200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Soloists Who Sound Like the Original Artist

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #162: Soloists Who Sound Like the Original Artist

There are those a cappella soloists who flounder for trying to hard to imitate the original artist on a song—trying to nail inflection and mannerisms, often at the expense of intonation or other more foundational elements of singing.

But then there are those happy turns of fate when a soloist more naturally taps into the sound of the original recording artist. One of the most sterling examples I can recall, though unfortunately I could not find a video, was the 2007 incarnation of New York University APC Rhythm, featuring a soloist on The Cranberries’ “Hollywood” whose voice was a dead ringer for that of Dolores O’Riordan. I don’t suspect I’ll ever know if that was her natural voice or an impersonation, but the performance itself came across so effortlessly, and so beautifully, that it still rings clearly in my mind a decade later. It was the kind of solo that transcends strong mechanics and stage presence to arrive an unforgettable musical experience. On a broader level, it called attention to the merits of choosing songs that complement soloists—that allow the soloists to show off their greatest talents and capture the imagination of the audience.

I love it!

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!

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!

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!

Dedications

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #158: Dedications

Despite being a performance art, music is also a profoundly personal thing. Our tastes, the songs that resonate with us, the way in which we perform—all of these pieces are a part of our identity and how we make music uniquely our own.

While most a cappella performances are, at least superficially, intended for a broad audience, it can be a distinct pleasure when a soloist or the group’s director gets on the mic to make us aware that a performance is dedicated to someone in particular—a relative, a friend, someone they’ve lost, or someone they love. While too many dedications in a single show could risk alienating the audience, when used sparingly and earnestly, there are few things more touching than seeing a performance so clearly in tribute to a specific someone. 

I love it!

Subtle Movement

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #157: Subtle Movement

In the mid-2000s, as a cappella groups really proliferated and competitions grew stiffer, we also observed a steep increase in the amount and intensity of choreography that groups put into their performances, from synchronized dance moves to full-on acrobatics. Some of this choreography was on the money and really enhanced the music around of it. A lot of it, however, felt inorganic and gratuitous—made all the worse when a lot of it wasn’t particularly well executed.

Believe it or not, I’m not here to poke fun at groups whose choreography has flopped. Singing well as a group is hard enough, and adding complex staging raises the bar. I admire the ambition of it.

Truly great staging is about more than impressive athletic feats and coordination, though. It’s about furthering the story, the mood, or the message of a song. To oversimplify, the ideal visual presentation isn’t so much about staging an irresistible visual as it is honing the audience’s attention to make sure they’re listening to the performance.

Some of the very best examples of this dynamic are groups that focus not on hand jives and box steps, but rather on subtle looks, or repositioning the group across the stage for different legs of a song. While there is a place for more explosive movement at strategic moments, careful small gestures go a long way toward keeping the visual presentation interesting and diversifying it, without distracting the audience from the music, or the group itself from nailing its vocals.

I love it!

Next Page
Soloists Who Sound Like the Original Artist
The Wall of Sound
When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo
Building a Personal Connection to a Song
Dedications
Subtle Movement
Adapting to the Audience
Adapting To The Environment
Embedded Solos
Personal Style
The Robot
Front Row Seats
Balcony Seats
Transitions on Your Playlist
Law School Groups
Incorporating Foreign Languages
Raw Solos
Connecting With a Song
BOSS
A Well-Executed Choral Arrangement
When a Group Defies What You’d Expect By Looking at Them
Breath as a Sound Effect
Seniors’ Last Show
Small Groups
Super-Sized Groups
Singing in a Round
A Radical Arrangement
When the Staging Emulates the Music Video
Remembering How You Know a Song
Seeing a Group Transform On Stage and Off