Stace writes about Tex-Mex music Grammy winners Los Texmaniacs’ new album, Cruzando Borders, which will touch on border and Mexican American themes. It’s quite timely during this era of Trumpismo.
After more than a generation of one-party dominance, it’s tough for any Texas Democrat to predict what a winning statewide campaign would actually look like. But if Texas Leftist had to take guess, it would come pretty close to the Beto O’ Rourke campaign thus far. After a massive fundraising haul, Beto is showing that he means business in this race. And speaking of winning, more great news for Texas’ Classical Music community as the Houston Chamber Choir receives a very prestigious National honor.
Some very big news for one of Houston’s most prominent classical music organizations. Here’s the story from the Houston Chamber Choir’s Press Release (via the Broadway World Newsdesk)…
Houston Chamber Choir has received the prestigious Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence from Chorus America, the advocacy, research and leadership development organization that advances the choral field. The award will be presented at Chorus America’s 2018 Conference in Chicago June 20-23.
The Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence honors the memory of Margaret Hillis, founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, for her more than 40 years of professional achievement and outstanding contributions to the choral field. The award is presented annually to a member chorus that demonstrates artistic excellence, a strong organizational structure and a commitment to outreach, education, and/or culturally diverse activities.
In its description of this honor, Chorus America noted that “the Houston Chamber Choirhas excelled in presenting a daring breadth of repertoire at the highest level throughout its 22-year history, from historically-informed performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor to rich celebrations of Mexico’s choral heritage to collaborations with jazz musicians Christian McBride and Dave Brubeck. Through commitments to commissioning new works and partnerships with guest conductors, the ensemble maintains a fresh approach to its art, while achieving steady organizational growth. In addition, the Chamber Choir’s educational efforts in the Houston community have brought music back to three of the district’s most disadvantaged schools and established an annual choral festival that is in its 19th year.”
“The Chorus America Margaret Hillis Award is one of the highest accolades an American choir can receive,” says Houston Chamber Choir Artistic Director Robert Simpson. “I am thrilled that the extraordinary work of our musicians, staff and board has been recognized in this way.”
Awarded to a Professional Choir once every three years, the Houston Chamber Choir joins some elite company as the 2018 winner. Internationally acclaimed groups such as VocalEssence, Cantus, Chanticleer and Conspirare have won the award in recent years. After Conspirare, the Houston Chamber Choir is only the 2nd Texas ensemble to receive the honor.
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 Medebuted 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.
For a singer and lover of all types of music, the recent resurgence of choirs has been a stunning event to witness. Of course choral groups have always had their fan base, but the broad-based popularity is something new, at least for the millennial generation. No doubt it’s due to in part to shows like Glee and The Sing-Off… people have discovered that something magical happens when voices come together in song.
It’s been especially great to experience this resurgence as a member of one such group… the Houston Chamber Choir, under the direction of Robert Simpson. Now in its eighteenth season, the ensemble has firmly distinguished itself as a national leader in classical choral music. The choir has performed with a diverse group of artists, including singing sensation Jackie Evancho, Grammy Award winning Gospel star Cynthia Clawson, and the late great Dave Brubeck.
One way this group sets itself apart is not just through beautiful sound, but a commitment to innovative and relevant concert programs. Just in 2013, Houston Chamber Choir concerts celebrated the election of Pope Francis, and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Members of the ensemble will also perform for the 2014 inauguration of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Controller Ronald Green, and the Houston City Council.
Along with stunning musical performances, the Houston Chamber Choir is equally committed to educational outreach. The choir is currently hosting a multi-year residency at Rusk Elementary school, working with young, economically- challenged students to foster music appreciation and creativity.
To kick off 2014, here is the choir singing a brilliant new piece… O Magnum Mysterium by composer Wayne Oquin. Enjoy the sounds of the Houston Chamber Choir.