This week, we present University of Arizona Amplified performing Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.”
This week, we present University of Arizona Amplified performing Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.”
Dear Competition and Festival Organizers,
Back in 2006, I had the idea of starting The A Cappella Blog. There were a lot of reasons to do so, but chief among them was a void in a cappella blogging. For while CASA and Varsity Vocals had great websites, RARB was doing an excellent job with reviews, and a handful of other outlets came and went, the a cappella world was missing a consistent archive of information, such as which group sang which songs when, let alone how well-received those performances or recordings were. So, we started our site on the idea of focusing on live event reviews and archiving as much as we could.
Fast forward a decade, and the Internet is a more comprehensive place. YouTube went from a fledgling video sharing site to the best-known of a group of user-friendly sites of its ilk, where, for a cappella purposes, a lot of groups have shared a lot of performances. Social media has advanced and aca-people have grown more adept at integrating their creative efforts with their Facebook and Twitter identities. On top of that, there are more a cappella-based websites, podcasts, and other media that have made an aca-world that is constantly expanding simultaneously feel smaller and all the more accessible.
Given that accessibility—that most of us involved in the a cappella world have some level of access and engagement with the Internet, we now expect to find access to information. And it’s maddening when we don’t have it.
For as the Internet has grown, so too has the field of a cappella festivals, competitions, and events. All great stuff, and I’d like to drive home that I so appreciate the folks who have invested countless, thankless hours to bring these events to life. But I’m here to ask you one additional favor.
In recent years, I’ve frankly been shocked at how difficult it is to find concrete information about a variety of shows. While some organizations like Varsity Vocals do a stand-up job of archiving who placed at competitions and won special awards, and the Contemporary A Cappella Society nicely publishes the results of the CARAs, there are a lot of other major shows and festivals that oddly enough don’t seem to keep a formal, public record of their results, including competition or award winners.
Neglecting to meaningfully archive results sells short both performers and the organizations behind shows. Taking the extra step to at least write a quick blog post that compiles results, if not building a sub-page in the organization’s site to archive this information, adds a sense of permanence and gravity to an accomplishment—it takes a sensational performance that resulted in a competition victory, for example, beyond the live audience and the group that earned the honor, to instead broadcast and maintain this result for the world to read.
Some food for thought.
While plenty of people who sing a cappella will tell you they do so for the love of the art form and the joy of making music, money remains central to the <i>business</i> of a cappella. Whether a group performs at the scholastic level, semi-professionally, or as a legitimately professional act, money is key for studio time, live performance equipment, travel costs, and more.
Attending a group’s live performance is great, but there are few more impactful ways of supporting a group than by buying its CD (or, as is more common now, buying their digital album). Buying a CD after a show demonstrates an appreciation for the live performance and interest in taking the group’s work home to make it part of your personal life. In buying the CD, you’re supporting the group financially and artistically. Better yet, for your own good, you get to bring home an exciting collection of music that diverges from top 40 radio or the tracks iTunes pushes on its customers, instead capturing music that you’ve discovered firsthand via a live performance.
I love it!
This week, we present Bucknell University Two After Midnight performing Beyonce’s “Hold Up.”
1.As an a cappella singer, do you find Pentagrom useful?
2. If so, for whom? For what?
3) If not, why not?
Here's what these objective test users had to say:
Liz M. and Brianna C.: Yes, I find it useful. I think it can be useful for everyone because nobody sings perfectly all the time. It's useful for checking notes if you are unsure. I like the visual aspect in that you can see when you are not exactly on the note you want. When you see a different note on the app than what's on the page, you know you're out of tune, and you can see whether it's sharp or flat. If you see a bunch of notes jumping around the screen when you are only trying to sing one, you know that you're splattering on the note or you're using too much vibrato.
It wouldn't be useful for rhythm issues/learning because it only shows you notes. Some a cappella arrangements aren't note-intensive but some can be rhythm-intensive, and Pentagrom would only be able to show you that you're singing the right notes.
Emily B.: In theory, this app is a wonderful idea. However, its execution is far less spectacular. Some of the features, such as pitch-matching, were very helpful. The micro-tones feature included in the app is an excellent idea that I find very practically useful as a singer. It represents a unique opportunity to finesse my pitch which I would otherwise be unable to do. However, the app remains full of glitches and error messages (most in Spanish, despite selecting my native language of English), I was repeatedly prompted to unlock various functions despite already having access to the unlocked app in its entirety. As the director of my a cappella group, several members informed me that they were completely unable to make the app work for them. The price for full unlock is also remarkably steep considering the current functionality of the app. Although I would love to see how Pentagrom continues to grow and change, at this point further development appears to be the foremost concern in Pentagrom’s immediate future.
Sarah T.: This app is really creative and awesome, there are some things that I noticed that could be changed. However, the notes get laggy when you are singing. You can’t sing too fast or else it won’t pick up on the notes in between. Also, when you record something using the sound, and you sing the same note with a rhythm, it doesn’t play the note twice, it just holds the note out. It would be nice if the note would play twice in a row. The recording part works better when you do it by touching the notes on the screen. It could just be my phone but once in a while, when the app is not closed for a long time, the notes do not ring when you touch and hold them. They just beep once. During recording, when you switch in between two notes fast, sometimes it doesn’t pick up the note. If you were to sell it worldwide, it would be nice if you could have an option to switch between Do Re Mi, to C, D, E, so you can tell which letter note and which solfege it is.
Richard H.: It was confusing to figure out how to utilize the interface without instruction. Touch functions and the microphone function did not always work but were useful and interesting when they did. Error messages were frequent and never in the language I had selected. When this app is complete, it will be excellent.
Charlie S.: Pentagrom is a lovely idea on paper, but still needs some of its kinks ironed out. It does a good job of picking up and identifying played or sung notes, but has issues if multiple notes are played at once. In addition, they keyboard function malfunctions on occasion, requiring a restart of the app to work properly. Certain in app messages are still in Spanish, regardless of the localization choice. The notes of the solfege function do not shift when you change keys, making it harder to remember which note is actually your tonic (in addition to having no support for minor keys). The record function works excellently, as does the in ear feedback. Overall, it's an excellent idea for an app, that has some good groundwork and core features, but falls flat in execution, being clunky in operation.
Thomas W.: When the Pentagram code I was given was entered, the iStore said that the code entering was successful, but the locked features of the app were still locked. I tried reentering the code, but the iStore said that the code had at that point already been redeemed. In regards to the free features of the phone, the feature that plays the note tapped on the sheet music is simpler to use than a regular piano app. While one may select a new octave in the menu screen, it might be more user friendly if one could just scroll up and down to change the octave with having to stop and go to the menu. If the app could work without needing to have earbuds, that would also be more convenient.
Harris H.: Pentagrom, although a very useful idea, fails in performance. I was unable to hear any sound from pressing "keys" on the staff, the interface was clunky, the app needed your precise dexterity, and, although I had to change the language setting to my native language (English) every time I loaded the app, approximately half of all the text still appeared in Spanish.
The best part about this app, was its note detection from the user's voice, although it wasn't very responsive.
Rebecca D.: The interface (while easy to understand for someone who is musically inclined) offers no instruction on how to proceed from the beginning of using it. There's no instructions or pointing out the features of the app, or explaining things to the user at all. You have to either figure it out on your own or watch video tutorials online to understand what the app does and how to use it. The key signatures for the note detection are all written in solfége, which is a little strange to a musician who can read. It only works with headphones, which renders it useless in a group setting, or if the user doesn't have earphones with a microphone on them. The ten-dollar micro-transaction to unlock all the features of this app seems a little wasteful, given that it seems that one could accomplish anything this app can with a minor knowledge of how to play a piano and any free desktop recording software. Without the in-app purchases, this app feels like a giant pitch pipe—which isn't a bad thing, just something you don't need two of.
Shelley M.: As a singer, I found Pentagrom very useful for pitch-matching. Normally, to find a note, I would sing the note and play keys on a piano app until I found the one that matched my pitch. With Pentagrom, I just have to sing the note and I get the precise pitch immediately. It is also useful when reading sheet music because you can immediately tell if what you're singing matches the notes in the piece. The micro-tones feature is very useful for exact pitch accuracy; as a singer, I want to be right on the center of a pitch, and this feature helps me to do so. Additionally, I found the extensive range of instrument sounds very impressive.
As for the things I didn't like, the app loads all of the pitch sounds every single time it is opened, which takes a little while and is slightly bothersome. Also, all of the pitch sounds were somehow automatically added to my phone's music library on four separate occasions, so I had to delete 88 twelve-second tracks from my phone four times. I don't know if this is a problem with the app or with my phone, but if it keeps happening, I may have to delete the app. Also, despite the fact that I have selected "English" as the language, some features and phone notifications are in Spanish.
In terms of improvements, perhaps there should be a search bar for selecting an instrument because there are so many of them and a search bar would make it easier to find a specific one. I know there are a few instructional videos online, but I personally would like a more in-depth description for the various features; maybe the app could have a button/menu feature with instructions for each component. A metronome feature might be nice as well. Lastly, the circles on the staff for pitches could be slightly bigger to accommodate for people's fingers.
Kristie B.: The app is very nicely laid out, having the clef on the main screen makes it easy to see what note is being sung and being able to click and play a note helps to give a starting note when singing a cappella. The app lay out can be confusing, better labeling of what tabs do would create a more user friendly app. Overall however it is useful and well thought out app.
In honor of the 2017 ICCA tournament, The A Cappella Blog pursued short interviews with competing groups to develop insights into why and how groups approach competition, and to get appropriately excited for the tremendous shows ahead of us.
What’s your group name and on what date is your group’s quarterfinal?
We are Isolated Incident & our quarterfinal is on March 4th, 2017 at Carnegie Mellon University.
How long has your group been around? Have you competed before?
Our group is still very young & has been around since the Spring 2015 semester. Last year was our first time competing in the ICCA competition.
Why are you competing this year? What does your group hope to accomplish or get out of the experience?
We are competing this year because it’s super fun & another performance opportunity for our young group. We are hoping to give all of our members a fun, memorable experience as well as give the audience an awesome & alternative a cappella experience.
How is your group preparing for competition?
Last semester we really tried to work on blending & bonding as a cohesive group as well as finding our own unique sound. Once this semester starts, we are planning on having a weekend long boot camp, our normally scheduled weekly rehearsals, & extra-long Sunday rehearsals leading up to the competition. We want to find the perfect balance between having fun & not stressing out about it too much, but also working hard to give our best performance yet.
If you were to describe your group, or the set your group is planning for competition with just three words, what would they be?
Progressive, versatile, and driven.
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