The Importance of…

A Suitable Venue

The Importance of…

This week, we look at the importance of… a suitable venue.

There are some relatively obvious factors to consider when it comes to picking out a suitable venue. You want a location with decent acoustics, ideally with nice aesthetics, and both enough space for you to maneuver and perform, and enough space for your audience to comfortably take in the show. Beyond these factors, though, there are points worth considering, depending upon the particular show you’re seeking to put on.

In the event a more formal show, it will be worthwhile to identify a space with a legitimate stage, and an upscale look. SUNY Potsdam’s Hosmer Hall presents an ideal example of this—relatively new and neat, but at the same time, a clearly professional setting, with a large stage and comfortable seating for onlookers of all ages, not to mention acoustic paneling to enhance the sound. As a counterpoint to this site, you have one like the Rutgers University Multi-Purpose Room, the site of the ICCA Mid-Atlantic Semifinals in 2007. There was a makeshift stage, poor lighting, and the seating was all folding chairs on the ground, making an all around uncomfortable experience for performers and onlookers alike, and making the event seem a bit thrown together. I don’t mean to be overly critical—I realize that performers and host groups often need to make do with the facilities available at their schools. Nonetheless, the point remains that, while such a venue would be just fine for a relatively informal show, a multi-school competition warrants a more dignified space.

When it comes to putting on a less formal show—perhaps one designed to promote awareness of your group—there’s much less thought required on aesthetics and the overall viewing experience. For these cases, choosing an appropriate venue has much more to do with selecting a space that will be accessible and get foot traffic. An outdoor spot like the main quad, or outside of a dining hall might be just the ticket for this kind of show, provided the institution at which a group is performing allows for such things.

Another option is finding a traditional performance space. This can take on many different shapes, whether it’s the main stage in the music building, or the corner of the college café where your group had its first gigs. All in all, there’s a lot to be said for continuity—picking a venue where your fans, curious newcomers and alumni alike will all know where to find you and a venue where your group is at its greatest ease performing.

There are many different considerations when it comes to selecting a performance site. Regardless of what your intentions may be though, it’s certainly an important factor to take into consideration.

Performing Different Material from Your Peers

The Importance of…

This week, we look at the importance of… performing different material from your peers.

The nature of collegiate a cappella dictates that many of the people who take it in will be college students, and with that, not lifetime a cappella enthusiasts, but rather folks who are stopping in because they have a friend who is performing, or because word of mouth suggested that a group puts on a good show. Taking all of this into consideration, there’s a fair chance that an a cappella consumer will be uninitiated, and therefore have a bit of a struggle in distinguishing one group from another in his or her memory. With this sort of audience in mind, its really important for a group to make itself stand out.

There area lot of ways for a group to stand out—innovative arrangements, memorable choreography, all around aural performance. But the most fundamental thing a group can do to be different is to pick its songs with an eye toward energy and creativity. More often than not, a new a cappella fan may struggle to remember a particular group based on its soloists or harmonies, but will remember individual songs. This is where it becomes vital for groups to pick songs that will be distinctive.

In addition to making themselves stand out from the crowd, groups should choose different material from their peers in order to provide an overall more entertaining show. One of the best qualities of a well-crafted a cappella show is that the music can easily cross genres, original artists and styles over the course of just one set by one group. When you have multiple groups sharing the stage, it should provide all the more opportunity for musical diversity.

Lastly, choosing different material can be a way of indirectly promoting good will in the a cappella community. When two groups perform the same song its like wearing the same dress to a party—it’s just awkward. And what’s more, it’s almost inevitable that one person’s going to look better in that dress than the other—or at least that onlookers will think so. I’m all for competition in collegiate a cappella, but only when the event itself is, indeed, a competition. When groups are just performing to put on a good show, it’s for the best that every group will do its own, unique thing, and be celebrated in its own right. One of the easiest ways to ensure this is to develop a repertoire of distinctive song choices.

Having a Presence on Facebook

The Importance of…

This week, we look at the importance of… having a presence on Facebook.

There is quite arguably no more popular website for college students today than Facebook. They use their statuses to speak their mind. They use their pictures and profiles to express who they are. They write on others’ walls, or send messages as a primary means of communication. They advertise gatherings using the events feature. With all of these functions so familiar, and in such common usage by college students, its absolutely essential for collegiate a cappella groups to tap into this resource.

Facebook lends a group fantastic opportunities to get its name out and to bond with supporters. Whether you have a Facebook profile for your group, a fan page, or group dedicated to your crew, there are a lot of opportunities to remind folks that you exist, or to network with folks who may not have heard of you before. Facebook is guaranteed to get more traffic than your group’s website for the sheer fact that its already a part of the daily routine for countless people. While there’s still clear value in maintaining a separate website, rather than trying to convince someone to go to that site, it is exponentially easier to build a following on Facebook, where you can sprout up on folks’ newsfeeds on a regular basis.

In establishing a presence on Facebook, there are numerous aways to use the site for marketing. Whether its creating an event and inviting supporters to attend, simply update the group status, sending out bulk messages, or by other means, it’s a very easy, very accessible way to reach a lot of people. Whether you’re promoting your next show, trying to sell a new CD, or get people to your auditions, this is a low-effort, high-returns way of drumming up support.

On top of these other perks, Facebook has increasingly become a strong forum for sharing media. The site now supports not just photos but also videos, broadening your opportunities to share your performances with existing supporters and, indeed with the world.

With its many facets and opportunities for sharing, Facebook provides plenty of opportunities for the betterment of your group. In this day and age, it’s vital for any successful a cappella group to be a part of it.

Group Bonding

The Importance of…

This week, we look at the importance of group bonding.

When trying to develop a strong collegiate a cappella group, the social aspect of the group is often afterthought. After all, if you want your group to be the best it can be, you surely have to focus on the many elements of performance—not the after-parties. And yet, when it comes to building a truly cohesive unit, the interpersonal relationships of your group are a central contributing factor to long-term success.

In any collegiate organization, there’s value in forging friendships. After all, college is a unique time in people’s lives—for many, the first time away from home, and yet also the period that comes before so many people become financially independent, and make their way in the working world. With so many natural opportunities to bond—getting together after a show, touring, competing, grabbing a bite after late night rehearsals, and so on, it would truly be a waste, on a personal level, for group members not to get to know one another.

As an extension of the social potential of a cappella, being a part of these sorts groups can be the defining piece of someone’s college experience. Over the years, I have my opportunity to speak or correspond with a large number of collegiate a cappella performers and a surprisingly common thread is to find that there are people who legitimately don’t know what they’d do without their a cappella groups. These groups provide a social foundation, something to look forward to, something to work hard on outside of the classroom. With this in mind, it’s important to nurture those pieces of a group that keep members so committed.

On top of the benefits of social bonding for individual members of an a cappella group, the bonding can have profoundly positive effects for the group on the whole. When group members genuinely like one another, the overall drive to succeed can be that much stronger—to support and help each other in learning parts and developing confidence on stage; to want to win a competition because it’s the director’s last opportunity to compete with the group; to actively want to spend time together rehearsing, because it’s that much fun. Sure, the members of any given team or performance group don’t need to like each other in order to succeed. But when they do feel like a part of a larger, better whole, it creates a unique form of buy-in which can go a long way toward building success.

Group bonding is much more than a touchy-feely byproduct of an a cappella group. It’s the stuff great memories are made of and a key ingredient to building a cohesive unit. Group bonding is of the utmost importance.

Movement

The Importance of…

In this edition, we look at the importance of… movement

Movement has become a point of contention among a cappella performers and enthusiasts. One camp, we'll call them the purists, argue that it's the music that matters in an a cappella performance, and that the bells and whistles of choreography are inconsequential to evaluating how good a performance may be. The other group, we'll call them the shakers, contend that movement is a vital part of the presentation of a cappella, and needs to be taken seriously. While I'll maintain that a group's sound is what matters most, this column is still coming from the latter perspective--choices in movement are extremely important in an a cappella performance

Movement is a key way of engaging an audience. In their day to day lives people listen to music while they do other things--while they work, while they drive, while they clean, while the drift off to sleep. If you're going to expect for everyday people to devote their full attention to music, there generally needs to be some sort of visual appeal. In the realm of a cappella, this can sometimes mean as a little as the soloist working the stage, or group on the whole swaying a bit, or stepping from side to side. However little a group does, the movement provides something interesting to watch--a visual compliment to the music. There are times when less movement is appropriate, such as is typically the case in a heartfelt ballad. For these songs, then, it's OK to offer less broad movement. Still there's importance in more subtle movement--changing facial expressions, subtle repositioning during transitions in the song, or even just moving at the start to stand in a visually interesting formation.

Of course, movement, in and of itself, will not necessarily bolster a performance. The movement needs to be appropriate to the song, to the group and to the setting. As I've already written, most ballads are best left without full-on dance routines. Furthermore, there's not much value in choreographing out the wazoo if you're group can't handle the movement. Lots of great musicians are not great dancers, and so throwing in a lot of extreme movement is just going to distract the performers from the music, and, worse yet, look awkward on stage. And then there are groups that set aside the music altogether. I recall one competition set in which a group member didn't sing at all for the last song, in favor of dancing ballet. It sort of worked as a visual, and yet it also clearly crossed the line between movement that complements the music, and movement that is something altogether separate from the rest of the performance. There are times when movement can seem tangential, but is primarily an offshoot of the energy on stage. I'm thinking, for example, of the stomp routines the Binghamton Crosbys and, to a lesser extent, Brigham Young Noteworthy brought to their sets in 2007. These were not exactly musical, and yet the groups incorporated the movement so seamlessly that it took me a second to notice that. This is where exceptional movement meets exceptional musical performance, to form an altogether outstanding presentation.

Movement is a vital part of the visual presentation of a cappella. Like most elements of performance, there exists the potential for it to be misused, or used too liberally. And yet, in the hands of those who can use it correctly, movement is a beautiful thing.

The Importance Of… Set Order

The Importance of…

In this edition, we look at the importance of… set order.

When a group is competing, the pressure is on to pick out the three best songs from the group’s repertoire, and to perform them to perfection. Performance is, of course, the key to success, and yet there are steps a group can take maximize the entertainment value and overall effectiveness of its sets. With this in mind, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of set order.

It’s important to open a set with confidence and energy. For most groups, this will mean an upbeat melody and some movement. It’s important not to ‘leave it all on the floor’ at this stage, though. After all, this is just the first leg of a set, and if you can’t live up to your first number, it’s going to make the rest of the set look poor. The first song should, therefore be strong enough to grab attention, but not so great that it will set your group’s bar too high.

In the traditional three song set, the middle song is a ballad. In most cases, this works, given that a group wants to start with some energy, then let things cool, then finish huge. Furthermore, popular convention has it that, while the first song gets things warmed up, the second song is often the musical climax of the set. It’s where precision takes hold, and the song may not be as fun, but will feature one of your best arrangements and best soloists. Indeed, it makes sense to put your musical stunner here, after any and all jitters are worked out in the first song, and when you’re leading to your big finale.

The third song is about going all out and making the song fun. It’s a good idea to do a mainstream song here, to draw the crowd in, and this will typically be something upbeat. This is also the place for balls to the walls choreography, bringing out all of your energy, but channeling it into precision, to appear a well-oiled machine. The temptation for the last song is often to make it comedic. This works sometimes, but, in the end, you’re only going to be taken as seriously as you take yourself, and you want to be careful to watch the line between being funny and looking silly.

A Suitable Venue
Performing Different Material from Your Peers
Having a Presence on Facebook
Group Bonding
Movement
The Importance Of… Set Order
Organizational Leadership
A Good Venue
A Good Soloist
The Importance of… A Good Website
What and Who You Cover
The Importance Of… Not Isolating Your Drummer
Attire