The Importance of…

The Importance of: Performing Different Material from Your Peers

The collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

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.

The Importance of... Group Bonding

The collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

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.

The Importance of: Movement

The collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

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 collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

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.

The Importance of: Organizational Leadership

The collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

This week, we look at the importance of… organizational leadership

The nature of an ensemble performance is that each and every piece of the ensemble is important. The soloist might get the most attention, but can’t succeed without the vocal percussionist keeping the tempo straight. Even if the song’s on the beat, it won’t matter if the tuning in the background sounds like crap. The visual presentation is the responsibility of the entire group. When it comes to performance, the argument can therefore be made that no individual member is more important than another. That’s what happens on stage. There is, however, another side to a cappella, which is what happens before and after shows, behind the scenes. Herein lies the importance of organizational leadership.

An a cappella group needs leaders to plan for, motivate and prepare a group. Groups need to make their way through rehearsals in such a way that gets them prepared to perform their repertoires well, besides organizing practices such that they make good use of busy college students’ time. These are no easy tasks. And it is up to an organization’s leadership to balance between the many roles involved in a group’s success. They serve as player-coaches, drill-sergeants, motivational speakers, counselors and more. Leadership holds a group together, and synergizes a number of individuals into a unit.

The Importance of: A Good Venue

The collegiate a cappella world is one of great complexity. Amidst all that there is to take in, The Importance Of… highlights what is truly important, and elements of a cappella that may otherwise be overlooked.

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

A cappella groups perform in order to entertain their audiences. There’s a lot they can do to prepare—rehearsing to be sure the group is in tune, in synch, and well-choreographed. But there are other elements of a show that are outside of a group’s control after they hit the stage. An audience members’ perceptions of the show are going to be affected by everything from the quality of the micing, to whether there’s gum on the seats, to whether someone tall sits in front of them, and they have to crane their necks all show long in order to see the stage. As a good as an a cappella group may be, its show will only be as enjoyable as the performance area allows. Herein lies the importance of a good venue.

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