On March 4, the CU choirs are out to prove that they’re about more than just traditional hymns and large-scale classical works.
The CU Vocal Company—the collective name of two small ensembles of mostly non-music majors focusing on tight harmonies and a varied repertoire of 20th-century hits—will present a concert of jazz tunes to get late-winter toes tapping. Joining the group on the Grusin Music Hall stage will be none other than student-run a cappella group the CU Buffoons.
In a place like Boulder—already with its own dedicated and enthusiastic jazz audience—it’ll be yet another style for audiences to sink their teeth into.
“We have people who regularly come to choir concerts, and the Buffoons will invite people from their following,” says choral studies doctoral student Brian Stone. “The melding of the two groups will be a different experience for everyone.”
Stone leads the 10-member mixed ensemble performing on the program. He was here for the rebirth of vocal jazz at the College of Music about five years ago.
“When I came to CU for my master’s in 2008, the vocal jazz program—which had been around off and on since the 70s—was defunct. But then when I started my doctorate last year, Dr. Gentry asked if I would be a part of continuing what [alumnus] Paul Thompson had started a few years earlier.”
Now Stone, in the second year of his DMA, gets to expand on a personal interest in jazz—honed during his years as an undergraduate student at the University of Puget Sound—during his doctoral studies.
“When I went to college, I found myself seeking out leadership positions in choral groups. I led the vocal jazz group at UPS, and when the opportunity arose to do something similar here, it felt natural to take it.”
Stone will direct the ensemble in Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and piano giant Gene Perling’s arrangement of the standard “The Shadow of Your Smile.”
Master’s student Liz Olson leads a women’s ensemble in the March concert. Her group is tackling such timeless works as “Cry Me a River” and the Van Morrison fan-favorite “Moondance.” She says the challenging pieces have proven rewarding, both for her and for the 10 members of her group.
“We’re going to be able to showcase individual voices, some solos and some scatting, so all the members of the ensemble will be able to shine individually and as a group,” she explains.
Olson, who came to Boulder all the way from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and also sang in a jazz choir in undergrad, says students benefit just as much as audiences from an exploration of different genres.
“A lot of students aren’t familiar with this kind of music. There are so many different kinds of choirs, and it’s important to be exposed to a variety of styles.”
“Vocal jazz takes individual work and work as a group to really focus in and listen to each other,” Stone adds. “There’s always a lot involved in maintaining a healthy voice and full vocal technique when singing in a group. Because of the tight harmonies, vocal jazz heightens that.”
The concert wraps up in grand fashion, with the all-male CU Buffoons joining the CU Vocal Company and a small rhythm combo for a performance of “Soul with a Capital ‘S,’” arranged by University of Northern Colorado jazz artist Kerry Marsh.
“The piece is really funky,” says Stone. “And the rhythm section has the style down. The CU Buffoons are an a cappella group, so it’ll be fun to bring them together with a few instrumentalists.”
And the goal is to bring audience members together, too.
“Something that often attracts audiences to choral concerts is the sound of the voices singing in harmony. Whether they come from a jazz background, a choral background or an a cappella background, the vocal jazz ensembles’ sound combines all these genres,” Stone says.
The Vocal Jazz Choirs concert is Sunday, March 4, at 2 p.m. in Grusin Music Hall. For more information, visit CUPresents.org.