ever 1 week sales figures.   Check out this track from the new album… a cover of Mary Did You Know?…

 

Groups like Pentatonix are showing that there is growing interest in choral music.  But for the classical realm, some may be left to wonder why this interest isn’t necessarily showing  in ticket sales or record purchases.  While it is true that overall sales of classical sub-genres are down when compared to the greater market, this may be more of a format problem (classical music simply isn’t as widely available on streaming services or in digital formats) than an indicator of waning interest among the general public.   For younger listeners, the discovery process is vastly different.  Social media, especially YouTube, has become a critical force in the way that the Millennial generation encounters new forms of music.  So it’s now more important than ever for good choirs of all genres to have a solid social media presence.  Pentatonix wouldn’t be where they are today without their loyal online fans.

Other choirs are catching up, to their great benefit.  One Texas choral group, the Houston Chamber Choir, has worked in recent years to build its social media following with positive results. Though they operate in a different genre than Pentatonix, their increased YouTube presence has served well to bring attention for the group outside of the Houston area, and even spread the word about upcoming concerts.   Here is a video one of the group’s recent concerts…

Whether classical standard, primal folk tune or pop rock, choral groups have always a great vehicle for great music.  Pentatonix may be the first choral group in a long time to achieve wide-ranging, national success in the charts, but it’s safe to assume to that will not be the last.  Everyone in the music industry struggles with the nebulous new reality that is social media and streaming, but fear of the unknown is no reason to hold back or sit out.  Indeed, it is a great time for choral music.  As we find more ways to connect to our audience, the times will get even better.

 

 

Houston Beer Can House

Texoblogosphere: Week of November 24th

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows that even in a bad political year it has plenty to be thankful for as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff highlights Texas for Marriage, a new grassroots group whose goal is to bring marriage equality to our state.

Libby Shaw writing for Texas Kaos as well as for Daily Kos is not surprised to know Greg Abbott has jumped on the Obama bashing bandwagon on immigration. Funny how the actual lawless ones try to pin their sins on the POTUS. Greg Abbott’s Reaction to Immigration? The usual. TX Dems are not giving up.

Even as the United States Senate in the 114th Congress looks to be one of the most freakishly conservative in almost a hundred years, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs reminds everyone that — two years from now — nearly half of that Republican majority has to be defended, and many of those seats are in blue states. So maybe Democrats can work on building turnout then…?

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is furious over Abbott’s plan to take money away from projects that promote the general welfare. What does Abbott want to do with our money? Harass Mexicans and hurt the image of the Rio Grande Valley.

Easter Lemming Liberal News noted a Pants on Fire ruling from PolitiFact, not their rating over an Obama statement on the XL pipeline but Easter Lemming‘s rating of PolitiFact’s lie.

======================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

The Texas Election Law Blog gently criticizes three less-than-stellar arguments from the week’s news.

The Rivard Report highlights Texas’ achievements in renewable energy.

The TSTA Blog reminds us that vouchers are a bad answer for education.

Newsdesk reviews Ted Cruz’s “politics as prop comedy” act on net neutrality and other Internet issues.

Grits for Breakfast is busy analyzing pre-filed criminal justice bills.

Texas Clean Air Matters calls out ERCOT for missing the big picture on clean energy.

Better Texas Blog reminds us that immigrants drive Texas’ economic success.

Concerned Citizens surveys the now much more interesting San Antonio Mayoral landscape.

(photo:  The Beer Can House– Houston, Texas) 

Protesters

Language Unheard, Powers Unknown

Before any comments on the aftermath of hearing the news that Officer Darren Wilson, killer of young Ferguson resident Michael Brown, will not be indicted on any charges, I want to offer my thoughts and prayers to all in Ferguson, Missouri. There’s no way around it… this decision has left many people all over the country confused, scared and angry.

But even in the wake of such difficulty, we must be very careful to not mistake the deeds of a few for behaviors condoned by an entire community.  There is a clear difference between riotous destruction and peaceful protests, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed through his many years of practiced Civil Disobedience.  When asked about the effectiveness of violence vs. non-violence in a  1966 60 minutes interview, here is how Dr. King responded…

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (speech): Now what I’m saying is this: I would like for all of us to believe in non-violence, but I’m here to say tonight that if every Negro in the United States turns against non-violence, I’m going to stand up as a lone voice and say, “This is the wrong way!”

KING (interview): I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

MIKE WALLACE: There’s an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There’s no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don’t think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

WALLACE: How many summers like this do you imagine that we can expect?

KING: Well, I would say this: we don’t have long. The mood of the Negro community now is one of urgency, one of saying that we aren’t going to wait. That we’ve got to have our freedom. We’ve waited too long. So that I would say that every summer we’re going to have this kind of vigorous protest. My hope is that it will be non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer. And I think the answer about how long it will take will depend on the federal government, on the city halls of our various cities, and on White America to a large extent. This is where we are at this point, and I think White America will determine how long it will be and which way we go in the future.

As many in the media continue to focus on those that have resulted to destruction to deal with this outcome, their opaque lens has unfortunately done something else.  They are drowning out the voices of those that protested peacefully every day in Ferguson since the summer.  They are drowning out the movement to pass legislation like the Michael Brown, Jr. law that would require all police forces in the United States to be equipped with body cameras, and held to new levels of accountability.  They are drowning out people across this nation fighting for reforms in police protocol and a return to true partnerships between law enforcement and our communities. They may not get the same amount of coverage, but these are the voices that are exercising power that can affect change, and will last much longer than any display of violence.

In their official statement to the media, here are words from the parents of Michael Brown, Jr.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.

Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr.
Parents of Michael Brown, Jr.

After the family’s statement, President Obama echoed their sentiments.

Please don’t take this post as a lecture to rioters or anyone else… simply an opinion.  The pain of this decision is real, and the divisions exposed within our communities have been very real and unavoidable.  We have every right to see the injustice that has been done, and be angry about it.  But if real change is the goal… if justice and a better, safer society for all is the goal… it cannot be accomplished through violence.  Those goals come through the powers of protest, petition and participation in our nation’s political process.  Sometimes it is very necessary to rock that political system, but it doesn’t have to be done by exhibiting force on the very communities one is said to be fighting for.

 

Homeless Outreach Team Houston

HPD Film Hightlights New Methods to Aid Houston Homeless

Anyone that lives in the city of Houston probably has stories of encountering the homeless.  We see them at traffic stops, under freeway bridges, and at various points around town.  Sometimes the issue of homelessness can seem like an insurmountable problem for a major urban area.

But Houston, under the leadership of Mayor Annise Parker and Police Chief Charles McClelland, is making great strides to tackle the needs of the city’s most at-risk population.  The new film Shepherds in Blue talks about the innovative methods being deployed by the Houston Police Department, and also highlights that they are having success.  Through partnerships with city and county mental health organizations, HPD is working to show people that they do have a way out from homelessness.

“Traditionally police departments have been reactive… The goal of the Homeless Outreach Team is to reduce the number of police complaints by reducing the number of people on the streets.” says Sergeant Stephen Wick in the film.  Instead of “short-term fixes” like writing tickets to homeless persons or throwing them in jail, HPD is making an effort to target the root causes of homelessness.

This new level of proactive community policing is beginning to yield real results for the city, and for the people whose lives are changed when they are given the opportunity for a better life.

Watch Shepherds in Blue below, and you can visit the Houston Police Department Mental Health Division for more information on their work.

 

 

Nico Lahood

Nico LaHood: New Directions As Bexar County DA

Anyone in Texas can tell you that 2014 was not a friendly year for Democrats at the ballot box.  None of the party’s much hyped statewide candidates were able to stem the Republican tide.

Competitive countywide races didn’t do much better, but there were a few notable exceptions.  Perhaps none more interesting than the ouster of 3-term Republican incumbent Susan Reed in Bexar County to a rather unconventional Democratic candidate… Nico LaHood.

For one thing, LaHood offers a unique perspective for the Bexar County criminal justice landscape.  As a young man, he was arrested on drug charges and put through the very same system that he now navigates to represent clients.  This experience has the potential to inform a very novel approach for his constituents. He has spoken consistently on the need to reduce the county’s harsh drug conviction and prosecution practices, favoring more efficient use of county taxpayer dollars.

The prominent defense attorney served as both a Magistrate Judge and Special Prosecutor for five Texas counties. During the campaign, he received high-profile endorsements from actress Eva Longoria, Spurs player Tim Duncan and other notable San Antonians.  But the star power was just one ingredient in his success.  LaHood also took advantage of the incumbent’s refusal to debate him in several television appearances.  Right before election day, he even did an interview using a staged empty chair to represent Reed’s frequent absences.  Reed actually won the Early Vote, but LaHood’s voters (unlike Democrats elsewhere) showed in full force for Election Day.

A father, fitness fanatic, and devout person of faith, the citizens of Bexar county can be assured of new directions with Nico LaHood.  For Texas Democrats, a new star just might be born.

Nico Lahood Shirtless

(photo credit:  Michael Giordano)

 

Obama Immigration Action

Finally: President Obama Issues Substantive Immigration Action

If you are a Texan, chances are good that you have met someone who is, knows or is directly related to an undocumented immigrant living in the United States.  16.6 million families in the United States are of  “mixed status” — households where American Citizens and undocumented persons live under the same roof.  As such, President Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions, announced tonight, will have a massive effect on the Lone Star State.

On this historic night, here are the basics, directly from a White House Press coordination..

The President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions will help secure the border, hold nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants accountable, and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules.  Acting within his legal authority, the President is taking an important step to fix our broken immigration system.
These executive actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

These are common sense steps, but only Congress can finish the job. As the President acts, he’ll continue to work with Congress on a comprehensive, bipartisan bill—like the one passed by the Senate more than a year ago—that can replace these actions and fix the whole system.
Three critical elements of the President’s executive actions are:
Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration at the Border:  The President’s actions increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back.  Continuing the surge of resources that effectively reduced the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally this summer, the President’s actions will also centralize border security command-and-control to continue to crack down on illegal immigration.

Deporting Felons, Not Families: The President’s actions focus on the deportation of people who threaten national security and public safety. He has directed immigration enforcement to place anyone suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members, and recent border crossers at the top of the deportation priority list.
 Accountability – Criminal Background Checks and Taxes:  The President is also acting to hold accountable those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for more than five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents.  By registering and passing criminal and national security background checks, millions of undocumented immigrants will start paying their fair share of taxes and temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for three years at a time.

As listed above, these executive actions are not the commands of a king, or the harsh over-extensions of a power-hungry dictator.  They are common-sense reforms that honor the law of the United States, while recognizing the reality of those living within our borders.  Your neighbors, your classmates, your friends and your community members are the ones that will directly affected.

But even if you are not someone related to an undocumented person, the President’s actions help you as well.  Here’s why…

A known community is a safer community.  People that live in fear of deportation also live in fear of the law, and of public actions in general.  Imagine that you are someone who is mugged, and the only witness is an undocumented person.  Would they be willing to go with you to the police station to identify your attacker?  Or someone in a traffic accident… what’s the likelihood that the person who hit you is going to drive off and never be seen again?  These are real issues that everyone in today’s society deals with.  Our law enforcement will now be able to do their jobs better because more people in our communities can be true eyes and ears for bad actors.

A known community is a more prosperous community.  Bringing people out of the shadows decimate the black markets they are forced to rely upon for goods and services.  Their money, and their tax dollars enters the books, and provides more direct contributions to our schools, cities and states.  Legal working abilities also decimate the severe wage theft that many undocumented persons experience, but are too afraid to discuss.

There will be much more to assess in the coming days.  But for tonight, millions of people across this country can rest easier and get ready for a new chapter in their lives.

The venerable Dos Centavos has more.

 

 

BGTX

Battleground Texas Holds Election Debrief in Houston

There’s no way around it.  This month’s election results were tough for Democrats across the country.  But given how much hype was heaped on this year’s races in Texas, and how much attention was generated by candidates like Wendy Davis, the typical drubbing had an especially difficult sting in the Lone Star State.  So many people registered, yet so few of them voted.  So many block walks and phone calls for such disappointing results.

It was this painful reality which set the mood for this week’s special meeting in Houston.  On a very cold evening, volunteers from Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties gathered at a Union Hall southeast of downtown to find out what happened, and what lies ahead for Battleground Texas.

Attendees were greeted by BGTX Executive Director Jenn Brown and several top-level staff members from the organization.  Brown started the meeting with a sincere thank you to all for the hard work, and acknowledged that the results clearly didn’t go the way they intended.

Then there were presentations from team members Victoria Zyp and Ramsey Reid which discussed preliminary post-mortem data from the election.  They shared some of the figures which they considered to be successes from 2014.  Chief among them were the impressive volunteer base that BGTX was able to form, and the number of new voters that were registered.

“Of the new voters that were registered in Texas this cycle, 67 percent of them had never registered  before.  We had huge success in registering voters under the age of 24.”  said Campaigns Director Ramsey Reid.  During their presentations, we mostly learned about the organization’s bright spots.

BGTX post mortem2

 

Volunteers gather in Houston to hear from BGTX staff members

 

 

BGTX post mortem

 

 

BGTX Field Director Victoria Zyp shares post-election information.

 

But the tough work… figuring out what went wrong, was seemingly left to attendees to decipher.  To no surprise, they had a lot of input.

“The biggest issues originated from the top down, not at the volunteer level.  Why didn’t you all partner with the county parties and local organizations to see what works in Texas?” said one man from west Houston.

Another volunteer from Central Houston noticed inconsistencies with BGTX’s internal data.

“From the GOTV training, I was led to believe that we would be contacting more of the infrequent voters… that was supposed to be our ‘GOTV universe’.  So why is it when I look at the list, I see names of people who vote in every election, including my own, and even elected officials?  They are not infrequent voters.”  said the volunteer and Montrose resident.

To their credit, BGTX staff members were there, and they did listen. They reiterated that this was just the first step in a full post-mortem analysis, and that information from the debrief would be sent out to all in attendance.  They also sought suggestions for upcoming events in 2015 and how they could get involved.

The statewide debriefs are an important first step.  It was important that Jenn Brown and other senior leadership be in attendance to hear directly from Texans on how to proceed for into the next election cycle, because that is the only way this organization can truly improve.  Let’s sincerely hope that as the higher-ups are reaching out to their own group, they are also working to strengthen relationships with the Texas Democratic Party, county Parties and existing local groups.  As learned from this cycle, a coordinated effort is what is needed above all else.

Volunteers came to the debrief seeking answers, and although they didn’t get as many as they would have liked, they at least received a firm commitment that BGTX is ready to listen, willing to learn and able to move forward.  From the meeting, volunteers are still left with some questions, but should have much hope for the future of Battleground Texas.

A Voice for the Rest of Texas