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.

Beyond serving as interpersonal leaders, a group’s leadership needs to take care of the pieces that are less directly related to performance. Someone needs to select and arrange songs. In so doing, it means picking songs that will not only appeal to an audience, but will fit the talents and style of the group, and then translating them into a cappella. Such responsibilities typically fall to a musical director, or a handful of other members, skilled in arrangement.

In addition to arranging music, there are a number of logistical concerns for a group to keep in mind. Someone needs to book shows so groups have a place to perform. Similarly, someone needs to work through the registration process in order to participate in the ICCAs and other competitions or major events. Furthermore, there’s the element of coordinating recordings—managing the legal end of obtaining the rights to record music, figuring out the finances, the where and the when of actually laying down tracks, and then organizing marketing and sales. These are all challenging and time consuming tasks, which often fall under the auspices of a business manager.

On top of the many other leadership responsibilities of a musical ensemble, it’s also important to keep in mind that collegiate a cappella groups need to function within a college atmosphere. For many groups, this means operating under a Student Association or comparable governing body, in order to obtain funding or the rights to use performance spaces around campus. Similarly, many groups need to work with a music department, in order to get the rights to rehearsal rooms, or in order to recruit new members from music programs. Each campus has its own nuances, regarding how to foster connections with other student organizations and the general campus community. Beyond the home college, groups also need leaders to coordinate with groups from other schools to work out joint performances. For all of these tasks, many groups turn to a president or public relations manager.

All in all, there are many opportunities for leadership in a collegiate a cappella group, and these leaders are absolutely essential to the long-term success of a group. Every member of a group has his or her own important role, but one can never overlook the importance of a group’s leaders.

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Mike Chin

Mike Chin co-founded The A Cappella Blog in 2007. He continues to share leadership responsibility for the site, overseeing columns, reviews and features as the content manager. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD.