For the last few years, I’ve had the good fortune of spending several weeks of each summer working at The University of California-Santa Cruz. Maybe I’m just a northeast boy, easily impressed with some west coast nature, but I’ll be darned if the redwood trees, the views of the ocean, and all those deer running around the university campus don’t strike a bit of awe in me upon each visit. Equally impressive to the nature itself is the way in which it’s so seamlessly integrated with the campus at UCSC, with roadways that weave up and around hills of green, and academic buildings standing in the shadows of massive trees.
UC Santa Cruz’s lay out runs completely contrary to so many of the paved-over, brick and mortar schools I’m accustomed to seeing in the northeast. It’s not about a stodgy, professional academic atmosphere, or mowing down greenery to erect statues to celebrated dead white guys. It’s about taking the natural environment and complementing it to form an equilibrium that celebrates both human innovation and that which the land provides us.
When it comes to a cappella, consider what’s naturally available to you. On the most base level, there are your vocal talents. Are you allowing everyone to test the limits of their range to develop a complex, sprawling sound? Are you allowing everyone a chance to do what they do best in the context of performance, rather than pressuring them into preconceived roles?
Think about performance space. Are you utilizing your spaces for what they have to offer—spreading across the stage, working your way into the crowd where the space is conducive, using multiple points of stage entry, or incorporating whatever else the space has to offer (balconies, steps, aisle ways, lighting, mic set ups) to your advantage?
Consider song choices and how they relate to your natural audience at your college and university. Are you playing to tradition? Appealing to a common youthful flair? Singing music relevant to your geographic region?
When we think about how we shape and direct a cappella groups, we often think as though we are starting from scratch and trying to develop a group that meets our every ideal. Not often enough do we consider how we can use what’s inherent and essential to our group to its fullest potential.