From Eden

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Stanford University Mixed Company performing Hozier’s “From Eden.”

Song Selection

The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is on song selection.

Forge an identity.

The songs a group sings go a long way toward defining a group’s identity for the night of a competition. While there’s certainly an argument that some identities are a better fit for competition than others, I maintain that some identity is better than no identity. Groups benefit from selecting a style of performance and, inevitably some songs will fit more comfortably in their wheelhouse than others—or they’ll reinvent songs in clever ways to make them fit.

Consider the example of The NYU N’Harmonics in 2014. Their set, featured songs by Laura Mvula (an up and coming British soul singer), The Dirty Projectors (an NYC indie rock band, and a Yes song that was a forgotten single from the early 1970s. No group sounded like The N’Harmonics, weaving a sense of counter culture and chic for a totally distinctive identity via song selection.

Be distinctive.

No two groups sing the same songs at competition.

Let me rephrase that: no two groups should bring the same songs to competition, outside the rare and impossible to foresee coincidence.

There are top 40 songs out there that everyone who goes to an a cappella competition expects to hear covered. And then there are songs no one expects to hear.

A golden oldie reinvented. A deep cut from a major artist. A song off an indie label. For every group out there, there are thousands of songs they could potentially perform, and unless you’re a group of the caliber of Pitch Slapped or The SoCal VoCals, you’re taking a real gamble if you just assume that you’re going to sing a mainstream hit better than any other group that happens to bring it to the same competition. Making unique decisions when it comes to song selection makes your group more memorable and avoids the possibility of unfavorable comparisons

Show your range, but think about flow.

While a cohesive identity and style are worthy goals for any competing group, it’s also worth thinking about how the group will show its range—that the group isn’t just fun, just emo, or any other one-note dimension of music, but rather can excel in different genres and by different means. A group that goes high octane all the way may be a crowd favorite, but just as easily leave the judges wondering if they didn’t have the chops to pull off a ballad.

While a group considers range, it must also evaluate how it will switch between different gears in a way that eases the audience in, or uses abrupt shifts for a purposeful dramatic effect. See the previous edition of The Competitor’s Edge on transitions for more on that topic.

How have you seen song selection make or break a competition set? Let us know in the comments section.

Embedded Solos

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #154: Embedded Solos

Offering individual singers short solos within a larger piece is nothing new to the world of choral music, but in the contemporary a cappella world, in which the default set up is to have one soloist with the rest of the group providing the instrumentation, harmonies, and backup, it can be particularly refreshing to hear additional soloists rise from the mix for just a few short moments to offer the song a different texture—to make the narrative of the performance feel more like a dialogue or as though the story is traveling through time or space.

This is a dynamic that I felt Pentatonix nailed, particularly on their Sing-Off run, when Scott Hoying handled most of the solos, but Mitch Grassi would chime in periodically with his sterling tenor to offer the song just a hint of a different flavor. Pentatonix is far from the only group using this device, though, with countless others weaving in additional leads to spice up their sound at key moments. Just one such example appears below—the 2007 36 Madison Avenue group out of Drew University on Seal’s “Future Love Paradise,” in which the song culminates with plenty of guys getting their shot on the lead.

I love it!

Waiting on the World to Change

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Centerville High School Forte, featuring Matt Bloyd, performing John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.”

Personal Style

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #153: Personal Style

With thousands of a cappella groups plying their trade today, it can be tough to stand out. Being good, being innovative, and being entertaining are all well and good, but one of the most surefire ways for a group to really stand out, and one of the great joys for an a cappella spectator is to see a group with its own clear, distinctive style. 

Whether it’s bass heavy intensity of The Northeastern University Nor’easters; the horror a cappella stylings of University of Maryland Faux Paz; the raw intensity of The Florida State AcaBelles; the accessible pop sound of Baylor University VirtuOSO; or the breathy, off-beat, intrinsically bohemian sound of The NYU N’Harmonics, some of the very best and most memorable groups singing in the last decade have anchored their identity around a unique aesthetic.

 Yes, some groups do thrive via their range, but groups that can cultivate their own personal style hold a special place for honing in on their spots as can’t-miss acts that can’t be duplicated.

I love it!

The Robot

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #152: The Robot

When it comes to over-the-top, cheesy dance moves, we’ve all seen The Sprinkler, The Shopping Cart, or The Running Man. All these moves pale in comparison, however, to the most immediately recognizable, oft-used, and sure to amuse Robot.

The Robot fits a cappella well.
Each are forms of entertainment that are superficially nerdy and that folks
might feel a little self-conscious about performing. When performed well, each
are infectiously fun.

More than comic relief, though,
as groups have made advances in aca-choreography, we’ve more often seen the
deathly serious robot—movements woven into otherwise more austere and
complicated motions, or infused into songs to enhance a moment of slowing the
tempo or switching to a more electronic style.

The Robot isn’t for everyone, or
every performance, but when applied adeptly it can offer up one of the most
amusing, impressive, or otherwise entertaining moments in an a cappella

I love it!

Next Page
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
I Miss You
Law School Groups
I Don't Think About You
Incorporating Foreign Languages
Evolution of Hollywood
Adele Medley
Technicolour Beat
Raw Solos
Boy Problems
Connecting With a Song