Sunday 13 April : Daily Blog | Jazzaar Festival

Rehearsal: Soulful Singers

Berklee College of Music Professor Dennis Montgomery, who leads the renowned Berklee Gospel Choir, begins his day working on vocal parts with the members of the Aarau Youth Funk Band. Each section is bolstered by voices of Berklee students Grace Taylor, Kevin E. Ross, and Rashad McPherson who are sitting in with the alto, tenor, and bass sections respectively. Berklee graduate Kamaria Ousley leads the sopranos.

“Remember that everyone will have a microphone on the night of the concert,”Montgomery warns. “You have to be very accurate with pitch. If someone’s voice cracks, it’s going to be heard by the audience. “ The group is prepared and works through half a dozen songs pretty quickly. There are a lot of lines that are sung in unison and some sections with four-part harmony. Montgomery coaches the group on cleaning up some rhythms to make the entrances and ensemble work sharp and punchy.

Montgomery breaks from the singing to have the group applaud Helen Renold, who wrote all the lyrics to the original songs and prepared the finished scores of the music to be performed for Friday night’s concert. “I want you all to know that this was huge undertaking to prepare all this music,” says Montgomery. “Remember your job is to be more than merely a singer. A professional has to be an all-around musician—composer, arranger, and performer. Working with music notation programs on the computer will help your reading skills.”

Montgomery’s rehearsal utilizes current production practices with MP3 recordings of synthesizer realizations of each song Fritz Renold provided to give the singers a sense of context for how their vocals will fit into the finished production. As the musicians work together, the vocal blend emerges. As the choir gets the basics of the tunes down, Montgomery moves on to the fine points of articulation and diction.

Rehearsal: Horn Section 101

Trumpeter Barry Danielian, who has played with Tower of Power, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, and countless other top acts, starts at square one in his sectional rehearsal by helping his section of trumpets and woodwinds to fine tune their intonation. “When I was playing with Tower of Power, we always tuned from a low note played by the baritone sax,” Danielian says. “It’s different from when you tune to a note from the oboe with an orchestra. I think the intonation of a horn section is best when you tune up from the bottom.”

As they read through the parts of the tunes, Danielian shared bits of experience gained from his years as a touring and studio musician. “This section has a lot of notes, so let’s slow it down,” Danielian says. He plays a few bars with the group, stopping periodically to give the young musicians ideas for phrasing and articulation of the lines. Danielian’s ideas make the passages sound crisp and lively.

After a lunch break, it’s time to put it all together with the rhythm section, horns, and lead singers. Kevin E. Ross sings the lead on “In the Stone” and “Jupiter” and Rashad McPherson sings “Supplication.” On “Supplication,” guitarist Vernon Black and keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell get an opportunity to solo. Afterwards, composer/conductor Fritz Renold nods his approval at the end and it’s on to the next piece.

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