andrew kruse-ross | the summit | oct. 2016
Two vocal powerhouses converge at the Weidner Center as The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 share the stage in a one-of-a-kind performance they're calling The Summit. Winners of a remarkable 20 Grammy awards between them and spanning the gamut of musical genres, this performance is bound to strike a chord with audiences both young and old.
With both groups able to pull from decades of hits, simply performing those songs would have been enough to please many fans, but The Summit goes beyond that and offers a unique twist to each group's hits.
“We wanted to make this a night of music that you could only get during the tour," says Claude McKnight of Take 6. “This tour is really something special."
The Summit does this in two key ways. First by rearranging a selection of songs from the repertoires of both groups for 10 voices — instead of Take 6's six or TMT's four. Secondly, as The Manhattan Transfer's Alan Paul tell us:
“We thought it would be interesting for the audience if we sang each other's songs."
He provides examples of TMT doing Take 6's “Mary" and Take 6 covering TMT's disco hit "Twilight Tone" as examples.
“We switch things around a little bit," says McKnight. “We've got some tricks up the sleeve that we're going to be working into the set list."
Naturally, rearranging these songs for two groups as opposed to one proved challenging, and as McKnight says, arranging for 10 voices can “tend to get crowded very quickly" but the two groups have managed to do it, despite differences in approach.
“It was definitely challenging to rearrange the songs because our processes are completely different," says Paul. “Traditionally with TMT, Janis, myself or another arranger will write out a vocal arrangement and we would learn the chart by reading it. Where as, Take 6 learn their parts by ear, usually through founding member and vocal arranger, Mark Kibble. The arrangements are all in his head and he will play each part for the guys who in turn record and learn them. As they explain to us, although they all can read music, it's more of a 'church' approach."
According to Paul, combining these two processes together and having Kibble's parts written out has allowed the collective to work.
Making the entire process easier is a mutual respect and admiration that each group has for the other, leading to lasting friendships between the two groups over the years.
“There are few groups that we all count as inspirations for what it is that we do," says McKnight of members of Take 6, “but The Manhattan Transfer is definitely in that number. Over the years, they've not only been influences, but they've been friends of ours and it's always cool when you can connect with your friends that are like-minded musically."
The roots of Take 6 go back to 1980 on the campus the Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., while The Manhattan Transfer's was founded in 1969 in New York City, leaving both groups years to develop a loyal fan base. Both groups, however, are seeing many younger faces in the audiences these days, signaling a resurgence in the popularity of vocal music.
Some of the credit belongs to television shows like “The Voice," and films like “Pitch Perfect," which often appeal to younger audiences. The popularity of such shows subsequently has many singers that would otherwise assemble at the periphery of the popular landscape making themselves much more visible as a result.
“A lot of people might not know this, but there's always been a plethora of a cappella groups and choirs on high school and college campuses," says McKnight. “I think it's become a little bit more mainstream because it's been portrayed more, but it's definitely always been there."
Paul Alan credits social media as playing the largest role in bringing music like that of The Manhattan Transfer to a new generation of listeners.
“Skipping a full generation as the world adapted from analog to the digital realm and technology expanded from the very poor quality of MP3s to wider broadband which now allows bigger audio files to be streamed, websites like Facebook and especially YouTube have become a way of sharing, creating and marketing music. The internet also allows new generations of listeners to understand and experience the lineage of vocal music in ways never possible before."
Perhaps most central to the longevity and success for both groups is a passionate focus on the music.
“Our philosophy is to be inventive and go on inspiration as artists wherever that takes us, to explore different ways to express our vocal harmony. We always strive for an excellence in whatever we do," says Paul about TMT's direction and history, which began with the late Tim Hauser nearly 50 years ago.
Similarly for Take 6, which is now the most heavily awarded a cappella group in history, the focus on creating music they love versus music that seeks to win awards is paramount.
“When I started the group, it was just to have a cool quartet at the time," says McKnight. “It was just a hobby, but to be doing it now for 30 years is a real incredible blessing for us. It's really only during the interviews that we get time to think about all the accolades; because this is still something we love to do. The awards are just byproducts of that."
With 47 stops on their six-month tour, TMT and Take 6 will be spending a great deal of time together. When asked if working together on The Summit tour would result in a potential recording, both men admitted there'd been some discussion about the possibility, with Paul saying such an album could be “very possible."
The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6 takes place on Oct. 27 at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. For more information and tickets visit WeidnerCenter.com.