Mashups have been the province of DJs and teenage electronic music enthusiasts, but recently have been given a new and different sort of life in the a cappella resurgence. The fictional Barden Bellas (of Pitch Perfect fame) win all their competitions with vocal mashups of popular songs, while the Pentatonix and other skilled a cappella groups are winning in real life by creatively combining melodies into energetic and often beautiful new arrangements. Long before either of these phenomena took the vocal world by storm, composers and intrepid choral arrangers made ‘mashups’ for their novelty and as an exercise in ingenuity. Our friend, Eric Banks, whose compositions are chockablock with the stuff, made his own fiery mashup of the Great American Songbook classics, Fever and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. It takes a few measures of bell-like tolling in the bass parts, before we even realize what we’re hearing. Then, as the saucy alto (of course!) begins to solo, and the soprano countermelody soars, we know we’re in the middle of one hot mashup.
Listen to the quintessential version of Fever and a tongue-in-cheek one of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes below. If you’d like to do a little homework and know exactly what you’re listening for before our concerts this weekend, Eric helpfully posts scores for all his compositions on his website.
What is the Great American Songbook anyway? It’s generally considered the canon of classic American popular song from the first half of the 20th century, although that time frame is debated and doesn’t encompass some more recent songs that fit the style and spirit of the Songbook.
Read the Wikipedia article on the Songbook here.
We’ve included many of the songs on the above article’s list, as well as a few others that expand and inform the development of the Songbook and American popular music in general: folk songs and spirituals in particular. Stephen Foster composed his songs, but they were so popular and enduring that they’ve become a part of the American folk repertoire. Many of us first experienced Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair and Camptown Races while singing with Chanticleer; it’s a joy to revisit them again with many of the same faces around the arc. Spirituals may not seem like the perfect musical fit for a group of caucasian classical singers, but they are such an important part of America’s musical history, they need to be heard. African American spirituals influenced all of our popular music styles, and indeed, in many instances, have become a cappella or jazz favorites in their own right. Listen to the great Kate Smith and Nina Simone perform Jeanie and Sinner Man in their own inimitable styles.
Barbershop is a style that grew out of these folk traditions, but has also birthed (in part) the current a cappella craze seen in movie musicals like Pitch Perfect and the break out success of groups like the Pentatonix. Deke Sharon, arranger for the Pitch Perfect movies, producer of the Sing Off television show, singer of the House Jacks, and Bay Area native has given us his blessing to perform his version of the Girl from Ipanema. Hear a more classic take below, and then compare it to Deke’s inventive version at our concerts this weekend.
Clerestory has created its own arrangements of the songs we want to sing for a while now—you may remember such favorites as Jesse Antin’s gorgeous Sure on this Shining Night, John Bischoff’s version of Joni Mitchell’s California, and Dan Cromeene’s uproarious Hippopotamus Song. Arranging songs allows us to illuminate the parts of the music we find particularly interesting, and to showcase the strengths of the singers, not to mention the fabulous arrangers.
Among the joys, arranging has its challenges—mostly legal. It’s difficult to wade through copyright law to make sure the composers of the songs get their appropriate credit and payment, but we endeavor to do so each time. easysonglicensing.com has been particularly helpful in that regard. If anyone has legal expertise around music publishing, copyright, entertainment law, or digital recordings, we’d love your advice. Please write to email@example.com, and thank you!
For our upcoming Songbook concerts, you’ll hear three new covers of popular songs by three of Clerestory’s own. Dan Cromeenes has sent our voices into the skies for Over the Rainbow—written by Harold Arlen for the movie musical, The Wizard of Oz. The song became a signature of the late, great Judy Garland, and has been covered countless times from the 20th century through today. Watch the timeless original below.
John Bischoff resurrected a piece he arranged for his Princeton a cappella quartet—the little-known Frank Sinatra hit, East of the Sun, by early 20th century Princeton student Brooks Bowman. This sultry ballad has received the jazz treatment from greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall. Hear Sinatra’s version—the one that caught John’s ear—below.
The final Clerestory Songbook offering comes from our newest board member—lawyer, composer, singer, and renaissance man, John Kelley. You’ve hear his Haunted Heart on Clerestory’s Bacchanalia concerts, and John wanted to arrange the Jerome Kern classic, The Way You Look Tonight for these concerts. We’re happy to step slightly outside our comfort zone to add a little bossa nova groove and vocal percussion to this beautiful song.