Monday, September 30, 2019

Running From Krueger

Before I start…

This post is the combination of two things: 1) A phenomenon I have witnessed many times throughout my life, often with me as the gullible subject, and 2) A post on Facebook, asking for someone to invent terminology for said phenomenon, which I had hoped would cure the writer’s block I had.

So, special thanks to Alex Green for making me aware of this actual, real, psychological term that I can totally make fun of now. (P.S. If you’re wondering why I had never heard of this before, it’s because I failed psychology in college. And by fail, I mean I never showed up because it was early and I needed my sleep)

Does this scenario apply to you? 

It’s the first rehearsal of the new year, and your group sounds AMAZING! Like, they sound as good as Pentatonix and you suddenly believe all your dreams are possible! I mean, sure, you’ve only heard them sing one chord in the warm-up procedure, but who cares?! They sound incredible and you really feel like this is the year you will win the ICCA. 

Later that night, you go home, happy and exhausted. You fall asleep dreaming of all the wonderful possibilities your new group can achieve and then all of a sudden Freddy Krueger enters your dreams and stabs you in the eye.

Okay…maybe not the last part, but the first part for sure. We’ve all been there. Hell, this happened to me two weeks ago, and I’ve got a doctorate in music education. I should know better. 

Let me explain..

It was the first rehearsal of my Beginning Contemporary A cappella Ensemble (college-level). Every semester brings a new crop of students, with only a handful returning. The students quickly learned the first half of an arrangement and sounded pretty good singing it for the first time. It was here that I became the victim of a horror movie. I went home with more cheerful optimism than I should have had; my brain whirring around deciding how much the ensemble could handle and how difficult I could make the arrangements. I believed this group could accomplish anything with enough time and dedication, so I began to arrange our second song with the difficulty scale ramped up to 11. The next rehearsal, we read through the new, much more difficult arrangement and it was a complete disaster. That was when Freddy stabbed me in the eye.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have optimism, especially if you’re an extreme pessimist like me. But there’s a difference between optimism and misplaced optimism. That’s where Freddy Krueger comes in.

This cognitive bias is known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” (See where I’m going with this?) In a nutshell, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. According to verywellmind.com:

“The effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.” -Kendra Cherry

Okay, readers (all 4 of you) put away your pitchforks, because I’m not saying any of you are incompetent. But it is time to assess whether or not you have enough information to accurately judge your group’s ability. One good chord? No. Six rehearsals? Maybe.

I’m sure when Alex Green (Hi Alex!) first mentioned the scientific explanation for this scenario, he probably didn’t expect me to misread the first word, and then immediately think how I could compare a cappella rehearsals to 80s horror movies. But here we are.

So how do you combat this Dunning-Kruger effect? Simple. You run from Krueger.

Imagine that Freddy Krueger is stalking your a cappella ensemble and of course, you are unaware this is happening. Freddy represents “reality,” or the actual ability of your ensemble. The less you believe in him (and overestimate your group’s ability based on insufficient evidence) the closer he gets to “stabby-stabby-town.” To keep him at a distance, you have to believe he is real, keep an eye out for him, and know how to kill him. 

How do you kill him?

-Plan realistic goals that ensure success but also challenge your 
     ensemble to work harder
-If your group is competing this year and you’re not the Socal 
     Vocals, consider you might not win. Instead, strive for a smaller    
     goal, like making it to semi-finals. Or placing top 3 in the 
     quarter finals. (I just know I’m going to get flak for that Socal 
     Vocals joke…)
-Test the waters- Maybe break out an arrangement that you think is 
     probably above your group’s skill level and see if they can learn 
     it and/or how long it takes them to learn it.
-If you’re the music director, stay firmly in the land of reality. Be 
     the voice of reason if you suspect Freddy Krueger is behind the 
     door.
-Pull Freddy into the real world and stab him in the chest with his 
     own glove.

No matter what you do, DO NOT call Jason Voorhees for help. He does not care about your problems. He only wants to stab you in the eye.

Oh…there is no a cappella equivalent for asking for help from Jason Voorhees. I’m just saying don’t do it.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest

Special shout-out to Alex! http://plaidacappella.com

Monday, September 9, 2019

Wii Fit Trainer

In the last few days of summer, I’ve been playing a lot of Smash Bros. Like, a lot. Like, a lot a lot. 

Now that the school year has begun, I expect that amount to significantly decrease (and then Borderlands 3 comes out Friday…)

Out of your many choices of playable characters, only one, Wii Fit Trainer, has the ability to heal herself during battle. (I mean, technically Wario can as well, but he needs to eat the opponent to do it)

This got me thinking about a cappella. (BTW, if you’re reading this blog for the first time, I’m terrible at segues)

Lately, I’ve noticed a spike in articles about music therapy. Music therapy has never been something that I took much of an interest in. I mean, the ability to heal yourself through music sounds more like “crystal gems and incense” than “real legitimate medicine.” And this, dear reader, is one of the reasons I don’t use Wii Fit Trainer. To heal yourself in battle is complicated and takes time; and as any Smash Bros. player knows, time is something you absolutely do not have.

Okay, it’s a weird link between Smash Bros. and music. But come on! I haven’t done this in two years. I’m a little rusty.

ANYWAY, let’s get back on topic. Music therapy. What is it and why should we care?

Well, after reading several articles on the topic and learning more information than I already had (which was none), I have now come to understand the purpose of music therapy. My hope is that if you’re someone who feels like I once did, I can change your mind.

No, music therapy is not a magical spell where singing will heal your broken arm. I thought at first that music therapy shared something in common with physical therapy—like if you had damaged your voice and specific coaching could help repair it. True, that is a component of music therapy, but there’s more to it than that. Here is a definition from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA):

“Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

In “Music Therapy for Dummies” terms, that means these trained professionals have evidence to suggest that music can heal you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So how does it work? Well, like Wii Fit Trainer, it doesn’t mean healing yourself, although music can certainly fix emotional and mental states. And also like Wii Fit Trainer, you can’t shoot giant sun spheres out of your stomach.

Music therapists (according to AMTA) “assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses…”

Once I began reading these definitions, I realized that, without even knowing it, I had designed music therapy lessons while teaching high school. In one public school, I had a self-contained special needs class. I used my elementary training to design lessons that helped these students work on their issues as designated by their IEPs. That, apparently, was considered music therapy.

So, again, as an a cappella nerd, why should you care? I argue that several facets of a cappella benefit your well-being:

-Going to a cappella rehearsal can simply make you feel good, which alleviates stress. Consequentially, going to rehearsal where everyone in your group is fighting or arguing can create stress.

-Choreography can enhance a person’s motor skills and physical movement. Dancing helps patients feel a deep connection between their minds and bodies. It helps them relax and reduces stress. They feel more comfortable with who they uniquely are.

-Singing and music in general is a “mega-vitamin for the brain” (Wendy Magee, M.D. at London’s Institute of Neuropalliative Rehabilitation)

-Singing can help control chronic pain and repair muscles.

-Writing music allows you to deal with your emotions constructively. It gives you a chance to do mental work that’s not only fun and enjoyable but also improves your mental capabilities. (https://www.regain.us/advice/therapist/music-therapy-techniques-exercises-and-outcomes/)

-A cappella singers drink more water during rehearsals, which hydrates the body. As Brody McDonald says in his book A cappella Pop:“Pee white, sing right.”

The benefits of music therapy are many and varied, but it is important to understand that therapy takes time. None of these outcomes is guaranteed right away. But evidence suggests that the outcomes of music therapy are similar to the arguments made to keep music in schools, so now you have a defense for your music department.

However you use the benefits of music therapy, believe in them and don’t dismiss them, much like I will dismiss Wii Fit Trainer as I play Smash tonight.

Marc Silverberg

Monday, August 26, 2019

The A cappella Starter Package

Surprise! I’m back!

So…it’s been a little while…(2 years in fact…) since I’ve updated this blog. A lot has happened over that time, and my hope is that once you read this list of things I’ve been doing, you’ll stop being mad at me:

            -I finished my 509-page dissertation, “The A cappella Major” and earned my doctorate in music education.
            -I became the director of vocal music at Five Towns College, which changed my adjunct status to full-time associate professor.
            -I became the director of the FTC Chamber Singers, a traditional choir who recently performed at the Association for Popular Music Education’s National Convention.
            -I co-authored a reference book with Deke Sharon and Dr. J.D. Frizzell (release date: Spring 2020)
            -My wife and I bought a house—a process that was so long and painful that I now suffer from PTSD anytime I try to buy something from a store. 
            -My wife and I had a daughter. That alone should be enough to explain my 2-year absence.

So…yeah. The blog kinda fell off the radar. To be fair, I’m still convinced that only 4 people read this and that the 200+ hits I receive daily are just random bots from Russia (one of my videos was a victim of that—true story BTW).

ANYWAY, enough about me! Let’s talk about a cappella music!

This post is dedicated to the people who want to jump right in the deep end of a cappella but are afraid to swim past the kiddie pool. This post is all about the “A cappella Starter Package!”

Like Dungeons and Dragons (my character is a level 2 chaotic neutral Spanish Rogue), A cappella takes some getting used to. Yes, anyone who plays D&D says that anyone can “Jump right in! It’s just interactive storytelling!” And speaking as a noob, that’s true. Anyone can jump in and start learning. But there comes a moment when you’re ready to go full throttle and really learn the ins and outs of the game. And there’s A LOT of rules. Sooooooo many rules.

In other words, the suggestion that anyone can “jump right in” is…not exactly accurate. You can start, but if you want to be good, you need to know much more.

A cappella is the same way. Deke Sharon’s favorite proclamation is that we’ve been singing a cappella for centuries, and that it’s easier than ever to form a group. And he is absolutely correct. Anyone can form a group. Anyone can sing. 

But let’s think about the future for a moment. You’ve formed your group. Your group has a terrible name based on a music pun. You found a pdf of “Daft Punk” by Pentatonix online. But you want more. You really want to plant your feet firmly in the community.

All the resources are there. (They are…believe me) But they’re scattered in websites you’ve never heard of, books you’ve never read, and most importantly, passed down conversationally from person to person.

How do I get better? Is there ONE place that can tell me EXACTLY what I need to know to get started?

Yes. Yes, there is. Hi. I’m Marc and I’ve created the “A cappella Starter Package.”

STEP 1
Go here and add your name to the list: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ACappellaNow/

This is the Facebook group for CASA, the Contemporary A cappella Society of America. More often than not, most breaking a cappella news, announcements, and releases show up on this group. This is your regularly updated newsfeed and your window to other avenues. 

STEP 2
AND this: A cappella

These are the most commonly referenced a cappella books. These will answer a majority of your questions and also help you get started arranging.

STEP 3
Now you need some arrangements.

Search “a cappella.”  

Every arrangement sold on these websites is 100% legal. By purchasing arrangements on these websites, you will never be treading the thin grey line of “is this arrangement legal or is this entrapment?”

The majority of a cappella groups commission arrangements or purchase stock arrangements directly from the arranger. But chances are, you probably don’t know the names of those arrangers.

STEP 4
Listen to the following albums:
“Bioluminescence” by ARORA
“Nothing But The Real Group” by The Real Group
“Take 6” by Take 6
“Rockapella Live” by Rockapella
“PTX Vol. 2” by Pentatonix
“Ticket To Ride” by The Swingle Singers
“Postyr Project” by Postyr Project
“Steps” by Cluster
“In This Together” by Accent
VOCALbularies” by Bobby McFerrin
“You’re The Voice” by Club For Five
“Collective” by Duwende
“Twenty for One” by Cadence
The latest volume of Best of College A cappella (BOCA)
The latest volume of Best of High School A cappella (BOHSA)
The latest volume of Voices Only

It’s a long list. I know. But this will give you a good idea of what’s possible with a cappella. Plus, every album is an A+ album. I guarantee it (guarantee not legally binding).

STEP 5
Don’t forget here: http://sojam.net
Oh, right…here too: https://varsityvocals.com

These websites will help edu-ma-cate you in all things a cappella. Plus, they have details on all the happening a cappella festivals and competitions. Bookmark these websites.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started. Will it make you an a cappella expert overnight? No, but at least you’ll have the resources you need at your disposal. 

BONUS STEP 6!!!
Subscribe to this: Youtube Page

It’s me! I have a Youtube channel! And since this is MY blog, I’ll post what I want. So there.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A cappella Burgers

A cappella Burgers

One of my favorite cartoons on television is Bob’s Burgers. If you haven’t watched it, I suggest you do.

HOWEVER...

If you have never seen the show before, this is how I recommend viewing the episodes:

1)  Watch the pilot
2) Watch season 1 but skip “Crawl Space,” “Bed and Breakfast,” “Spaghetti Western and Meatballs,” “Weekend at Mort’s,” “Lobsterfest,” and “Torpedo.”
3) Go right to season 2 and enjoy.

I used this equation to effectively hook my wife (who is very picky about what she watches) onto Bob’s Burgers.

Why did I skip those particular episodes? It’s not because they are bad. There’s not a single episode of Bob’s Burgers I would say is “bad.” They are just not as strong as a lot of the other episodes, and to effectively convince someone to watch the entirety of a show, you need to give them a string of great episodes in a row.

I find that when I listen to a new a cappella CD, I’m hoping for a string of tracks that convince me the rest of the album is worth it. And often, I’m disappointed. This really comes down to the order of tracks. And just like the guide to Bob’s Burgers, I wish someone would give me a specific listening order so I instantly become intrigued by the remainder of the album.

I find with my short attention span I tend to make snap judgments about what I’m hearing. I can like or not like something very quickly. I know I’m wrong. But I also know I’m definitely not alone.

I learned over the course of my studies that a cappella experts place a cappella albums into two categories: Concept albums and Yearbook albums. The concept album leads the listeners through a journey with either a plot or a moral.  The yearbook album is a collection of songs you’ve been working over the past [insert amount of time here] with no discernible link between them.

Anytime I review/listen to a yearbook album, I always have the same complaint: The tracks are in a bad order. And just like my Bob’s Burgers preferred watching order, I’m always left disappointed that groups did not take into account the same formula: Hook the listener quickly, THEN break out the other stuff.

Concept albums should stay in the order they are written in. No one can really deny that. But yearbook albums need a re-organization.

I believe tracks 1 and 2 (and maybe even 3) should wow me immediately. Put your best stuff first, because listeners tend to go in track order when listening to a whole album. Once I’m impressed, then I’m more willing to listen to the risky stuff or willing to sit through the mediocre tracks.

This is just my opinion, but the second-to-last track needs to be where you bury your worst song. Either I’ll skip to the last track to hear what kind of explosive ending you’ve crafted, or I’ll leave the album running to the end and not even realize what track number I’m listening to.

I’m not an expert sound engineer. I’m not a producer of a cappella albums. I’m just a listener who hungrily grabs every album he can get his chubby little hands on. But speaking as an a cappella mega fan, if you want me to appreciate your yearbook album, I need to know you’re thinking about how to convince me as quickly as possible.

The next time you design your track list, pretend the listener is my wife. She's really picky about what television I watch, she makes snap judgments, and the only way to get her to stay is to give her your best stuff first.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major:

BONUS SECTION!!!

Speaking of Bob’s Burgers…here are my 10 favorite episodes (in case you were wondering)

10) Hamburger Dinner Theatre

Linda, obsessed with dinner theatre, stages her own murder mystery in the restaurant. This was also the first episode to include music (which is now a staple in every episode) and establish that Gene is the “composer” of the family. The best feature is the naiveté of Linda, who believes her “twist” ending is brilliant, and the argument that ensues.

9) Glued: Where’s My Bob?

The 100th episode rightly keeps the family, and every character whose ever appeared on the show, firmly in the restaurant. Suffering from a prank gone wrong, Bob becomes glued to the bathroom toilet right before a big magazine interview. In true Bob’s Burgers fashion, the ending is both good and bad for the restaurant’s reputation.

8) Bob Actually

Easily the best Valentine’s Day episode, this collection of separate stories ends in the most satisfying way possible. Also, nothing makes me laugh harder than the hip-hop class Bob takes in order to impress Linda.

7) Purple Rain-union

This episode has some of the best musical material from the show, and also a strong story for Linda and her sister Gayle. Haunted by the events of her high school talent show, Linda’s band is asked to play at their high school reunion. Their first song, written by Gayle, has probably the best rhyming couplet of all time.

6) The Deepening

Bob’s Burgers likes to parody other movies and television shows, and they range from good (O.T. The Outside Toilet) to mediocre (Aliens/Freaky Friday). This Jaws parody however, is pitch perfect. Who’d ever think a mechanical shark would be a threat to people on land? Best line: “I’m literally grasping at straws.”

5) Dr. Yap

Ken Jeong plays the family dentist, Dr. Yap, who invites the family to spend the weekend at his cabin for a ski weekend. Oh, and Bob has to pretend to date Gayle, Linda’s sister. Oh, and the kids have an outstanding competition for a jawbreaker.

4) Broadcast Wagstaff School News

This episode features the best appearance by Jenny Slate, who plays Tina’s rival, Tammy. Tina investigates the mysterious “Mad Pooper,” whose been leaving poops all over school. This episode also helps establish a staple in the series: that every teacher in this school is a horrible person.

3) The Equestranauts

A fantastic parody of the “Bronies” culture, Tina gets swindled by an evil fan and Bob must participate in the convention to get her toy pony back. I love this episode for two reasons: The mispronunciation of the word “tattoo,” and the extremely quotable “Non canonical! Non canonical! Non canonical!”

2) Work Hard or Die Tryin’ Girl

Gene stages Die Hard the Musical. His ex-girlfriend, Courtney, stages Working Girl the Music at the same time. Then they combine musicals and create the original work: Work hard or Die Tryin’ Girl.” ‘Nuff said.

1) Topsy


This episode has SO many things going for it: A duet between Kevin Kline and Megan Mullaly, a villain for Louise to destroy, the first appearance of Billy Eichner, a definitive argument that Thomas Edison was a terrible person, Spi-ceps, and the absolute best song in the history of the series. If you never watch another episode, at least see this one.