200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Controversy on the Internet

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #170: Controversy on the Internet

This selection for the reasons I love a cappella may seem counterintuitive. After all, who likes controversy on the Internet? Many of the world’s sane citizens have taken to dodging comments sections or “hiding” friends on Facebook whose posts they know will only rile them up.

But here’s the thing about controversy on the Internet, particularly as it applies to the contemporary a cappella world: there’s controversy because people care.

When no one cares, no one gets angry. But when people engage in a heated debate about who did or did not win a competition or award, about best practices in engineering live sound, about mixing and mastering technique, or about who was left off of a high-profile countdown,  it all points toward a passionate community. Yes, these controversies can be petty or grow mean spirited, but as long as they’re rooted in a place of knowledgeable, invested parties participating in a discourse, that’s the sign of a healthy a cappella scene.

I love it!

Improvisation

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #169: Improvisation

In an a cappella world that can seem increasingly planned--in which more and more groups choose to choreograph at length, and in which more and more recordings are meticulously produced, it can be refreshing every now and again to hear a group improvise.

A cappella improv comes in many forms. Whether it’s a group messing around behind the scenes en route to an innovative new sound, improv-ing as a live performance art a la Bobby McFerrin, or the riff-off concept popularized by the Pitch Perfect movies (albeit not as successfully managed in real-life practice) improv necessarily adds a level of unpredictability and excitement to a performance, for both the audience and the performers itself. There’s something pure about the sound of music not transcribed to paper, not rehearsed, and not even discussed.

I love it!

Start-Up Groups

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #168: Start-Up Groups

We hear a lot about groups with long traditions, the likes of The Whiffenpoofs, Smiffenpoofs, and The Nassoons. Groups that have been around longer than some retired people have been alive. I have a lot of respect for these longstanding institutions in the a cappella world, but I also love it when we get to see new groups arise.

New groups can come and go, but it’s in those initial years when the energy can catch fire—before there are rules to break and when a group is just figuring out its identity on stage, not to mention how it operates behind the scenes.

Start-up groups have the potential to change the game, whether it’s Rutgers Casual Harmony that was bringing System of a Down and Muse to the stage in its first year of competition long before such acts were en vogue in a cappella, or CSUN Acasola innovative structure and goal-setting model. Plenty of new groups start more quietly, with less defined objectives, too, and that’s also great because that dynamic shares the same core factor of starting something new. As such, new groups have all manner of potential. They might do anything, and their potential has no limits, bounds, or pre-existing structures to fit into. 

I love it!

The Diversity of Acts In a Competition

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #167: The Diversity of Acts In a Competition

Watching an a cappella group perform a show can be entertaining and enriching for the opportunity to see everything a group has to offer—their whole repertoire, or at least a broad enough sampling to get the gist of everything they’re capable of. Just the same, I find myself drawing even more enjoyment from watching groups in competition.

That’s not to say that competition itself intrinsically good (or, at the least, that’s not an argument I intend to delve into here) but rather that I especially appreciate the opportunity to hear a variety of groups perform in the same sitting. Moreover, it’s particularly entertaining to hear them perform what they think of as their best ten-to-fifteen minutes of material—the material they feel is most likely to win the competition.

The past fifteen years have seen an outstanding proliferation of a cappella styles. Gone are the days when it was wacky for a group to perform a song by an original artist of another gender, or when it’s mind-blowing to hear progressive rock covered in contemporary a cappella. Sub-genres of electronic dance music, country, alternative, hip-hop, and (increasingly) originals are all equally as likely to have representation as top forty songs or classics. Moreover, it’s increasingly likely that you’ll hear all of these sub-genres—and all these sub-genres handled with different aesthetics and core sounds—within a single show.

Today’s a cappella shows allow attendees to tune into the diversity of music available in the world, and the diversity of what a cappella groups are up to.

 

I love it!

Rediscovering an Album

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

b>Reason #166: Rediscovering an Album

You’re flipping through radio stations in the car, and you come upon a song you used to love. One you haven’t thought of, much less heard, for years. Maybe that song transports you back in time. Or maybe you write a new chapter, re-appropriating that song for the present moment.

For those of us with scores of a cappella on our hard drives and phones, it’s not unusual to have this very experience with vocal music. It can be all the more intriguing to take a stroll through a cappella memory lane for the changes in voices—particularly for scholastic groups that tend to have major turn over at least once every four years—in addition to changes in recording and production technology that have made it all the easier to earmark different eras in a group’s history.

Out of all of this, I take particular pleasure in rediscovering an old album. Time flies, and while discovering new music remains an ongoing, important process, taking a moment to indulge in something old can be a pleasure all its own.

I love it!

Bringing Alumni on Stage

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #165: Bringing Alumni on Stage

Hands down, one of my favorite aspects of a live a cappella show is the incorporation of former group members on stage.

There are limitations to this model, of course. Incorporating alumni usually means depending on a song that has been in the group’s repertoire for a long time, rather than a fresh selection. By its nature, the group plus alumni tends to sound less rehearsed and polished. There’s often a temptation to give an alum a solo or plum spot on a song at the expense of a current member having that role.

Just the same, when alumni join a performance it lends a sense of the a cappella group as a family—people might come and go, but you’re never not a part of that group. You always have a home. What’s more, as an audience member, it’s a delight to see members from the distant past stand alongside wide-eyed freshmen who are just getting started in their a cappella careers, not to mention their lives. It lends a sense of permanence to a show—that this group has existed for a long time before this moment, and that it is in good hands for the future.

Next Page
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
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