College A Cappella Groups Are Increasingly in Popularity

Guest Columns

Kevin Ure holds a master's degree in music composition and has been composing and writing articles on music since 1996. He has written professionally for orchestras, choirs, and chamber ensembles.

College a cappella groups have blossomed since the mid 1990s. The very first college a cappella group was the Yale University Whiffenpoofs established in 1909. Twenty years ago, there were approximately 200 a cappella college groups across the nation. Most of these groups existed only in the "older" schools in the Northeast area of the country. Since then, thousands of college groups have sprouted up across the country, and they aren't all singing the same old songs.

The nice thing about a cappella groups is that they have a unique sound to begin with. Taking a song that already exists and orchestrating it for an a capella group provides a new take on an old classic. These groups aren't all singing classical madrigals either. Modern a cappella groups constantly search for new sounds and methods of expressing their art. In the 90s college a cappella groups began to steer away from traditional religious and barbershop style genres. Instead, groups began to focus on popular music and began to mimic percussive sounds using only their voices.

Several famous stars started in college a cappella groups. John Legend, Anne Hathaway, Cole Porter and Art Garfunkel are just a few examples of celebrities that sang in a capella groups when they were in college. With the increasing popularity of blockbuster musicals, such as Phantom of the Opera, and Sweeney Todd college vocal groups have received more interest and attention by students.

If you can bring yourself to sing in public and share your voice with the audience, then you can do absolutely anything. Instrumentalists can more easily separate themselves from a performance if things go wrong. A singer's instrument is his or her body. If something goes wrong in a performance, singers are more likely to take it personally since it wasn't the instrument that failed but a physical aspect of the singer's body. College groups must make sure that student singers understand how to separate their own self-worth with their singing ability. Because of the high demand places on an a cappella singer, students develop strong work ethic, if for no other reason that to avoid embarrassment.

College a cappella is gaining traction and several festivals have popped up around the country for groups to come together and test their mettle against other universities and colleges. Successful a cappella groups compete yearly for inclusion on the The Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) CD release. Groups included on the CD release receive extra attention from the a cappella community. In addition to local concerts, university fundraisers and benefit concerts, a cappella groups often perform several times per year.

College students join a cappella groups for several reasons. Some like the camaraderie of singing in a group of other talented singers, others enjoy the feeling of performing in public, while some just enjoy music and love to sing. The reasons for joining an a cappella group are as varied as the singers that take part. However, they all have one common goal, to offer a fun and enjoyable experience that holds firm in the memories and imaginations of the audience.