In Measure for Measure, an A Cappella Blog contributor takes a look at both sides of a controversial issue in collegiate a cappella. Please note that the views expressed by columnists do not necessarily represent those of The ACB as an organization, nor do they necessarily represent the view of individual columnists. The purpose of this piece is to explore issues and further civil, intellectual debate.
This edition’s topic: Varsity Vocals should institute gender divisions within the ICCA competition.
True: When male and female a cappella performers take the stage, it is very difficult to compare their performances in a meaningful way. From a physical perspective, the groups tend to sing with a different range—i.e. guys are going hammer out a bass line the likes of which the ladies can’t touch; the soaring sopranos of an all-female group will reach heights the male performers can only gaze up to. Guys generally have the ability to create more volume. What’s more, there are intangible differences—on numerous occasions I have had women in a cappella come to me to complain about how much harder it is for female a cappella performers to be funny on stage than it is for a men. Taking all of this into account, when you have male and female a cappella groups competing against one another, the judges really are comparing apples to oranges, to the point where they are forced take stylistic preference into account over pure performance merit. You can eliminate the effects of these inequities by eliminating cross-gender competition, and creating separate divisions.
False: In sports, men and women generally compete in separate divisions because of physical differences that create legitimate disparities in level of performance. In basketball, the tallest men tend to be taller than the tallest women. In boxing, the strongest men tend to harder than the strongest women. In most track and field events, men’s records top those of women for no other reason than sheer bodily structure.
In suggesting that there should be gender divisions in collegiate a cappella competition, there’s an implication that one gender has inherent advantages over the other. Sure, there are fundamental differences between male and female singers, but ultimately, they can be objectively evaluated on the same criteria—pitch, rhythm, dynamics, engaging the audience, visual presentation, and so on. Sure there can be advantages for either gender, and some will surely cite the fact that only two all-female groups have won ICCA championships as evidence that divisions are appropriate. But to indicate that all-male groups are somehow superior is to ignore such perennial powerhouses as The Florida State University AcaBelles, Brigham Young Noteworthy, Univeristy of Oregon Divisi, Rutgers Shockwave, The Syracuse Mandarins, and numerous others who have competed year after year, and, in each of their cases, made it as far as the Finals stage. And how about Vocal Rush, the winners of this years ICHSA tournament? On top of all of this, if Varsity Vocals were to institute gender divisions, where would mixed groups fall? Keeping the competition unified allows for true diversity in performance, and, ultimately, for a much stronger overall competition.