A cappella group performing on stage
The A Cappella Blog

How to be an Exceptional Group Member in an Unexceptional A Cappella Group

For Your Own Good

While a cappella is typically a group endeavor amidst a niche, but large community, For Your Own Good focuses on what individuals can do for their own betterment in this realm.

It’s an inconvenient truth that not everyone who sings a cappella wants the same things out of the endeavor. While some musicians want to compete, others want to walk away with a cool recording, others are just on board for the community aspect of the group, and still others are using the group as capital to appeal to the opposite (or same) sex.

Most people don’t want to admit that all of these reasons for singing a cappella are perfectly fine. Not all motivations will fit all groups, but if people engage in the social contract of deciding to be a part of the same group, they need to recognize what everyone else brings to the group; everyone will benefit from the advantages that group has to offer; everyone will face the same limitations. In the end, the best a group can really hope for is to honor its own collective mission and goal.

So what happens when a group member lives and breathes a cappella, but his group mates simply are not invested? When that group member yearns for the ICCA Finals, but no one else wants to dedicate themselves during rehearsals? When that group member is a perfectionist in the studio while most of the his groupmates are looking to get in and out of the studio in the time it takes to sing each song once?

There’s a critical point when it’s time for someone to part ways with a group and seek out another ensemble or start her own, new unit. But sometimes, due to time constraints or the population at the school, or for a lack of organizational skills, branching out just isn’t in the cards.

In short, there are times when exceptional people need to make do with unexceptional circumstances. So what can they do?

Educate themselves. For every period in history, there have been people who cling to dogma that, in retrospect, doesn’t make much sense; or who would rather laze away an afternoon then put in the perspiration to make progress. For people sincerely invested in a cappella, there’s no reason not to watch the thousands of videos on YouTube; to read articles at The A Cappella Blog, CASA, A Cappella 101 and other a cappella media sources; to go to the ICCA Finals or SoJam as a spectator and student, even if they have to go alone.

Look ahead. So your collegiate a cappella scene isn’t up to snuff. Think about where you’re going next and strategize. Are you moving to a big city after you graduate? The odds are there are some a cappella groups around. A smaller place? If there aren’t already a cappella groups, the vocal talent pool may be all the richer the cherry pick from. In the meantime, think about how you might leave a legacy of enriching a cappella in your current place. Establish an alumni network for your group; draft arrangements for future generations of the group to grow into and refine for themselves. In short, even if your current group isn’t exceptional, take the time to invest in its and your own a cappella future.

Network. Attend big shows and festivals. Get on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A cappella groups and individuals who are insular to their own schools or local communities tend to miss the fact that the larger a cappella community is one that loves to educate to and to share so get in the conversation and get your face and name known, even if just as an individual a cappella nerd.

Sing your best. This may sound like a no brainer, but like any talent worth having, singers get better through dedication, practice, and experience. If you lower yourself to the minor league expectations of your immediate surroundings, you may find it all the more difficult to rise above those levels down the road. Think of yourself like LeBron James in his senior year of high school. Even as part of a championship-caliber team, he was head and shoulders more advanced than anyone he played with or against. He did not recede into the masses. He rose above them to take the first steps toward a stellar professional career.

Do your best and celebrate your passion for a cappella. As the old proverb goes, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Bring your A-game, and you’ll find your time to shine with your current group or elsewhere.

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