Guilty Pleasures: Wisdom Teeth, Tchaikovsky And Tim Munro : Deceptive Cadence Flutist Tim Munro, from the group eighth blackbird, recalls how the lush sounds of romanticism helped him come down from his high modernism high.
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Guilty Pleasures: Wisdom Teeth, Tchaikovsky And Tim Munro

This week we're disclosing musical guilty pleasures. Today, flutist Tim Munro from the group eighth blackbird makes a confession. Have a song or composer you're embarrassed to love? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Tim Munro's guiltiest pleasure: The Swingle Singers. Benjamin Ealovega hide caption

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Benjamin Ealovega

Tim Munro's guiltiest pleasure: The Swingle Singers.

Benjamin Ealovega

At age 17 and high on high modernism, I was tortured by my guilty musical pleasures. Anything tuneful, tonal or funky was verboten: Sibelius was misguided, Liszt a charlatan, Strauss a heretic. And I secretly loved them all.

I tried various methods to rid myself of the joy this "unacceptable" music gave me. Attempting to purge an illicit addiction for Tchaikovsky, I piped his Fifth Symphony into my ears during a wisdom tooth extraction. I hoped to trigger a Pavlovian connection between pain and 19th century Romanticism. It didn't work.

Time has softened my judgemental edge, and now, 15 years later, I embrace any cloying phrase or wild jam I can find, in places as far flung as an ecstatic Scriabin sonata, a sweeping Kernis symphony or a rude-n-raw Vivaldi concerto.

Despite this, there is one great musical love of mine that brings me embarrassment via the judgemental shakes-of-the-head from friends and colleagues.

The Swingle Singers came to my attention at the age of 20 in connection with Berio's Sinfonia, a work for vocal ensemble and orchestra that throws myriad textual and musical elements into a cocktail mixer and shakes vigorously. I have long had an addiction to pungent, close-harmony vocals, and the Swingles, a French octet led by the American Ward Swingle, sang this challenging work with the perfect mix of immaculate intonation, razor-sharp attacks and a bright, vibrato-less sound.

I dived into their back catalogue and learned that the fame of this virtuoso jazz vocal ensemble rests almost entirely on two albums of immaculately swung, scatted Bach. The Swingles originally used vocal arrangements of Bach keyboard works as pre-show warm-ups for their "real" work, as back-up singers for Piaf and Aznavour.

They sing all of Bach's notes as written, swinging and scatting them over cheesy bass and kit accompaniments. It is clear, clean, funky, virtuosic and, dare I say it, très cool. And it makes Bach's tunes catchy and memorable for me and I regularly find myself singing and swinging these versions in the shower.

Here are the Swingles, visually stiff and awkward, but still managing to reveal Bach as a great early Jazz composer.


Tim Munro is a flutist who plays with the ensemble eighth blackbird.