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The Swingles, 8/22/20

I heard The Swingles in concert online on 8/22/20, performing as part of VOCES8’s Live from London concert series. The group was founded by American choral conductor Ward Swingle in France in 1963 as The Swingle Singers and I was a fan of theirs from childhood. I saw them in concert in Madison sometime around 2000. Their brand was a little too poppy and show choir-esque for my taste, but their expertise couldnt’t be denied.

This concert checked off something from both those columns, heavy on the pop but very well done. Any chance to hear “Go Your Own Way” as a blue-eyed soulful ballad, bring it on! (The full program is below.)

They performed the concert a cappella but with microphones held very close to the mouth, more in the pop or jazz tradition than in the classical tradition. The sound engineer added a little reverb here and there, and what they call “live looping.” I’m not sure I like it, I think it’s in questionable taste.

I was thrilled out of my skin to hear them do two early Swingle Bach classics and to hear them performed so beautifully. The sound of the group is surprisingly close to the original sound, bright but not brassy or grating. I wonder if they deliberately mimic the signature sound of the group, or if the singers are hired because they innately have that sound.

Here’s the 1972 Swingles singing “Badinerie” on some French variety show, introduced by Michel Legrand, who gives a shout-out to his sister, lead singer Christiane Legrand. I’m crazy for the design of the set, I want my living room to look like that!


They did a groovy Bulgarian folk song, “Bučimiš.” That was a welcome change of flavor. They did an original song called “Narnia,” about not losing the innocence and hopefulness of childhood, some cheesy drivel like that. I didn’t like it, it was a little too earnest for me. They redeemed themselves with “Hallelujah I Love Him So.” I love that song and their funkniness was low-down yet sincere.

I think they programmed a song by Radiohead for people who know Radiohead. I’m not one of them, but I liked the arrangement. Their encore, an arrangement of an Afghan folk song called “Love’s Desire,” had a wonderful uplift, a perfect way to end the concert

I wasn’t consistently wild for this concert, but I can see it has an important place in the context of the VOCES8 Live from London series. It’s good have something on the pop spectrum to balance out, for example, the all-Monteverdi program by I Fagiolini we heard a few weeks before.

“Tokyo Sunrise” by LP, arr. Jon Smith

“Red Rain” by Peter Gabriel, arr. Kevin Fox

“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac/ Lindsay Buckingham, arr. Kevin Fox

“Air on a G String” by Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Ward Swingle

“Badinerie” by Bach, arr. Ward Swingle

“Bučimiš,” Bulgarian Traditional, arr. Clare Wheeler/Edward Randell

“Narnia” by Jo Goldsmith-Eteson/Sara Brimer Davey/Oliver Griffiths

“After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons, arr. Tom Anderson

“Hallelujah I Love Him So” by Ray Charles, arr. Edward Randell

“15 Step” by Radiohead, arr. Edward Randell

“Burden” by Edward Randell

“Lovers’ Desire,” Afghan Traditional arr. Edward Randell

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