Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present the UNC Clef Hangers performing Bruno Mars’s “Finesse.”

Vocal Percussion

The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is vocal percussion

Don’t isolate your drummer.

Call it a pet peeve, but in all my years writing this blog I’ve never understood why groups still insist on isolating their drummers. I get that a percussionist may not be able to participate in the full group choreography, but more often than not, if the movement is simple or rooted more in staging transitions than active motion, there’s no reason why the VPer can’t be part of the masses or at least directly beside them on one end. Isolating the drummer casts a spotlight on that performer, and more often than not, the effect seems to be unintentional—thus, more distracting than valuable.

The double-edged sword of the drum solo.

If your group features a truly exceptional beatboxer, there is value in giving that person room to operate as a featured performer in a full-on drum solo. The effect can help differentiate a group and make them more memorable. Just the same, time management is important—a lengthy drum solo risks putting your group in a time crunch. Moreover, while an impressive beatboxing performance can entertain the crowd, if it runs more than ten seconds or so, it risks boring the audience, or feeling like you’re just killing time to the judges, rather than the doing something more musical.

The other consideration in deciding whether to include a drum solo is whether your drummer is, frankly, good enough to justify that level of attention. Vocal percussion isn’t easy, but by the time you’re reaching the competition stage there’s a good chance that most, if not all, groups are bringing along competent percussionists. Thus, the questions is whether your drummer has a unique enough skillset and polished enough talents to truly stand out—not to mention whether a drum solo fits your song selections and the identity you’re projecting via your set.

How have you seen vocal percussion contribute to or take away from a competition set? Let us know in the comments section.

Subtle Movement

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #157: Subtle Movement

In the mid-2000s, as a cappella groups really proliferated and competitions grew stiffer, we also observed a steep increase in the amount and intensity of choreography that groups put into their performances, from synchronized dance moves to full-on acrobatics. Some of this choreography was on the money and really enhanced the music around of it. A lot of it, however, felt inorganic and gratuitous—made all the worse when a lot of it wasn’t particularly well executed.

Believe it or not, I’m not here to poke fun at groups whose choreography has flopped. Singing well as a group is hard enough, and adding complex staging raises the bar. I admire the ambition of it.

Truly great staging is about more than impressive athletic feats and coordination, though. It’s about furthering the story, the mood, or the message of a song. To oversimplify, the ideal visual presentation isn’t so much about staging an irresistible visual as it is honing the audience’s attention to make sure they’re listening to the performance.

Some of the very best examples of this dynamic are groups that focus not on hand jives and box steps, but rather on subtle looks, or repositioning the group across the stage for different legs of a song. While there is a place for more explosive movement at strategic moments, careful small gestures go a long way toward keeping the visual presentation interesting and diversifying it, without distracting the audience from the music, or the group itself from nailing its vocals.

I love it!

You'll Be in My Heart

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Brigham Young University Noteworthy performing Phil Collins’s “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

Adapting to the Audience

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #156: Adapting to the Audience

Be it in the a cappella world or other walks of life, we’ve all had the experience of seeing a performer miss the mark when it comes to her or his audience. Whether it’s the stand-up comedian that tells dated jokes on a college campus, or the aging rock star who insists on focusing a concert on new material over the old hits the audience clearly came to hear, there are some performers who don’t seem to pay any mind to the actual the audience they’re playing for.

It can be a joy to see a great a cappella group subvert expectations and adapt material to be the optimal fit for the audience at hand. This might include singing the “radio edit” version at an ICCA competition or family weekend performance where the kids and parents in audience call for a family friendly show. On the flip side, it might mean getting raunchier and playing up the edgier material for a late-night campus show.

Groups that adapt to the audience—making an effort to ensure everyone is safe, comfortable, and having fun—have the opportunity provide a great performance without caveats or strings attached, for which no one leaves the auditorium shaking her head in disapproval, and with all of that, allow the music to be the focal point of the performance.

I love it!

Adapting To The Environment

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #155: Adapting To The Environment

It’s a reality for any artist who travels to perform live: you will encounter different stages, different auditoriums, different audiences. While it’s an easy choice (and, in some cases, the only choice) to maintain your act as originally planned and make it work within the space permitted, it can be all the more impressive to see a group demonstrate the adaptability, improvisational talent, or sheer research to come prepared to do something different with a different performance space.

One of my favorite examples of this is groups breaking the fourth wall and entering the audience—it can be a risky proposition with consideration to the house lighting and how sound is set up, but if the stars align, breaking free from a small stage and literally engaging with the audience can be a spectacular way of drawing the audience into the energy of a performance and making them feel like a part of the act.

I love it!

Next Page
Vocal Percussion
Subtle Movement
You'll Be in My Heart
Adapting to the Audience
Adapting To The Environment
From Eden
Song Selection
Embedded Solos
Waiting on the World to Change
Personal Style
The Robot
On The Rocks, Sunset Blush
The Great Escape
Front Row Seats
R&B Medley
Balcony Seats
Elastic Heart
Zero to Hero
Transitions on Your Playlist
I Miss You
Law School Groups
I Don't Think About You
Incorporating Foreign Languages
Evolution of Hollywood
Adele Medley