Blending their voices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2011, 12:00am


Group: Swingle Singers (a cappella)
Members: Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson (soprano), Sara Brimer (soprano), Clare Wheeler (alto), Lucy Bailey (alto), Oliver Griffiths (tenor), Christopher Jay (tenor), Kevin Fox (baritone/vocal percussion) and Tobias Hug (baritone/vocal percussion)
Latest album: Ferris Wheels (2009).

[Kevin] For most of the group ... it's our first time in Hong Kong. It's a beautiful city. It's very colourful and vibrant. We're hoping to have some time to go out and explore a bit.

[Tobias] The Swingle Singers ... have been around [in one form or another] for like 50 years. We all joined at various times. One leaves and we'll look for a replacement. I joined exactly 10 years ago, on the first of April.

[Kevin] For the auditions ... we normally have people sing a few songs to get a sense of what their voices sound like. We also have them sing with the group - they have to memorise in advance - and we sing together so we can have a sense of how the voices blend together. It's also so we can have an idea how a person can learn a lot of music in a short time, which is part of the job as well.

[Tobias] Vocal percussion was ... a fairly new thing when I joined the group in 2001. Now you can see beatboxing on YouTube anytime. It's become widespread. So it's a lot easier now to pick it up. Before YouTube it was hard to find examples of it.

We hooked up with a beatboxer called Shlomo in London. He joined us on stage and did some gigs together. He always uses a loop station in his solos, so we had the idea where we could be his human loop station. He would use us and assign us certain sounds and we could form a loop.

[Kevin] For some people ... it's a case of them hearing someone do it [vocal percussion], thinking that's really cool and wanting to do it also. That's often how people get into it.

Sometimes it's a bit more practical. If you're in a group and you realise your group needs some percussion ... that's how I started - it was out of necessity. I didn't realise there were other people doing it, and the extent to which you could do it. We sort of learned on the job rather than being inspired by someone doing it already - that came later.

[Tobias] Ward Swingle founded the group in 1962 and is ... 83 years old now, retired and lives close to Paris with his wife. Until about five years ago he [played] an active role in conducting workshops and writing for other groups. Now he's pretty much spending time with his family. We're good friends with him and ask him for advice sometimes. He's not involved in the day-to-day business but he's available when we need him to give a phone call to a record company or to someone like Quincy Jones.

[Kevin] The original group was ... French. It then became all English. Now it's mostly English. The English group more or less came from the classical singing world, and that was the particular sound - the British choral sound - which Ward was interested in. The original group came from the session singing world, so they were more or less studio musicians as opposed to being live performers. The original group had a physical rhythm section - bass, drums and sometimes piano. Now, on very rare occasions, we'll use a rhythm section, more because it's fun [than anything]. Basically, we have our own rhythm section, which comes from the singers themselves. Usually Toby and I provide the bass and drums, but with our voices.