Big Apple singers help students find voices

Rob Lawrence has a long career in choral music.
He directs the choir and jazz singers at the University of Central Missouri, and has led clinics for
other singers.
This week, though, he’s a student. He and about 70 other singers as young as 14, others 30-year teaching
veterans from 12 states and seven foreign countries, including South Africa and Japan attending a music
camp taught by Grammy-winning New York Voices at Bowling Green State University.
As a student he did something he’d never done before … sang a jazz solo with rhythm section. He was
"pushing my comfort level," he said.
The faculty at the camp, he said, made that easier. "They are very accessible and very personal.
It’s been a great week."
Since Tuesday, the Voices – Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian along with Greg
Jasperse, of the California group Sixth Wave – have been coaching the singers in solo and ensemble vocal
technique, songwriting, arranging, improvisation and even making drum sounds with the voice – "what
you don’t get at conservatory," Lawrence said.
The event culminates Saturday with a concert by the New York Voices at 8 p.m. in Bryan Recital Hall on
campus. Tickets are $15.
This is the first time the ensemble as a unit has taught a camp. Individually they’ve done numerous
clinics and have been guest artists at workshops in Europe but the BGSU event is the first New York
Voices workshop. "It’s always been our dream to do something in the United States," Nazarian
For students having the entire ensemble in residence shows them how all the members – each is a solo
artist – fit together as a whole "with a richness of harmony and balance."
And, she added, "they get to witness the art of compromise" as the ensemble.
"We all have our say," said Meader, who serves as the group’s musical director and chief
arranger. No matter who wrote the song or arranged it everyone must agree on its presentation. "If
you don’t feel comfortable, you can’t pull it off," he said.
The ensemble has its roots at Ithaca College in New York State. Meader, Nazarian and Eldridge were all
students there. Several years after graduation they participated in an alumni ensemble that performed in
Europe. Back in New York in 1988 they decided to form the ensemble. Kinhan joined 17 years ago.
Their music has included a range of jazz from swing to more contemporary sounds as well as Brazilian
music and the songs of Paul Simon.
Kinhan said the range of the ensemble’s music and its "contemporary sensibility" help it reach
The appeal of singing together is great, Meader said. "It’s really fun to feel the power of the
harmonies pulling together."
And it’s hard to achieve those effects. Jazz harmonies can be "so intense," Eldridge said.
"There’s something really powerful about voices coming together, voicing those harmonies."
At a rehearsal on Wednesday Meader coached a group of singers on his arrangement of "Devil May
Care." The notes inside the chords rub together and taken in isolation seemed raw. Set within the
context of the soprano and bass tones though they reverberated through Bryan Recital Hall.
Meader, who also plays saxophone, said these harmonies are more difficult for a singer to execute than
for an instrumentalist. On his horn, all he has to do is press down a key to sound the right note. As a
singer he has to find the note and "feel it."
And the rhythmic schemes can be tricky. "When you try to write out groovy laid back phrasing it
looks weird," he said. But under his direction, the melody flowed.
This is the kind of technique that sets jazz singing off from pop singing, Jasperse said.
Nazarian credited Theo Stiegler, the workshop coordinator, and others at BGSU for making the session a
reality. Stiegler said because of the many talents of the faculty, the workshop could be shaped around
the needs of students.
Melody McNamara, Huntington Station, N.Y., and a music business major at Five Towns College on Long
Island, N.Y., said working with Eldridge, who taught one of her favorites Jane Monheit, "is the
greatest opportunity for me."
Though she lives close to New York, it’s difficult in the city to make connections.
The setting at BGSU is "so intimate," and allows for each student to participate rather than
just sit and listen. "Each Voice cares about what you’re learning," she said.
Christine Petersilge, a high school senior from Hudson, said she’s one of very few people at her school
interested in jazz. At the workshop she’s been able "to put a name to a lot of things I’m
hearing" and that reassures her that what’s she’s hearing is music. At camp she can also stretch
her imagination even further improvising in a way she seldom gets a chance to do back home.
Chris Buzzelli, who first brought Nazarian in as a guest artist, said he’s hopeful the workshop will
become an annual event.