How To

How To: Start an A Cappella Group, by Chase DeLuca of Acasola

Chase DeLuca was a co-founder of California State University Northridge Acasola. This week, he shares his unique insights on how to start an a cappella group.

So, you want to start an a cappella group. Maybe you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you already have lots of ideas, and are just looking for some tips.

I co-founded Acasola, the first a cappella group at California State University Northridge. The group had a really strong and fast start, and so the guys at The A Cappella Blog asked if I’d do a little post about starting a cappella groups.

Of course, it’s a huge topic. But what I think made the biggest difference for us was doing some research before getting started. By reading this blog post, it looks like you're doing the same thing; good job!

A big part of my research was simply going to lots of a cappella shows, and getting really involved in the whole world of a cappella. If you’re thinking of starting an a cappella group, you probably have already done this. But you can never have enough a cappella music on your iPod, and you can never go to enough a cappella shows. Keep it up!

The other big part of my research was conducting interviews with the founders of a cappella groups I admired, asking them to tell me the stories of how they created their groups. By asking them to tell me their stories, rather than asking them to answer specific questions, I found out about things I’d never even thought of.

Deke Sharon (commonly referred to as “the father of contemporary a cappella”) has already written a fairly extensive how-to document that goes into all sorts of details about creating an a cappella group. This document is available to all members of the Contemporary A Cappella Society.

Rather than recreate his work, I thought what would be most useful to you as a group founder, is a list of things that we did that I think helped Acasola get such a strong-start. I could (and possibly will) write entire blog posts on each of these points… but for now, just the list:

How To: A 12 Step Program for an Effective Rehearsal, by Ben Bram of The SoCal Vocals

Ben Bram is the music director of The USC SoCal VoCals, the 2008 ICCA champions. Ben is a junior majoring in music industry at the University of Southern California. This week, he shares his unique insights on how to run an effective rehearsal.

The first requirement for a healthy rehearsal is a strong leader. If you don’t have a lot of experience, make sure you’re armed with an acute self-awareness and a keen intuition. The following steps are geared towards directors of student-run collegiate a cappella groups, but most if not all of these points can be applied to high school and professional groups as well.

-Leave it at the door. The mood of a rehearsal is of the utmost importance and directly translates into productivity. Set a good example for the rest of the group by coming in positive and energized, regardless of whatever may be bothering you. Be aware that you set the tone of the rehearsal. Even if you’ve had a bad day, force yourself to enter with a positive and productive energy.

How To: Vocal Percussion, by Robert Dietz of Ithaca College Ithacappella

Robert Dietz is a vocal percussionist for Ithaca College Ithacappella, an extremely successful all-male group out of upstate New York. Over the last few years, Dietz has won numberous awards for his drumming, throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the ICCAs. This week, he shares his unique insights on how to successfully execute vocal percussion, specifically in a foreign setting, and under less than ideal circumstances.

OK, so you’re the best vocal percussionist in your group. Heck, maybe you’re the only vocal percussionist in your group. You’ve practiced your kicks, hi hats, and snares for hours. You don’t even need to think about where you’re going to breathe in that clave pattern. It’s all coming natural, but uh oh, your sound guy thinks a VP is the guy who breaks ties for the senate! Where you hear a well rehearsed, groovin’ beat, he hears some college kid spitting like a baseball player with a maw full of tobacco. What are you gonna do?

How To: Publicize an A Cappella Group, by Hannah Winkler of The University of Michigan Dicks and Janes

Hannah Winkler is the president of the The University of Michigan Dicks and Janes, a wildly successful mixed group with a long tradition of entertaining performance and high achievement in competition. This week, Winkler shares her unique insights on how to publicize an a cappella group.

It’s certainly not easy being one of fourteen a cappella groups on the University of Michigan campus. A thrifty student, no matter how a cappella-crazy, just can’t make it to all the shows; many of them fall on the same night and all cost between five and ten dollars. It becomes impossible in terms of time and money to support all your friends, and unfortunately, it’s the a cappella community members who have to be at their own performances who most want to support their aca-friends in other groups at the same time. No group can simply count on an unquestionably large audience. So the objective is clear: in order to have your voices heard by a packed house, publicize your concert to the most people you can reach in the most effective ways possible. You’ve put in hours and hours of rehearsal and planning to make the event a success—it would be a shame to have it sparsely attended and for only a handful of people to hear your songs! In addition, you’ll make less money from a small audience, and more often than not, a cappella groups need money. As a member of the Dicks and Janes (one of the ten co-ed ensembles on our campus, a group that receives no funding from the University, and a group that travels all over the country,) I’ve learned some helpful hints when it comes to the very important task of publicizing.

How To: Arrange for A Cappella, by Callum Au of The Oxford Gargoyles

Callum Au is a member of The Oxford Gargoyles, and in 2008, won honors for Outstanding Arrangement at the Western Europe ICCA semifinals. This week, Au shares his unique insights on how to arrange music for an a cappella group.

A cappella is its own genre of music, and its charts require a skill-set of their own in order to write them. The basic mistake that can be made is to attempt to sing something that wasn’t really written for vocals--while you can get away with basically transcribing a song as played by a band, you can’t use the same voicing and textures that they originally used--parts have to change in order to be vocal-friendly. The group which I arrange for, The Oxford Gargoyles, is a mixed 12-piece jazz a cappella group (2 Sops, 4 Altos, 3 Tenors, 3 Basses) from Oxford University--so obviously this is the sort of group that I am most familiar with--however, I think that a lot of the technique is constant over all a cappella charts, independent of style or group. Here’s a list of some of the more important points...