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When Meaning Meets Music

Eight voices better than one for VOCES8

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Photographs by Courtesy Photo

The internationally award-winning a cappella ensemble VOCES8 takes the stage at the Walton Arts Center as part of the 10x10 Arts Series. As part of the series, guests are invited to attend a Creative Conversation with the ensemble beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 3. Following the show, an after party with the artists will take place in the Walker Atrium.

When an ensemble of professional singers blend their multi-layered harmonies, and their lush voices fill an auditorium, the effect can be ethereal -- even (or perhaps especially) in another language. Music is, of course, universal in its allure -- across most divisive boundaries. A cappella groups like the award-winning British ensemble VOCES8 have tapped into that transcendent quality of vocal performance as a stirring art form with an ability to leave an audience spell-bound.

"I think the voice as an instrument is a very direct form of communication; it's a very empowering form of communication," shares Barnaby Smith, artistic director and member of VOCES8. "People say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but really I think you hear from somebody's soul when they sing to you; it's such a naked and beautiful form of expression."

FAQ

VOCES8

WHEN — 7 p.m. Dec. 3

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $10

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org

What began as an outlet for a group of friends to reunite and sing together during university breaks -- organized by Smith and his brother Paul -- grew into a career opportunity with the group's invitation to, and subsequent winning of, the 2005 International Choral Grand Prix in Italy. The octet's current roster comprises musicians with varying expertise -- from Smith's background in early music to another member's training in classical and jazz in the United States -- enabling the singers to incorporate each of their unique skills into the journey of the performance.

"We love to show how the voice can achieve so many different colors, so many different styles," Smith says. "I think it's also appropriate to say jazz music was influenced by Renaissance music or by Baroque music, or [that] pop music is influenced by the music of the classical idiom. And there's not many groups in the world that can actually demonstrate how the two, or three, or four, five, six different styles that we're going to work really can relate to each other. So it's a very very nice thing to be able to do, and we're actually very passionate about it ourselves."

The program VOCES8 will perform at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville is a seasonal concert, "Winter Tales." The singers will transport the audience from 16th century Germany to 20th century Russia, and from the Renaissance to the Romantic era with enchanting carols and hymns from across the globe -- as well as a few modern favorites. Some arrangements have roots in medieval poetry or chants while others by famous contemporary composers will be immediately familiar.

"We're very lucky as singers because we not only get to work with wonderful music, but we get to work with text," Smith says. "And one of the things we work very hard on as an ensemble is really trying to engage with a song's meaning, but then also trying to translate that meaning into our performances."

Finding that meaning from the interpretations of eight different artists not working under a single conductor can present a challenge, though. Part of Smith's charge as the artistic director is to channel those eight opinions on mood or motifs or timing into one unified vision. Collaboration among group members results in a performance that carries the listener through varying styles as well as emotions.

"I think one of the most beautiful things about being in an a cappella group is that every day you get to witness the beauty of the human voice," Smith offers. "As an instrument, it's incredibly powerful that somebody can stand there without, say, a violin or a piano and create such beautiful music. And it's a great privilege to do it."

NAN What's Up on 12/03/2017

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