The vocal ensemble !zing is kind of like a personal musical lab for conductor, arranger and composer Charles R. Brown Jr.

With a dozen adult voices, the group is large enough to deliver pure vocal power and yet is nimble like a jazz combo, quick on its feet and capable of many moods.

The group sings off-beat, jazz-oriented songs, and on Saturday will present a program, “Singing the Flip Side,” at St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center in Portland.

“It’s pretty unique,” said Brown, who arranges all the songs that !zing sings. “The nice thing is, these folks are not professional singers. I could have put this together with five or six professional singers, and it would be a different thing. I totally thought about doing that, but somehow the amateur music-making part of it is what’s attractive about it. It’s a hot-rod community chorus.”

Saturday’s program features music we recognize but maybe cannot readily identify. Brown has arranged songs by Jimmy Van Heusen, an Oscar and Emmy winner who wrote more songs for Frank Sinatra than any other composer, and Anita O’Day, a dynamite big-band jazz singer.

“I hear crazy stuff. I was driving a few years ago and listening to Toby Leboutillier on Maine Public Radio, and I heard this Fifth Dimension song called ‘Carpet Man,’ ” Brown said. “I had completely forgotten about it, but it turns out to be a flip song to one of their hits. That’s what we look for.

“I do my part to turn people on to these musical nuggets. It’s a musical yard sale.”

!zing has been around for about eight years. The group rehearses weekly, and presents a few concerts each year.

Right now, the group includes Linc Bedrosian, Tom Bergier, Gerard Bianco, Karen Birthisel, Barbara Jean Bundy, Barbara Cariddi, Kathleen Egan, Alan Fishman, Maggie Laughlin, Kathie McCatherin, Jim McDonouth, Ken Smith and Annette Elowitch.

It’s a fun group, and the concerts tend to be festive and lively. They’re also quite good. Brown sets high standards, and pushes the singers to perform at the top of their ability.

“This is like a lab for me to try out ideas and perfect stuff,” he said. “It’s challenging, and it should be. You are creating something that is not easy to do, and as a result, you succeed. You feel like you have accomplished something.”


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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