Though American choral performers tend to be overshadowed by their UK and European counterparts on the world stage, the Skylark Vocal Ensemble is starting to get some serious recognition. It’s a competitive landscape, but critics and reviewers point to Skylark as becoming a serious contender. In fact, the BBC have described Skylark as “the cream of the American crop.”
Skylark's latest relese, Seven Words From The Cross (2019), wound being up being nominated for two Grammy Awards, Best Choral Performance and Best Immersive Audio Album.
According to their website, Skylark “strives to set the standard for innovative and engaging programs that re-define the choral experience for audiences and singers alike.” The ensemble is made up of vocal soloists, chamber musicians, and even educators. The lineup changes from tour-to-tour and again from album-to-album. Some of their songs are powerful solo performances with incredible backing vocal, while others are full choral arrangements with a bigger sound and more intricate vocal melodies. All these elements weave together to create an amazing soundscape.
In addition to being a vocal ensemble, Skylark is also a not-for-profit organization. They work primarily in the education sphere, providing programs within colleges and high schools as well as other outreach workshops. They even residencies at incredible educational organizations such as Harvard and MIT.
Five-time Grammy award-winning mixer/engineer Daniel Shores was tasking with creating a 5.1 surround sound mix of Seven Words From The Cross for Super Audio CD release on the Sono Luminus label.
The 5.1 mix is incredible, allowing each soloist to have their own moment in the spotlight. The choral performances in particular shine in the massive soundstage, conjuring images of ancient cathedrals and churches through their acoustic qualities. Shores tames the vocal harmonies and gives each member of this incredible ensemble their space to shine. The sound can shift from a delicate vulnerability with a solo vocalist to a huge sound, best demonstrated in “Death May Dissolve (Fantasia on a Hymn by William Billings).”
The album features a wide variety of hymns, some a modern twist on mainstream classics (“Amazing Grace”) and others longer, more historical-feeling performances (“4 Motets pour un temps de pénitence, FP 97: No. 2, Vinea mea electa"). Seven Words From The Cross and its Grammy nomination have brought due recognition to a hardworking organization with a talented ensemble.