Open Letters

Farewell From The A Cappella Blog

Open Letters

Dear Readers,

In January 2007, we launched The A Cappella Blog. A lot has happened since for this blog and, all the more so the a cappella world. The Sing-Off television series, the Pitch Perfect film series, and a little group known as Pentatonix all became things and, in so doing, made the popularity of the genre explode. The SoCal VoCals, who had never previously appeared at ICCA Finals, became a dynasty—the first group to ever win five championships. DCappella is changing the game all over again right now with their remarkable touring show.

We’re barely scratching the surface.

But the wonderful thing about running The A Cappella Blog over the last the last twelve years was attending over fifty live competitions, receiving albums from around the world in the mail (and later in our inboxes), and chronicling and critiquing a genre and a community as it grew up.

And now it’s time to step aside.

We founded The A Cappella Blog on the premise that a cappella wasn’t covered enough. What web presence a cappella did have was scattered and inconsistent, particularly relative to where it is today. Yes, there was the Recorded A Cappella Review Board which did then, and continues now to provide top-notch reviews of a cappella albums, but there weren’t many consistent, independent resources beyond that. YouTube was a fledgling thing with little in the way of archival footage. Similarly, major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were just catching on with uneven representation from the a cappella world, and limited capacity to share video or audio. The folks at CASA and Varsity Vocals were off to a wonderful start on their web presences, laying the foundation for what they would become, but it’s difficult to both be the institution and offer media coverage that doesn’t feel institutional. So it was that we covered the scene both independently and as outsiders. Neither of us had sung in a cappella groups, and it was our greatest ambition to help the genre crossover to other would-be fans by offering a cappella exposure, and providing commentary that would be accessible to interested parties who didn’t necessarily have any more technical background than we did.

Times have changed. FloVoice is streaming events and offering wonderful opinion pieces. AcaVille Radio has broadened live event coverage via not only their site and broadcasts, but an expansive social media presence. Folks like Marc Silverberg are offering nuanced, not to mention entertaining, insights on the a cappella world in the blog format, in addition to original creative content. The Counterpoint podcast from Deke Sharon and Rob Dietz may be new but is already making waves in how we listent to and think about a cappella. And you want archival footage of a major performance? The odds are that between YouTube or a group’s social media pages, you can now find what you’re looking for.

Does The A Cappella Blog still have a place in a cappella media? We’re sure we could, and we are so appreciative of those who have continued to visit our website, even as the volume, depth, and variety of our posts have diminished in recent years. However, we are all too willing to accept that we aren’t needed anymore, and just as things have changed for a cappella, so too have they for the site’s leadership.

We founded the site as a pair of bachelors, just starting our own lives after college. Now we’re both husbands and fathers. We’ve balanced the blog with full-time work and graduate studies, and it was never easy. More so than family life preventing us carrying forward with the blog, it has compelled us to re-prioritize.

While we’ll still maintain some social media presence for the time being, this will be our final blog post for the foreseeable future. With that, we’d like to use the space of this last open letter to offer a totally non-comprehensive thanks, acknowledgment, and fond reminiscence to some of the moments, groups and people whom we’ll remember fondly from our twelve-year-plus a cappella odyssey.

To the 2005 University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers and Rutgers University Casual Harmony--you're the groups that captured our imagination and in many ways sparked the idea of traveling to report on live a cappella competitions.

To Amanda Newman, David Rabizadeh, Andrea Poole, Holli Matze, Cooper Kitching, Saqib Yasin, Courtney Jensen, Lindsay Howerton-Hastings, Sara Yood, Emily Flanders, Matt Shirer, Andrew Poole, and all of the other Varsity Vocals team members we’ve worked with over the years, and who welcomed us, offered tickets to shows, facilitated our coverage, and even afforded us opportunities to host or emcee events over the years.

Varsity Vocals

To Deke Sharon (doesn’t everyone in a cappella owe Deke Sharon an acknowledgement?), Dave Brown, Bill Hare (who let me hold his Grammy!), Michael Eldredge, Blair Baldwin, and the variety of other a cappella experts and power players who volunteered time, welcomed us to events, or literally opened their doors to us to further our website at different stages of its development. To Christopher Diaz, Rob Dietz, Bri Holland, Chris Rishel, Ted Trembinski, Ben Bram, Carl Taylor, Josh Chopak, Aaron Director, Ben Lieberman, Peter Hollens, Shams Ahmed, Mike Jankowski, Jon Smith, Jo Vinson, Dan Purcell, Noah Berg, Ryan Aiello, Jillian Kimberlin, Dave Longo, Angela Longo Ben Stevens, Tom Anderson, TeKay, Elie Landau, D.W. Routte, Lindsey McGowen, Matt Caruso, Matt Zager, Jonathan Minkoff, Sean Patrick Riley, J.D. Frizzell, Diego Aardila, and dozens of other friends and colleagues who offered their camaraderie and valuable insights into a cappella in different ways across a period of years.

Hare

To Jerry Lawson and Julie Hurwitz for offering the thrill of a phone interview, and a taste of something pure and magical when your answers to questions gave way to impromptu song stylings.

To the 2008 SoCal VoCals, who may not have been better than other SoCal VoCal championship incarnations to follow, but nonetheless left us in absolute awe of just how incredible a cappella could be early in our careers reporting on the form.

To the 2012 FSU AcaBelles whom staged Mike Chin’s favorite twelve-minute set of a cappella he’s ever experienced live. Period.

To Ben Spalding and Tom Paster, two of the friendliest people we’ve met, and some of the finest examples of the role a teacher can play in students’ lives when it comes to fostering creative ambition and excellence in performance.

To Lisa Forkish and OSA Vocal Rush who saw the potential for not only exceptional art, but activism inherent in a cappella.

To the 2013 Nor’easters who brought tears to our eyes by singing their hearts out after fighting their way to ICCA Finals in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

To Melissa Rashford and the Syracuse University Mandarins of her era, who first introduced us to ICCA, and to a cappella in earnest.

To Cut-Off A Cappella for singing at Mike Scalise’s wedding.

To the 2010-2012 Washington University Stereotypes, whose infectious energy and good will reminded us of why, in addition to being critics and bloggers, we were first and foremost a cappella fans.

To Mike Peek, who accompanied us on a number of road trips to see a cappella shows and helped promote our site live and in person.

To Will Browar, whose design expertise reinvented The A Cappella Blog time and again over the course of our run, and who quietly shot some of the best a cappella photography the world has ever seen.

Peek And Will

To Irene Droney, Stephen Hutchings, Andrea Aquino, Eric Talley, Jill Clark, Nancy Cheng,  Michael Marcus, Lo Barreiro, Gen Chawluk, and the variety of other regional coordinators, columnists, and guest writers who came and went over time.

To Nazareth College for twice affording us the opportunity to host ICCA events.

To Heather, Amy, Riley, and Maggie who gave us the time to see through our ambitions for this site as far as we wanted to.

Family

One of the dangers of singling out people and groups who have contributed to, supported, or otherwise meant something important to this blog is that we surely omitted a bunch of people we should have acknowledged (as we may have done in some lists past, too…). Rest assured that there were no snubs intended. We sign off with love, admiration, and our greatest hope that you all keep singing wherever you are. 

Sincerely,

Mike Chin and Mike Scalise

Update On A Cappella Blog Event Reviews

Open Letters

Dear Readers,

Since we started The A Cappella Blog in 2007, the cornerstone of this site has been live event coverage, and in particular reviews of Varsity Vocals competitions. Indeed, the idea to start the site at all came up in 2006, in recognition that reviews weren’t happening elsewhere—no one was archiving, let alone offering evaluation of all of the awesome a cappella going down at competitions.

And so we began. At the site’s peak, I would personally go on the road for as many as eight-to-ten consecutive weekends in a season, putting thousands of miles on my Civic each spring.

Times have changed.

In my mid-to-late twenties, I lived in Baltimore, within a couple hundred miles of just about any Mid-Atlantic ICCA or ICHSA show including Finals and a number of festivals. I was a bachelor, worked a respectable office job, and lived in a hole-in-the-wall apartment—a recipe for expendable time and money to hit all of these shows and make it down south or into the Midwest a couple times a year (not to mention actually write a several-thousand word review in the days to immediately follow each event).

Regular readers likely noticed that the site’s live event coverage dipped in 2015. I’d left the job behind in favor of a second round of graduate school. I wound up in Oregon, in reasonable driving distance for two or three events a year, and making an annual flight out to New York for Finals. Money and time were tighter. And I got engaged.

Fast forward to now. I’ve settled in Georgia where I teach college composition courses. I’m married and, in my most recent life transition, am now a father.

Image 1

Being a father was always a long-term goal, and I always said that I didn’t want to be a father until I was ready to put my child ahead of anything else.

I toyed with the idea of making it to the few Varsity Vocals shows happening this year within an hour or two of my home, or of going to New York again in April. At this particular moment, however, the time away from my family—for travel, for shows, for writing—simply doesn’t feel worth it.

I’ve always taken pride in being transparent about how The A Cappella Blog operates, for example, publicizing our annual off-season so as to not mislead readers that they should check back to our site when we’re not going to be active. And so, I want to be open here and now as well that I do not anticipate covering live events for the foreseeable future.

That’s not to suggest we’ll never have another event review, and in particular it’s not to indicate that the site is closing. We will continue our regular columns (stay tuned as we get to each and every one of those 200 Reasons to Love A Cappella!) and special features for the foreseeable future. For the time being, however, the live event reviews are on the shelf. I appreciate your understanding, and in case you haven’t encountered them, would like to refer you in particular to FloVoice and Acaville which, via their sites and social media, are among the leaders in live a cappella event coverage, doing so much of what we set out to do with the ACB from the beginning.

Keep singing, and I’ll see you down the road.

Sincerely,

Mike

Mocking Women Isn’t Funny

Open Letters

Dear All-Male Groups,

I get it. When On the Rocks covered Lady Gaga it was funny. Not only was the sound great, and the video professionally produced, but the very concept of these college-aged men singing “Bad Romance” and dancing (well) in Gaga fashion was really amusing.

But you know what? With each iteration of this performance, or one similar to it, by groups imitating that On the Rocks style, it got less funny. I’m talking about guys going Gaga, guys singing “Single Ladies,” guys singing Ke$ha. Over the past seven years, we’ve seen it all.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t feel there’s anything inherently wrong with crossing gender lines in a cappella. An all-male group soulfully covering Sarah McLachlan or making an Imogen Heap song their own can be fresh and surprising, not to mention that it can open unique opportunities for a group. But as soon as the comedy takes centerstage via over-the-top choreography, put-on falsettos, or stereotypically effeminate body language played to comedic effect, it’s no longer fun. As a critic, that’s the point at which I stop taking a group seriously as a cappella performers, and recognize that they are, instead, prioritizing playing the crowd for laughs.

There’s a place for comedic a cappella. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say that if you know your audience and the theatrics aren’t distracting you from making good music, there may be a place for this style of performance at a campus show. But when you enter a competition, release a video into the world, or otherwise try to assert yourself as an a cappella group that a broader audience should pay attention to, you have to recognize that mocking women is not original, nor is it funny. More often than not, it’s hackneyed and kind of offensive.

Think different. Try harder. I believe in you. Now go make the most of your potential.

Sincerely,

Mike

Let’s Bring Back The Sing-Off

Open Letters

Dear NBC,

This again?

Yes, this again.

Before Pitch Perfect or Sing It On, there was The Sing-Off, that quirky little reality series that could. It started as a four-episode holiday special and grew until it got a full fall run on season three, before receding to a single episode in its fifth and final run to date.

TV’s driven by dollars and cents, and particularly so at the major network level. NBC can’t, and shouldn’t be in the business of catering to a niche audience. But with a third film in the Pitch Perfect franchise on the way, with Sing It On gathering steam on not only Pop TV, but via Netflix, might there be more than meets the eye to a property like The Sing-Off?

We live in an age of the spectacle. When now, more than ever, people without professional training film themselves doing things with the potential for their content to go viral. A cappella is a form tailor fit to this era, for the sheer spectacle of everyday people doing amazing, innovative, often beautiful things with only the human body at their disposal. A cappella works on YouTube. It can work on network TV, too, with the opportunity to spotlight a variety of groups (as the show has done in the past!) and for fans to relive the greatest moments on NBC.com or YouTube (even with a revenue-generating ad or two buffering each performance).

And what of ratings? The Sing-Off may never have been and may never be a ratings monster for NBC, but it has had a tendency to over-perform, consistently drawing over eight million viewers per episode in its peak second season, and even pulling five million for its not-particularly-well-publicized, single-episode fifth iteration. No, the numbers did not work out so well for season three, when the show had to contend with regular network programming and the eleven episodes tested the average viewer's attention span, and I’m not asking for another half-season run. But a five-ish episode miniseries? The show has proven itself to thrive in this format.

Also, if you’re going to get hung up on the relative failure of the third season, which only averaged only about four-and-a-half million viewers, let’s not forget the long term effects of that season. The winners? A little ensemble known as Pentatonix that has transcended the genre, winning multiple Grammy awards, garnering well over a billion YouTube views (with over ten million subscribers). NBC is a part of that story. Wouldn’t you like to be part of another?

I won’t deny my personal stake in The Sing-Off. I found it wildly entertaining, and, full disclosure, it widened the audience for my blog. But I think there are a lot of other aca-fans out there, ready to tune into this show, and perhaps more importantly than that, millions more who aren’t into a cappella yet, whom you can be responsible for bringing on board as you bring them into watching your network.

So give it some thought. K?

Sincerely,

Mike

Let’s Archive, People

Open Letters

Dear Competition and Festival Organizers,

Back in 2006, I had the idea of starting The A Cappella Blog. There were a lot of reasons to do so, but chief among them was a void in a cappella blogging. For while CASA and Varsity Vocals had great websites, RARB was doing an excellent job with reviews, and a handful of other outlets came and went, the a cappella world was missing a consistent archive of information, such as which group sang which songs when, let alone how well-received those performances or recordings were. So, we started our site on the idea of focusing on live event reviews and archiving as much as we could.

Fast forward a decade, and the Internet is a more comprehensive place. YouTube went from a fledgling video sharing site to the best-known of a group of user-friendly sites of its ilk, where, for a cappella purposes, a lot of groups have shared a lot of performances. Social media has advanced and aca-people have grown more adept at integrating their creative efforts with their Facebook and Twitter identities. On top of that, there are more a cappella-based websites, podcasts, and other media that have made an aca-world that is constantly expanding simultaneously feel smaller and all the more accessible.

Given that accessibility—that most of us involved in the a cappella world have some level of access and engagement with the Internet, we now expect to find access to information. And it’s maddening when we don’t have it.

For as the Internet has grown, so too has the field of a cappella festivals, competitions, and events. All great stuff, and I’d like to drive home that I so appreciate the folks who have invested countless, thankless hours to bring these events to life. But I’m here to ask you one additional favor.

In recent years, I’ve frankly been shocked at how difficult it is to find concrete information about a variety of shows. While some organizations like Varsity Vocals do a stand-up job of archiving who placed at competitions and won special awards, and the Contemporary A Cappella Society nicely publishes the results of the CARAs, there are a lot of other major shows and festivals that oddly enough don’t seem to keep a formal, public record of their results, including competition or award winners.

Neglecting to meaningfully archive results sells short both performers and the organizations behind shows. Taking the extra step to at least write a quick blog post that compiles results, if not building a sub-page in the organization’s site to archive this information, adds a sense of permanence and gravity to an accomplishment—it takes a sensational performance that resulted in a competition victory, for example, beyond the live audience and the group that earned the honor, to instead broadcast and maintain this result for the world to read.

Some food for thought.

Sincerely,

Mike

We Need a Sara Bareilles A Cappella Album

Open Letters

Dear Sara Bareilles,

I’m a big fan of yours. I think that your music is just great; I appreciate your candid, funny, compassionate social media presence; though I understand it was kind of miserable for you, I thought you were shining star on The Sing-Off; and I very much enjoyed your book. You’re on the shortlist of artists whose new albums I’ll pre-order without needing to hear a track. I think you’re that neat.

What’s more, when you wrote the music for Waitress, and went the extra mile to record all of the songs with help from Jason Mraz, I thought it was just awesome. A really good album, sure, but even better than that, it demonstrated an unusual level of creative ambition. This wasn’t just a concept album, but a gifted artist telling us a story well outside the wheelhouse and genre she’s known for, and I thought it was awesome.

So what’s next? As prolific and creatively gifted as you are, you probably have something underway, and I can’t wait to hear it. But when your schedule allows, I’ve got an idea for you: an a cappella album.

As a member of the a cappella community, I take great joy in “claiming” you. Before there was Pitch Perfect, name-dropping you as an alum of your college a cappella group was a way of both explaining and justifying the a cappella world as musically viable and something that legitimately talented, famous people were a part of. Moreover, hearing you taking the lead on “I Want You Back” for Straight No Chaser’s Under the Influence cover album offered one of my favorite tracks from the collection—not just the original professional artist singing an old favorite with aca-backing, but  a contemporary vocalist putting her own spin on a classic in about as fun fashion as possible.

You’ve proven your ability to not only experiment with but thrive in off-beat genre work via What’s Inside. I’d love to hear you take on another genre from your past, and offer another distinctive sound style to a mass audience by arranging and recording an a cappella album—returning to the kind of work you put in for the original recording of “Gravity” with Awaken A Cappella.

Maybe this would involve forging an all-star a cappella team with a roster of contemporary artists filling in the appropriate vocal parts. Maybe it would involve collaborating with an existing pro group, or even a scholastic group. Maybe you hit the road, sort of akin to Ben Folds’s University A Cappella project and record different tracks with different groups. I’m not here to tell you your business--OK, admittedly, I sort of am given the nature of this column; please forgive me that and do what you will with the germ of an idea I’m offering you.

You’re wonderful and you don’t owe the a cappella world anything. But, it would be pretty awesome if you went for this.

Sincerely,

Mike

Farewell From The A Cappella Blog
Update On A Cappella Blog Event Reviews
Mocking Women Isn’t Funny
Let’s Bring Back The Sing-Off
Let’s Archive, People
We Need a Sara Bareilles A Cappella Album
Let’s Stop Giving Out Best Choreography Awards