Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Real "Glee"--NBC's "The Sing Off"

I was really glad to see NBC doing a second season of “The Sing Off”—a 3 week competition of some of the top a capella singing groups in the nation. This is the “real” Glee!

Last year’s winner was a group of 5 young men from Puerto Rico who could really bring it. And last night’s “premiere” featured 10 groups from across the nation ranging from a high school group from Ohio to a jazz group from Seattle to a gospel group from Alabama.

What I like about this show is that it’s all about the music. It’s all about the harmony. And yes, there are soloists who may or may not be narcissistic divas but what we see and hear is the music not the melodrama of a Rachel or Puck or Shue.

I sat for 2 hours enthralled. I have always loved vocal ensemble music, especially performed a capella. I spent many years singing in groups in high school, college and as an adult in church choirs, barbershop choirs and quartets and even a Victorian type Christmas ensemble doing a capella tight harmonies.

Doing this right takes something that is rarely, if ever, shown on Glee. It takes a lot of work. It takes practice and conditioning the diaphragm, vocal chords and ear. It’s all about achieving synergy and ultimately performing the music, not just singing it. I've sung in enough groups in my life to appreciate the constant tiny adjustments each singer makes to key off their fellow singers, stay in pitch and create something memorable.

That’s what I love about this show. It shows the results of all that.

Now given that it’s a competition, it has to have judges. And a la American Idol it has three. But their musical expertise goes beyond Randy and Paula and Simon. Ben Folds is a composer, arranger and leader of the Ben Folds Five—he knows the music. Nicole Scherzinger was lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls and serves as the fluffy female Paula-esque warm and fuzzy judge. And Shawn Stockman is in Boyz II Men.

The musical acumen of especially Folds and Stockman is incredible. They hear the harmonies beautifully and know the dynamics of music which make for a memorable group a capella performance. Their insights are tremendous. And Nick Lachey who was in 98 Degrees serves as the “host”. He knows something that Ryan Seacrest doesn’t—it’s about the performers, not him.

Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, this is the “real” Glee. This year’s groups includes arguably the “granddaddy” of a capella music, Yale University’s “Whiffenpoofs” (apparently they want to see if they can do better than the 2nd place finish last year of “Beelzebub” from Tufts University). There’s also “Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town” from Oakland, CA. Lawson was a member of “The Persuasions” for 40 years. (Think the kind of group that is on all the public TV fundraising marathons).

There’s a jazz group from Seattle called “Groove for Thought” which has a decided “Manhattan Transfer” sound; “Street Corner Symphony” from Nashville with a country/rock-a-billy sound and “Committed” from Huntsville, Alabama which is a gospel group performing pop “a capella” for the first time.

So, I’m like the group from Huntsville—committed. This is a great way to spend the evening. Great harmonies and vocal music without the drama. The finals will be Christmas week rather than dragging out the competition for 4 months

Give it a try. The next installment is Wednesday night. There are 8 groups left. If you like this kind of music, you’ll love “The Sing Off”.

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