Close-knit vocals

The a cappella jazz quartet New York Voices will hold a master class with Harvard's VoxJazz. At the heart is a trust in the power of ensemble music. 

By Anita Lo '16 

The award-winning ensemble New York Voices (Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinham, Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian) has released seven albums that have bridged styles including classicalpopR&BBrazilian and American jazz. Known for close-knit vocals, New York Voices is much more than four outstanding soloists singing together: their very strength and versatility stem from closeness as a group.

A cappella groups that are so popular at Harvard and vocal ensembles in general will have a unique opportunity to watch the internationally-acclaimed jazz quartet conduct a public master class with the student-run sextet VoxJazz 4 p.m. Friday, April 15 in Holden Chapel in Harvard Yard. 

VoxJazzVoxJazz (Julia Biedry ‘17, Josh Bean ‘16, Eden Girma ‘18, Max Masuda-Farkas ‘17, Joshuah Campbell ‘16 and Laila Smith ‘17) occupies a similar niche to New York Voices. Bean, who also sings for the Harvard University Choir, explained the uniqueness of performing in such a small ensemble as
opposed to larger ones: “With vocal jazz arrangements, there’s a lot more room for individual interpretation and singing a phrase in different ways, for example. You approach the text so differently from in a choir. Ultimately, VoxJazz wants to be six singers who each bring the quality and weight of a solo singer but blend with one another, communicate with one another and breathe together to make a unified sound.”

Smith explained that much of vocal jazz comes down to how the group hangs together. This manifests itself in many ways, from flexible practices to accommodate busy student schedules to a sense of “musical trust.”

“In that sense, we’re very much a jazz a cappella group,” Smith said. “We’re always improvising, trusting the sense of music, relying on our tightness as an ensemble rather than perfection through practice. Even though those things are related, I think that’s how we make it work. I believe these people are wonderful musicians and want to make the group – and me – sound good. Everyone is here for the benefit of the whole ensemble.”

New York VoicesNew York Voices will be particularly well-equipped to speak to the art of small-ensemble singing. And because VoxJazz so often uses New York Voices’ arrangements – two songs that VoxJazz will perform on Friday are New York Voices arrangements – the time seems ripe for an in-person musical interaction.

Indeed, one of the hopes is that singers, including those in the audience, will be able to take something from the masterclass such as technical pointers or even more general advice. Bean emphasized the importance of providing a master class tailored toward tight-knit vocal groups: “Rarely do we get a chance to think specifically about singing with each other and how we can sound better and sing better together. I think it’s a great opportunity that the a cappella community at large could benefit from.”

As Smith put it: “I think [New York Voices] will also give us more conceptual things to work with: small pointers or golden nuggets of advice that can take us to another level and things that are useful to all kinds of a cappella groups.”

The master class with New York Voices is free and open to the public. The event is cosponsored by Learning from Performers.