200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #188: Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing

Some of the very best soloists in a cappella are those with stage presence—the ones who work the performance stage, connect with audience members, and come across as charming or as though they’re at least equally as much thespians as singers.

By contrast there are those soloists who come across as completely casual, and there’s something every bit as appealing about that dynamic. These are the soloists who sound terrific despite not making gesticulating wildly or hamming it up for anyone with a camera in the front row. They’re the soloists who could just as easily be singing in the shower as for a packed auditorium, given how at ease and mellow they sound while singing their part.

This style of performance doesn’t work for every singer or every song, but when it does, it can be refreshingly honest, simple, and compelling.

I love it!

Complementary Soloists

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #187: Complementary Soloists

Sometimes, an individual soloist captivates the crowd, draws them into a story, and walks away as the single most memorable performer in a night of a cappella.

Sometimes, it’s a pair.

One of the most simple and effective ways of breaking up the monotony of a soloist stepping out from the group to sing with the group backing her for each song is the effect of two leads working in tandem. From an aural perspective, a pair of soloists can mix up the sound, whether they harmonize, alternate lines, or switch between verses. From a visual perspective, there can be a certain quality of performance that’s more natural with two soloists in conversation with one another, offsetting the artifice of performance when a single lead focuses his attention on the crowd.

When the right pair of soloists gel on stage, it can create a special moment in music and in performance, all the sweeter because twice as many group members are getting the spotlight for that song.

I love it!

“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #186: “If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes

The Washington University Stereotypes are a unique a cappella group with a unique identity. Granted, I haven’t had the opportunity to catch the group live for a number of years now, but there was a period in the early 2010s when I had the pleasure of encountering them multiple times at festivals, competitions, and ultimately at the ICCA Finals. I was consistently impressed with not only their musical precision and shrewd song selection, but a sense of unbridled energy and optimism. The Stereotypes weren’t the cool guys or the brooding guys—they were guys who came across as sincere, passionate, and loving what they were doing.

The group’s performance at the 2011 Finals stands out to me most of all. The guys capped this particular set with John Legend’s “If You’re Out There”—a powerful anthem of hope, a call to action. It was a perfect song for the perfect group, taking The Stereotypes one step more serious than the crowd had seen them up to that point and transforming them from entertainers to men on a mission, and a mission not just to win a competition, but to change the world. The group sold every line of this song with the utmost authenticity and letting their emotion pour over the stage on one final march forward to hit the audience with a wall of sound.

I love it!

Fluid Transitions

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #185: Fluid Transitions

Over the last five years or so, the seamless set has become a staple in high level scholastic competition. One song bleeds into another, or one note holds out to provide a bridge. Microphones get passed subtly from one soloist to another and there’s no resetting the physical configurations on stage. No blowing the next note to prepare.

These fluid transitions have their risks in not providing groups time to settle down or really recover if something went askew earlier on in a set. Moreover, if songs don’t have a melodic or thematic link, the bridge between them can seem a little forced. Just the same, when executed nicely, the seamless set is one of the most exciting ways for a group to engage an audience with its full set—not giving them time to glance at their phones or for their minds to wander, but rather demanding attention through continuous performance, and creating not only a seamless musical performance, but a sense of narrative flow through one whole story. When done right, these transitions can be just the ticket to elevate a strong set to professional grade.

I love it!

Throwbacks

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #184: Throwbacks

One of the great treats of hearing a student-run a cappella group (or even a post-collegiate group run by creative minds) is the degree to which these groups might eschew conventional thinking and the guidance that the establishment—a faculty advisor, or an inveterate director—might suggest. Among other things, this can lead to a group making off-beat song selections. Sometimes, that’s brand-new indie music. Sometimes, that means throwing it back.

When it comes to the competition setting, there is a legitimate argument that groups should keep their song choices, if not current, at least relevant—to have a way of making older songs their own or to pick truly forgotten gems. But in the campus of a less formal traveling or on-campus show, when the primary consideration is entertaining the crowd, there’s often times no better fit than a throwback to a decade or two before. For a college group, this is the kind of music that denotes their formative years, when they first start buying music and first start identifying personal favorites. One example: the proliferation of late-1990s boy band covers that sprouted up in the last five-to-ten years. The music of that period isn’t objectively great, but it does have a profound connection to a particular generation of people, and thus hearing these songs reincarnated, a cappella, can create a magical moment for audiences and performers alike.

I love it!

A Balanced Competition

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #183: A Balanced Competition

Often as not, when there’s an a cappella competition, we get caught up in questions of which group was better than another. It makes sense. We all have our favorites and our opinions, and whenever placement and awards are going out, competitors and the audiences are going to have its dissenters, and their urges to develop their own rankings.

As someone who has by attended well over fifty live competitions, I can say that one of the joys of a competition comes when we sit back and take a more objective look at a show, and see a true diversity of acts—those moments when rankings and comparisons begin to fail on the very grounds that we really are comparing apples and oranges in the form of all-male, all-female, and mixed groups; in groups that stick to a genre versus ones that pride themselves on mechanics; in groups that focus exclusively on the music versus ones that stage full-blown visual performances.

Indeed, one of my favorite brands of competitions are the ones when I can, at least temporarily, forget it’s a competition at all in favor of consuming a balanced and diverse slate of performances.

I love it!

Next Page
Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing
Complementary Soloists
“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes
Fluid Transitions
Throwbacks
A Balanced Competition
Such Great Heights
Skinny Love
Crimson
Men of Note
Enormous High School Groups
Aca-Couples
Groups With Unique Identities
Stages
Pocketappella
Off-Beat Openings
The One Person Rocking Out the Hardest
The End to Controversy on the Internet
Controversy on the Internet
Improvisation
Start-Up Groups
The Diversity of Acts In a Competition
Rediscovering an Album
Bringing Alumni on Stage
Big Crescendos
Big Crescendos
Fun Encores
Soloists Who Sound Like the Original Artist
The Wall of Sound
When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo