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Thomas J. West Music

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Great Performances

Performances that inspire and impress. Enjoy.

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  • Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech 2012: ...
    by ★ Owner on August 20, 2013 at 9:41 PM
    1020 Views - 0 Comments

    Freelance author Neil Gaiman's commencement speech at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia is a testment to education in the 21st century. The old rules no longer apply. Each of us is in charge of our destiny in ways that our parents could never have envisioned. It truly is a time where, with persistence and the willingness to fail, we can discover what we love to do and go out there and do it for a living.

    "When life goes wrong," Gaiman states, "make good art. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutant boa constrictor? Make good art.... someone on the internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art." 

    His commencement speech highlights what truly are the new rules of the game: love what you do, and do it a lot. Share it with those who will listen.

    Enjoy all 19 minutes of this excellent speech.

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  • Great Performances: James Hill Plays Uku...
    by ★ Owner on August 12, 2013 at 10:03 PM
    1021 Views - 0 Comments

    A friend of mine posted this video on my Facebook wall, knowing full well I wouldn't be able to resist posting it on my website. I am always on the lookout for people doing innovative things in music performance, and this is definitely unique. It's probably not an innovation that will revolutionize - well... anything, but it is still entertaining, to say the least. There really is no limit to the human capacity for exploration and curiosity, and no limit to the musician's search for the next new cool sound.

    James Hill is a Canadian ukulele wizard who specializes in mixing styles, genres, and sounds. This video is a cell phone shot from the audience at a show in Felton, California in 2011. The audience clamors for an encore, and he gives them a unique one: ukulele played using a pair of chopsticks and a comb. There's quite a lot of lead-in (he starts playing around the 3:50 mark), but his explanation of what he's doing, full of improvised quips, is worth watching. 

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  • Great Performances: Electric Guitar Perf...
    by ★ Owner on July 30, 2013 at 3:49 PM
    1169 Views - 0 Comments

    Here again is another example of what happens when a young person finds what they have a high aptitude for early on and devotes their time and energy on mastering the skills of music performance. This YouTube video, posted less that 24 hours ago, already has over 5,000 plus views and has been picked up by Lifehacker and other sites.

    Fourteen-year-old "Tina S.", a student of Renaud Louis-Servais, performs a cover of Patrick Rondat's guitar adaptation of the Presto movement of Vivaldi's "Summer". The performance speaks for itself. Pick it up on iTunes here.

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  • Great Performances: Eric Whitacre's Virt...
    by ★ Owner on July 17, 2013 at 11:23 AM
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    Virtual Choir 4
    Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir

    I took a few moments out of my continued preparations for this weekend's VoCALnation festival to finally watch Eric Whitacre's newest Virtual Choir offering. I have featured his previous three installments on my site in the past, and was expecting another great effort. My expectations were totally shattered and I sat transfixed by Whitacre's video for his original composition Fly to Paradise.

    The numbers are staggering: 8,409 VIDEOS FEATURING 5,905 SINGERS FROM 101 COUNTRIES. What else could you do with them but build a city? The sheer amount of work that goes into sorting those videos, let alone compile them, lift the audio tracks, edit, mix, and master each of them is nothing short of mind-boggling. The computer-animated angel in the video strikes me as a bit early-two-thousands-ish, but the cityscape and the images of the featured soprano soloists on billboards is humbling.

    The song itself, in typical Whitacre fashion, features lush chords crafted with emotional direction and aesthetic beauty. Choir purists will balk at the electronica accompaniment, but Whitacre and his team (including a cappella community member Peter Hollens, who supplied the guide tracks and recorded his own performances) have produced true 21st century art with this video. It transcends the first three virtual choirs and elevates the choral art form into a place among and above the vast ocean of quarter-inch-deep, overproduced electronica, dubstep, and club music.

    Now the only question is, how do they top themselves next time?

    Fly Me to Paradise is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify worldwide. Visit the VC4 YouTube page for links. Enjoy this stirring video.

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  • Great Performances: The Real Group Pass ...
    by ★ Owner on June 12, 2013 at 8:26 AM
    1183 Views - 0 Comments

    This has been a week of YouTube magic! This is my third "Great Performances" post in a row, because the amazing performances just keep on coming.

    The Real Group is back with their second video from their "Sodermalm Sessions" live recordings. Yep, that's right - this is from a live recording. Yes, there is post production clean-up and some camera editing, but the precision and artistry of The Real Group is hard to fathom. Attending one of their live shows is definitely on my "to do" list. Enjoy.

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  • Great Performances: Philadelphia Orchest...
    by ★ Owner on June 10, 2013 at 8:47 PM
    1138 Views - 0 Comments

    When a group from The Philadelphia Orchestra found itself delayed on the tarmac for three hours waiting for their flight from Beijing to Macao as part of the 2013 Residency & Fortieth Anniversary Tour of China, a quartet of musicians decided to provide a "pop up" performance for the passengers.


    Juliette Kang, violin

    Daniel Han, violin

    Che-Hung Chen, viola

    Yumi Kendall, cello

    The piece is the final movement of the "American" string quartet by Antonin Dvorak

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  • Great Performances: Cluster Vocal Sings ...
    by ★ Owner on May 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM
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    I've been a big fan of Italian a cappella group CLUSTER since I saw them live at VoCALnation in 2012, and their new single just hit YouTube and iTunes today. It's a cover of Italian band Matia Bazar's hit song "Ti Sento". Cluster brings their own style to this tune with jazz harmonies, a deeper groove, and a vocal guitar solo. I'm looking forward to the upcoming albums (that's with an "s") that Cluster is currently working on.

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  • Great Performances: The Real Group Perfo...
    by ★ Owner on May 10, 2013 at 7:56 AM
    1335 Views - 0 Comments

    I am a big fan of vocal jazz, especially unaccompanied vocal jazz. My all-time favorite vocal group is and will always be The Singers Unlimited. Among their many jaw-dropping recordings, one of my favorites is this rendition of the 1947 song "Nature Boy" written by Eden Abhez and made famous by Nat King Cole.

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    The Singers Unlimited were one of the most influential groups in American history, and yet they fly under the radar for so many people who consider themselves vocal music fans. One of the many groups that The Singers Unlimited has influenced in measurable ways are Sweeden's perennial vocal jazz artists The Real Group. They have been touring the world for over 28 years and continue to deliver the kind of jaw-dropping harmony that began with the overdubbing vocal masterworks of Gene Puerling.

    Here is a new recording of The Real Group performing their own arrangement of "Nature Boy" for a live audience. The precision of intonation and artistry of this recording, especially in a live setting, is nothing short of amazing. While there certainly were post-performance adjustments and mixing made to the video, none of that takes away from this performance. In fact, it enhances it.

    "Nature Boy" is one of my most favorite songs. There is something about its melancholy words, chromatic melody, and underlying harmony that makes the main message of the lyrics that much more poignant. It's as if the song's statement of wisdom, which is "The greatest thing you'll ever learn in just to love and be loved in return", was discovered by the boy through many personal trials and tribulations despite his youth.

    I hope you take a moment to put on some headphones or go to a quiet space to listen to both The Singers Unlimited version and this new recording.

    This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Great Performances: Kevin Olusola Cellob...
    by ★ Owner on May 1, 2013 at 9:50 AM
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    Kevin "K. O." Olusola is a classically-trained cellist and a professional beatboxer. He has risen to prominence as one half of the rhythm section of YouTube sensations Pentatonix. He was first asked to join Pentatonix for their run on season 3 of The Sing-Off when they saw his first celloboxing video.

    While Kevin is touring and recording full-time with Pentatonix, he still practices cello daily and has returned with another solo cello/beatboxing performance. This time, it is a cover of Rhianna's popular "Diamonds", a song I find mind-numbingly repetitive in its original release. There is hidden emotional depth to the song, however, as Kevin demonstrated. It was also demonstrated recently by the Northeastern University's Nor'Easters a cappella group during their championship performance at the 2013 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.

    Kevin's prowess on the cello is quite obvious, but to combine that with equally skilled vocal percussion is indeed a rare ability. I look forward to seeing much more from Kevin in the years to come.

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  • Pentatonix Takes Us On A Tour Of Vocal M...
    by ★ Owner on April 15, 2013 at 12:09 PM
    1185 Views - 0 Comments

    Pentatonix, the season 3 winners of NBC's "The Sing-Off" have yet again released another jaw-dropping video on YouTube. This time, they take us on a tour of vocal music history from the 11th century all the way up to today's mega-hits - all in 4 and a half minutes. Not only are their skills readily on display as usual, they do a pretty good job of encapsulating some of the most influential vocal music in the 20th and 21st centuries. Not everyone will resonate with all of their choices for the past several decades, but the video quite effortlessly shows how the experience of being human and making music has exploded and grown at a blistering pace over the last 100 years.

    This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Great Performances: Bobby McFerrin's Gra...
    by ★ Owner on January 5, 2013 at 8:32 AM
    2151 Views - 0 Comments

    Bobby McFerrin is one of my personal heroes - a musician whose technique is unquestionable, artistry is apparent, and who embodies the music he performs with every note. This video was shared on his Facebook page last evening for its 25th anniversary. Bobby won a Grammy for Best Jazz Solo Vocal for this performance. His acceptance speech also exemplifies his gracious nature and the musicianship that literally can't stay inside his mind - plus who wouldn't want to get their Grammy from Miles Davis in a xylophone suit? Enjoy Bobby's performance earlier in the broadcast of Round Midnight.

  • Great Performances: Cluster Vocal Sings ...
    by ★ Owner on July 16, 2012 at 7:43 PM
    7510 Views - 0 Comments

    This past weekend, I attended my first festival sponsored by the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America. It was a great experience that I blogged about here. The culminating event of the weekend was a professional showcase concert featuring The Sing-Off favorites Afro Blue and a vocal quintet from Genoa, Italy called Cluster. In their American debut performance, Cluster took us all on an amazing ride. Their penultimate performance at the end of their set was this exquisite arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

    This video doesn't quite do the performance justice, but you can still get a sense of the masterful way that Cluster uses contemporary jazz harmony to add tension and texture to various moments in the piece. When the group finished this rendition and the video ends, they received the first completely organic standing ovation of the night.

    At the concert's after-party, I told front man Erik Bosio that his arrangement is the best I've ever heard of that song in any setting, and I've heard quite a few. He was flattered and said, "Everyone in America is so nice!"

    I hope this video stays up on YouTube. Watch it while it is there. If you like what you hear, check out Cluster's website where you can buy their CD's and buy a score of this arrangement.

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