The Light That Never Fails

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present DeKalb High School Enharmonic Fusion performing Andra Day’s “The Light That Never Fails."

A Radical Arrangement

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #136: A Radical Arrangement

The last decade has seen the a cappella palate multiply several times over. While industrial rock and hip-hop performances were groundbreaking at one time, it’s no longer particularly novel to hear covers of music by Muse or Usher at a college a cappella show. In an era when very few song choices are shocking in and of themselves, groups have still found ways to dazzle, surprise, and impress audiences via genuinely creative takes on existing art.

Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” A song most longstanding a cappella fans have heard covered ad infinitum. The kind of song selection we tend to roll our eyes at not out of any malice toward the group itself, but because, well, we’re a little bored.

Then, consider what The Stanford Harmonics did with the song in 2009:

or Cherry Hill High School East’s re-interpretation in 2013:

Through creative arrangement and performance, these groups made a classic song their own and reinvented it for their audiences resulting in something that may have been even cooler than a creative song choice, but rather turning every listener’s expectations on their head to find innovation within tradition.

I love it!


Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Hamilton College Tumbling After performing The Cranberries’ “Zombie."

Mocking Women Isn’t Funny

Open Letters

Dear All-Male Groups,

I get it. When On the Rocks covered Lady Gaga it was funny. Not only was the sound great, and the video professionally produced, but the very concept of these college-aged men singing “Bad Romance” and dancing (well) in Gaga fashion was really amusing.

But you know what? With each iteration of this performance, or one similar to it, by groups imitating that On the Rocks style, it got less funny. I’m talking about guys going Gaga, guys singing “Single Ladies,” guys singing Ke$ha. Over the past seven years, we’ve seen it all.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t feel there’s anything inherently wrong with crossing gender lines in a cappella. An all-male group soulfully covering Sarah McLachlan or making an Imogen Heap song their own can be fresh and surprising, not to mention that it can open unique opportunities for a group. But as soon as the comedy takes centerstage via over-the-top choreography, put-on falsettos, or stereotypically effeminate body language played to comedic effect, it’s no longer fun. As a critic, that’s the point at which I stop taking a group seriously as a cappella performers, and recognize that they are, instead, prioritizing playing the crowd for laughs.

There’s a place for comedic a cappella. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say that if you know your audience and the theatrics aren’t distracting you from making good music, there may be a place for this style of performance at a campus show. But when you enter a competition, release a video into the world, or otherwise try to assert yourself as an a cappella group that a broader audience should pay attention to, you have to recognize that mocking women is not original, nor is it funny. More often than not, it’s hackneyed and kind of offensive.

Think different. Try harder. I believe in you. Now go make the most of your potential.



Death of a Bachelor

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present the University of Michigan G-Men performing Panic! At the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor.”

When the Staging Emulates the Music Video

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #135: When the Staging Emulates the Music Video

One of the biggest difference between a cappella now and a cappella fifteen to twenty years ago is that visual presentation is now fundamentally accepted as a part of a cappella performance. Sure, a handful of groups have the stage presence to get away with standing in arch, and others have the magnetism to simply walk the stage and garner all the fanfare that the average Joe would need acrobatics to attain. For the rest of us, there’s choreography.

One of the great pleasures of watching a live a cappella performance is seeing what kinds of choreography a group might come up with, and the effect is especially captivating when groups emulate the actual performer’s mannerisms—better yet, the music video. No, such interpretations aren’t for everyone, for every group, or for every setting. But every now and again you can catch a truly inspired reproduction of the “Single Ladies” dance or the sweet moves of the “Thriller” zombies, and it makes for a truly epic performance.

I love it!

Next Page
The Light That Never Fails
A Radical Arrangement
Mocking Women Isn’t Funny
Death of a Bachelor
When the Staging Emulates the Music Video
Same Drugs
5 Takeaways from Varsity Vocals’ First Open Finals
Wait for the Moment
Remembering How You Know a Song
River Ghost
Seeing a Group Transform On Stage and Off
Blood Bank/The Wolves
When a Group Squeezes an Extra Song Into Its Competition Set
You Know You Like It
The First Time You Hear a Song After You’ve Heard It A Cappella
EDM Mashup
Watching the Crowd Grow at a Public Show
The Influence of A Cappella
Writing's on the Wall
Top 10 A Cappella Records From The 20th Century
Hearing a Song That Just Came Out on the Radio
A Sold-Out Crowd
The Campus Bookstore
The Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones on "Gemini Feed"
To Yearbook or Not To Yearbook
Simulating Sounds