The Wall of Sound

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #161: The Wall of Sound

Particularly at the scholastic level, most a cappella groups feature ten or more singers. While a big group can lead to all sorts of complications when it comes to harmonizing, balance, and staging, it also opens up some unique opportunities when staging and sound converge for a spectacular moment.

Take the wall of sound. Group members storm the front of the stage, getting as close to the audience as they can, and sing their loudest, all on the same part, all in unison. The effect is an all but monolithic voice that compels every eye and every ear in attendance to the stage.

 Used gratuitously or to ill effect, the wall of sound can wear out its welcome. Used at the climax of a particularly powerful song, it’s the stuff standing ovations are made of.

I love it!

Hold On, We're Going Home

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present University of Illinois No Comment performing Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home."

Engaging the Audience

The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is engaging the audience.

Bring the noise, bring the funk.

A too-oft-ignored reality of live a cappella performance—the audience wants to be engaged. Sure, most audience have their outspoken sources of snark, but in their heart of hearts the vast majority of people come out to shows because they want to be entertained.

Groups that thrive in competition capitalize on that desire. They take the stage with palpable energy, intensity, or verity. They take the audience for a ride. A competition is the absolute worst venue for any group to “phone in” a performance. Groups should leave everything they have on the stage to leave no doubt they made the best effort possible to engage the crowd.

Perform for them, not you.

Competitions have different target demographics. The ICCAs feature college kids, and while there’s a diverse body of judges, in my informal observation, the judges generally seem to reward performances that seem true to the group—youthful, edgy, innovative. Meanwhile, for Harmony Sweepstakes, the demographics tend to skew a bit more mature, and there’s a history of barbershop groups succeeding in the setting, meaning it’s not necessarily the optimal audience for a group to <i>attack</i> with wacky new vocal stylings.

Successful groups know their audience and perform to please their sensibilities. Moreover, they put the audience first. Groups naturally develop inside jokes, but great competitors recognize that those jokes are best left internal—in the rehearsal room, not on the performance stage when they run the risk of confusing or even alienating the crowd.

Interacting with the audience.

One of the purest approaches to engaging an audience is to get them actively participating in the performance. For example, when a group achieves something epic along the lines of a barn-burning closing number, it can be a huge advantage to lead the crowd in a clap-along to get them feeling the music and feeling like a part of the story. (On the flip side, going for a clap-along on the opening number or more than once in a set runs the risk of coming across as presumptuous, pandering, or just plain annoying).

Another way of interacting is to break the fourth wall. Mind you, not every performance space lends itself to it, but if a group can take advantage of the space available and work its way into the crowd (or start in the crowd and work their way onto the stage) it can surprise the audience, stand out, and bolster audience attachment to your act based on pure proximity.

How have you seen groups engage audiences in competition? Let us know in the comments.

When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #160: When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whether you’re even old enough to know who he is, there is one universal truth: it’s impossible to resist a Stevie Wonder vocal track.

Yes, Wonder is a one-of-a-kind talent, but beyond great vocals, there’s a certain joy to the man’s voice—an indelible connection to every word he sings that turns every listener to putty in his hands, fully tapping into every emotion he conveys.

Plenty of a cappella groups have tried to cover Wonder over the years. Oftentimes, they come up short for not being able to compare to Wonder’s sensational original sound. But in those rare instances when a particularly gifted soloist nails that vocal, it can quickly make for a transcendent performance—a callback to yesteryear and a joy to hear in the present moment. 

I love it!


Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present The Washington University Stereotypes performing Logic's "1-800-237-8255."

Building a Personal Connection to a Song

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #159: Building a Personal Connection to a Song

Each a cappella group has it repertoire. Most of these song lists include a few contemporary favorites, maybe a throwback number or two. Some fast songs. Some ballads.

One of the most rewarding parts of a performance can be those moments when you see a song truly transcend staging and tuning and syncopation to also be about raw emotion and personal connection to the music. Sometimes this is a result of a soloist who pitched the song in the first place because it’s a favorite song or one that person really connects with the lyrics of. Sometimes it’s a song that evolves into a group anthem—a testament to everything the group has been through together to reach that stage of performance. Sometimes it’s a member of the group very intentionally talking as a unit about what this song means to them and what they are trying to communicate as a unit.

 Regardless of how it comes about, personal connections are difficult to fabricate or simulate—it’s about authenticity and often about leaving a bit of a raw edge to overlay the polish of performance. When all of these factors come together, it more often than not results in a performance that the audience gets sucked into, each listener forging her or his own connection to the music.

I love it!

Next Page
The Wall of Sound
Hold On, We're Going Home
Engaging the Audience
When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo
Building a Personal Connection to a Song
Vocal Percussion
Subtle Movement
You'll Be in My Heart
Adapting to the Audience
Adapting To The Environment
From Eden
Song Selection
Embedded Solos
Waiting on the World to Change
Personal Style
The Robot
On The Rocks, Sunset Blush
The Great Escape
Front Row Seats
R&B Medley
Balcony Seats
Elastic Heart
Zero to Hero
Transitions on Your Playlist