200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Front Row Seats

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #151: Front Row Seats

In the preceding edition of 200 Reasons To Love A Cappella, I referenced the pleasure of sitting in balcony seats to take in a the full picture of a performance. Little less appealing are seats in the opposite extreme—up close to the stage, or even so far as the front row.

Sitting up close at an a cappella performance affords an audience member the chance to take in every part of the performance in detail. For un-mic’ed performances, it gives the listener a chance to hear everything directly without the sound being diluted by the chatter of onlookers. And even for performances on a more formal stage, it allows a spectator to get a keener look at how the group operates—who’s giving the cues, how is the group configuring itself. Without being in the group, a spectator can’t know exactly what it’s like to be performing with them, but sitting up close offers one of the closest vicarious experiences a fan get, seeing and hearing every aspect of the performance from close proximity, and sitting close enough to really feel the energy of the performance.

I love it!

Balcony Seats

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #150: Balcony Seats

Conventional wisdom suggests that front row seats to a show are the best seats in the house. Others may seek out the acoustic sweet spot, often closer to the middle of the auditorium. But, particularly for a collegiate a cappella show, I’ve often found that nothing beats a good balcony seat.

As a cappella sound engineers continue to refine their craft and more groups move toward individual mic-ing, taking a balcony seat doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing sound quality. Moreover, from a visual perspective, I’ve tended to observe that a bird’s eye view affords an audience member the greatest potential to see everything that’s going on with a groups staging and choreography, which is increasingly on par with groups’ aural accomplishments. As such, good balcony seat can be one of the surest tickets to appreciating the bigger picture of an a cappella performance.

Naz

I love it!

Transitions on Your Playlist

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #149: Transitions on Your Playlist

My first true love in music is not so much any individual artist or genre, nor the act singing or playing an instrument, but more so the act of making a mix tape.

Mix tapes gave way to CDs, which gave way to playlists. I can no more imagine what might come next than I could have prognosticated I would one day carry several hundred times the amount of music on a 90-minute audio cassette via a phone of similar size (not to mention that that phone would also serve as my camera, email client, and, well, phone—but I digress).

One of my favorite games to play in the practice of mix tape development has long been subverting expectations via an abrupt departure from the preceding song, in a way that fundamentally works. Sometimes it’s a matter of hopping genres from Top 40 to Broadway, or acoustic ballad to rock and roll, but maintaining a thematic thread. Sometimes it’s hopping time periods but preserving a melodic or rhythmic through line. Oftentimes, it’s much more arbitrary than all of that, but the sudden shift still feels just right.

There are few greater tools in this trade than a cappella which allows facilitates sticking with sort of the same genre, artist, or theme, while fundamentally shifting from conventional instrumentation to purely vocal music. Contemporary a cappella is largely about reinventing popular music through a new lens, whether it’s simple transcription into human vocals or true reinvention. As such, it allows for some wonderful, and wonderfully unexpected transitions on a playlist.

I love it!

Law School Groups

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #148: Law School Groups

While there are certainly people who make it work, let’s be honest—between financial concerns, professional and academic aspirations, and personal obligations, few people can truly make a cappella their number one priority. And that’s not on a knock on a cappella—in reality, I think one of the most admirable qualities of the form is that its practitioners are so often amateurs who make time to pursue their personal passion, and to make music with their friends.

From that perspective, there are few endeavors in a cappella more laudable than law school a cappella groups. Law school students are notoriously busy—engaged with high stakes curriculum as an entry point to a challenging career. That these people still make time for a cappella is a testament to their commitment to their music. Moreover, I find it admirable that so many approach the form with the same brand of quirky, tongue-in-cheek good humor as undergrads, with group names like Harvard’s Scales of Justice, Yale and Northwestern’s Habeas Chorus groups, or Duke’s Public Hearing.

I love it!

Incorporating Foreign Languages

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #147: Incorporating Foreign Languages

A cappella is all about the sounds the human body can generate, and principally from a vocal perspective. You can have a killer solo, innovative syllables, and great perc. But you can add an entirely different dimension if you incorporate foreign languages.

The well-timed, clever usage of a foreign language can diversify the group sound and lend a song a more global feel. Used in the right song, it can tap into core of the music. Moreover, it’s a great way for a group to make clear to its listeners that the group hasn’t gone on auto-pilot, regurgitating a very literal translation of a song, but rather has taken the time to make a song its own spicing it up with splash of Spanish, tapped into another dimension of the narrative by employing a South African dialect, or stayed true to its roots by singing a verse in Hindi.

I love it!

Raw Solos

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #146: Raw Solos

When I think of premier soloists in the a cappella world, I’m often drawn to folks with silky smooth vocals, impressive range, or all-around perfect musicianship. But there are other solos worth celebrating. One of the great under-recognized styles is the raw solo.

The raw solo is all about emotion. It’s about being willing to growl, to scream, to whimper; to wince, to grimace, to cry. Mind you, just because a solo is raw does not necessarily make it good, but when a skilled performer sings the right song and connects with just the right moments, something truly emotionally gripping can evolve.

I love it!

Next Page
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
When a Group Squeezes an Extra Song Into Its Competition Set
The First Time You Hear a Song After You’ve Heard It A Cappella
Watching the Crowd Grow at a Public Show
Hearing a Song That Just Came Out on the Radio
A Sold-Out Crowd
Simulating Sounds
Clean Sound
Hearing the Story Behind a Song
Intro Videos
Wild Transitions Between Songs
Buying a Group's CD After the Show