And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together…It’s Arrested Development.
"Miraculous" would be the best word to describe this show’s resurrection. In 2003, a humble, under the radar comedy, aired on FOX, with nine of the most talented actors ever assembled and a writing staff who chose to write for highly intelligent audiences instead of the lowest common denominator. In its first year, Arrested Development won the Emmy for best comedy. Critics around the country were hailing it as one of the most groundbreaking comedies of all time.
But no one watched.
The show got picked up for a second season. The jokes became funnier. The show had the uncanny ability to set a joke up in one episode and then delay the punch-line for three to four more episodes. It was a show you had to actively watch to catch everything, a show in which I’ve seen, in its entirety, ten times, and I still catch something new every time I watch.
But no one watched. And the show was cut back to 18 episodes instead of 22.
The show somehow got picked up for a third season...but only for 13 episodes. Arrested Development brought in A-level guest stars, and even begged you, the audience, to tell your friends about the show by actually saying the line: “Please tell your friends about this show.”
But no one watched. And it was cancelled.
It was mourned for 8 years. And then…out of the blue (get it, fans?)…Netflix picked it up for a fourth season. It was the Mother(boy) of all comebacks.
Why? Because the DVD sales were only growing, sort of like Family Guy. And a movie was rumored. And the fans grew in number.
That’s what this post is all about. The fans. As great as Arrested Development is, and as thrilled I am to see it return, it really would not have done so without the fans. A cappella groups…this is where you should start paying attention.
The lifeblood of your group is your fans. Does music exist if no one is around to hear it? Of course it does, but it’s not nearly as appreciated. I always respect successful stars who acknowledge that it is because of the fans that anyone knows who he/she is. My point is, if you are successful…if everyone knows who you are…thank the fans.
As for the fans, it is up to YOU to help people succeed. As talented as Rockapella is, they would nothing without the fans buying their CDs, attending their concerts, and checking them out on social media. The fans are in power, not the superstar. And we have to shoulder that responsibility.
Just like Arrested Development, the fans (or lack thereof) was the reason the show got cancelled. Popular a cappella groups, like Five O’Clock Shadow for instance, don’t get nearly the recognition they deserve, because the fans think the group will promote themselves.
Let me tell you this…no marketing tool, no billboard, no commercial, no social media blitz is more powerful than word-of-mouth. You talk about something to two people. They tell two people. They tell two people…and so on…and so on…and so on…(Party on Wayne!)
You, as a fan, must go and actively promote your favorite a cappella groups. A cappella groups must take time to celebrate and thank your fans. The little people may not matter during your current show, but if you want to keep performing more shows, you need the little people to support you.
The fans are in the driver’s seat. The fans are in control. And when the fans demand something, it gets done. That’s why Arrested Development is back on the air…the fans.
Please, be an active fan for your group...and watch Arrested Development.
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If I had to estimate how many members of collegiate a cappella groups were actually music majors, I would guess about thirty to forty percent. If I were to estimate how many of those people were vocal majors, I would estimate about fifty to sixty percent.
Even if the numbers are off, one detail that keeps staring me in the face is that some, even many, a cappella singers are also vocal majors. I mean, I was one in college, and there’s no way I could be the only one. So we know there’s at least two.
This blog post is for those people. The rest of you can go back to watching Game of Thrones.
Hey vocal majors! Ever wonder how you can translate your love of a cappella music into your classical studies? Ever get that burning desire to bring a cappella music to your next senior recital, even though your voice teacher would rather die than let you perform a popular song?
Well I’ve got good news. There happens to be a small, practically unknown subset of classical arias that are….wait for it…A CAPPELLA!!! YAY!!!
When I mean a cappella, I'm talking about classical arias written for one unaccompanied voice. They use a combination of traditionally sung notes, extended vocal techniques, vocal sounds, scat singing, overtone singing, and spoken word to create musical paintings that actually force the audience to consider what the true definition of music is.
Here is the history.
Before a cappella arias were written, early 20th century composers like Arnold Schoenberg were using one specific vocal technique called Sprechstimme, or singing with an approximate pitch. In his masterwork "Pierrot Lunaire" (which is NOT a cappella), the singer is encouraged to recite the text around the notated pitch, but not exactly on the pitch. Listen to a part of it here:
The first composer to write a classical aria for unaccompanied voice was the highly controversial, but also highly revered composer, John Cage (Yes…he’s the "4’33" guy). Cage composed a piece called "Experiences: No. 2 for Solo Voice." It was traditionally notated, like you would see in any other type of music. Take a listen:
I posit that all of the unaccompanied vocal arias I could find can be categorized into three groups: Art music, Theatrical Music, and Popular Music. Art music, like Cage’s "Experiences No. 2," is composed with a message in mind. While it can be freely interpreted and it contains a lot of extended technique, the philosophy behind the piece, the moral of the story, and/or the message of the lyrics takes precedence over the flash of performing as an unaccompanied soloist. Here are a couple of examples:
Theatrical music is what I call the “bang for your buck” music. Composers of unaccompanied theatrical music try to include more visual elements, to keep the audience entertained. The scores of these types of pieces are more graphically notated, and there are usually written instructions on what to do as a performer and how to interpret the score. Here are a few examples:
Popular music is exactly what it sounds like: Interpreting popular radio music, like jazz and rock-and-roll into solo unaccompanied vocal works. The most famous (and most experienced) performer of these works is the great Bobby McFerrin. Just listen to his one man "Blackbird:"
I would also categorize a cappella live loopers in the popular music group. I believe that if a live looper is looping his or her own sounds, and the only sound source is coming from the singer, then the piece can still be considered an unaccompanied solo aria. Julia Easterlin is a very good example of this:
I went to see the doctor the other day. As part of the mandatory requisite chit-chat outlined in his medical school contract, he asked me what I do for a living. I said that I teach a cappella music.
“Oh yeah! A capello! I love that music. That’s like what they do on X-factor, right?” He said.
“No.” I proclaimed. “It’s like the television show the Sing-Off or the movie Pitch Perfect.”
“Oh…so you work in television?”
“No. I teach others about the music.”
“Cool! Acopello is awesome.”
“Could you just give me a prescription please?”
About a month ago, Jon Stewart interviewed Allison Brie, from Community. Allison was talking about her three-woman singing act that she had started, and Stewart asked the following question:
“Oh, so is it like A cappello?”
I turned off the television right then and there.
It’s a pet peeve of mine, spelling the one word that has defined my career path for the past ten years. Can you blame me that I become enraged when someone misspells a cappella, or even just mispronounces it?
If we want our music to be taken seriously, then people need to identify it by its correct spelling. According to this blog post on “Primarily A cappella,” there have been several ways A cappella has been misspelled and misrepresented:
The correct way to spell a cappella is with a space between A and C, two P’s, and two L’s. The most common variations are:
A capella and Acappella.
Because of the origin of the word, the first variation, A capella, is technically correct, because it is the Latin variation of the Italian word. The second variation, “Acappella,” is a slang term for the unaccompanied doo-wop singing of the 50’s and 60’s.
In my opinion, I’d rather stick with the tried and true: A cappella.
But there are some who see playful variations of the word on album titles and think to themselves: “Oh…this is how you spell A cappella. Neat.”
I’m all for artistic freedom, but I wish the general public would be able to tell the difference between creative word play and misappropriation.
Here are some great albums, NONE of which should be mistaken for the original spelling:
A cappelican A cappello Blues Oxapello A.Cappella Bossa cappella a Cappella Rockapella La Cappella
Please, please, please...spell it correctly. Think of the children.
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Why do we yell? Why do we feel, as directors, teachers, and conductors, that completely losing your temper is the only course of action left? Do we not realize that we might be doing more harm than good?
Sure, it’s not fun to be the bad guy. But I feel like anyone who yells may not see both sides of the situation, and this is what makes me feel tremendously guilty moments after.
I always tell my students, or whatever group I’m working with, that they should never be concerned about me, or the group, if I yell. Yelling signifies a boiling point of frustration, but it also means we care. If we didn’t care so much about the project, we wouldn’t get so mad. So the moment I stop yelling…the moment I let the mistakes go by without correcting them…that’s when they should start being worried.
Now for the flip side. Being on the receiving end sucks. Nobody wants to be treated like they are second-class citizens. I mean…would you? Would you really enjoy it if someone you liked, respected, or cared about suddenly screamed in your face?
In my experience, there has always been two kinds of people who are on the opposite end of my wrath. First, there are the students who fall right within the bulls-eye of my frustration. For example, it’s the day before the concert, things are not going right, and nobody wants to focus because they don’t see the disaster that you see. These are the “students who set you off,” and most likely, they won’t be happy with you moments after. Most will calm down, some might quit. This is simply out of your control. You cannot control what others do, nor can you control how they should, or will, react.
Second, there are the “thank the lord he/she just said that!” students. They have been waiting patiently on the sidelines for this exact moment, when the group finally gets what’s coming to them. They think you’re a god now, because you said what they have been thinking for weeks, as if you just suddenly read their minds. Of course, they’ll never say this out loud. They don’t want to be ostracized as the “brown noser(s).”
Does anyone win when they yell? I’ll admit, sometimes, a little kick in the pants is what the group needs. There have been moments when a good scream-fest is exactly what was missing from the process. And there have also been times when screaming was just too extreme. Maybe…just maybe…they didn’t really deserve that.
All I’m saying is…choose your yelling carefully. And make sure the students know that aggressive, red-faced, obscenity-laced sharing is caring.
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The cat cannot see you and you cannot see the cat. You are told that inside the box, along with the still-alive cat, is a rock, a Geiger counter, and a vial of poison.
Now the rock is slightly radioactive, with an exactly fifty-fifty chance of emitting a subatomic particle in the course of an hour. If the rock emits a particle, the Geiger counter will flip a switch, which will break the vial of poison and kill the cat.
(Quick note for all you cat lovers: This is a thought-experiment. Not a real experiment.)
This is the scenario Edwin Schrödinger proposed to Albert Einstein one day, perhaps when the two smartest men on the planet got bored. Together, they were able to concoct a scenario where, at this exact moment, since no one was sure if the cat was alive or dead, that in reality, the cat could be BOTH alive and dead at the same time.
Does your brain hurt? That’s okay. So does mine.
With the ICHSA and ICCA competitions winding down, and having just competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes myself, I began to wonder…
“Is it possible for an a cappella group to be BOTH good and bad at the same time?”
I suppose the circumstances for this to be true would have to be two opposing view points, arguing over the quality of an a cappella group. I recently had this discussion with a friend of mine. While listening to “I want you back” by Sonos, I proclaimed it was a magnificent arrangement. He agreed with what Ben Folds said to Sonos on the Sing-Off: That it didn’t sound anything like the original and that’s why he didn’t like it.
Two opposing arguments, two perfectly valid opinions. In this typical argument (which I’m sure many of you have had), a group can be considered good by one person and bad by another.
But what I want to know is, can a group be considered both good and bad by the same person within the same performance? Is there ever an instance where you form an opinion of a group and then change that opinion midway through a song, or a show, and still feel like, even though you didn’t come to a finite conclusion, you somehow sort of did…
While I certainly cannot speak for anyone else, my opinion is that a cappella fans are fickle. We hold opinions about our music that the rest of the world may not fully understand.
Picture this scenario: You go to an a cappella concert that features several groups. One group comes onstage and they are so bad that you just want to throw tomatoes at them and boo them right off the stage. And yet, right after their song ends, they get a standing ovation.
“Wait! What?” A standing ovation? For being able to sing in two parts? Why?
The rest of the audience may not have shared the same experiences with you. You could probably sing, from memory, the entire discography of M-pact, when everyone else in the crowd thinks the Barton Bellas are the best a cappella group they’ve ever seen, even though they don’t really exist.
Are you wrong for thinking the way you do? No. Are they wrong for thinking the way they do? No. Is it possible that both sides are not seeing the whole picture? Yes.
But the next time this instance comes along, try to imagine why the rest of the crowd would love this group, whereas you would rather be locked in a box with a cat and vial of poison than have to listen to another note.
If you can see things from both sides of the table, then you can perceive even the worst group ever as being both good and bad. And this is the key to a cappella education.
Unless you’re a dog person. Then this experiment is invalid.
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I was having trouble motivating one of the college groups that I currently direct. They didn’t have the desire or the energy to go and learn the notes on their own, even though I knew they could.
At first I thought they were getting tired of the same songs being rehearsed over and over again, so I tried to give them new repertoire on a weekly basis.
Next, I tried motivating them by taking some of the rehearsal time to listen to great a cappella recordings and watch some groups perform.
Then, I tried forcing them to hang out socially after rehearsal.
Nothing worked. They still had no desire to come in and sing.
I like to think of myself as separate from the group…an overall present force pulling the puppet strings…a GLaDOS if you will.
GLaDOS, for those of you nerds living under a rock, is the main villain of the wildly popular Portal video games. She’s sarcastic, she teases you, and she lies.
The biggest lie that she tells you is that if you complete all of the training exercises, you are rewarded with cake. Yummy, yummy cake.
But as you progress through the game, you begin to realize that perhaps, the cake does not exist. The cake is a lie.
That’s what I promised my group when I helped them form it. I promised them that at the end of a long, torturous rehearsal process, they would be rewarded with a fantastic prize. They would get the chance to put on a concert of their own design and all the hard work and sacrifice would be worth it.
So we put on the concert. And people cheered. And then…nothing.
Wait…what happened? Why did the momentum suddenly drop after a big performance? Why, after knowing the prize ahead, did we suddenly stop caring?
It’s because we directors were GLaDOS. We promised a reward that was never there. We promised (or more appropriately I promised) that after months of hard work, the concert was going to make it all worth it. They would feel like rock stars and the glow would carry them all the way to the next concert.
But I was wrong. One reward isn’t nearly enough. You need multiple rewards to feel satisfied. You may have one slice of yummy cake, but you always crave more.
So learn from my mistakes. Rehearsals are not the motivating factor in an a cappella group. Nobody “likes” to rehearse, and if you like it, you’re not doing it right. Nobody likes putting in the grunt work and the time. Performances are what motivate us to rehearse. Without a goal at the end, rehearsal time is misspent. And I’ve learned that one goal every four months is nowhere near enough to motivate anyone (Choral directors...I'm looking at YOU)
If you really want to educate your group on why a cappella music is awesome, then they need to experience it for themselves, and they need to do it often. One giant reward at the end of four months of slogging through the mud is not enough. You need a giant reward to work towards, and lots of little rewards to keep you motivated.
Don’t promise your group cake. The cake is a lie.
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Like many a cappella enthusiasts, I attended Boston Sings over the weekend and was once again blown away by the level of talent and expertise of the instructors. We even had a live riff-off!
But one theme prevailed from BOSS and I’d like to address that today:
How do we bring our group to the next level?
This question was prevalent in master classes, private group sessions, and especially in the Sing-Off Q&A. Every time I attend another convention, I hear the same question over and over. I often think the same thing myself.
How do we bring our group to the next level?
I think about it like a video game. Once you acquire a certain level of skill, you can’t move onto the next level until you defeat the boss, and let’s face it…the boss is usually very hard to beat. I mean, Bowser certainly isn’t as easy in level eight as he is in level one.
Groups most likely encounter these obstacles. It’s even a common thing to hear the phrase:
“Well we could be the biggest thing in the world, if it weren’t for this one thing…”
That’s a very defeating statement to make. And it creates an obstacle that could bring down the entire fabric of your group if left unchecked.
How do we bring our group to the next level?
There is a word I use for myself, whenever I encounter this very question. I call it “The Mountain.” I use the term “mountain” probably subconsciously, because mountains are very hard to climb. And the thing is, whenever I encounter one of these mountains, it almost stops me in my tracks.
I tend to hit the mountain and think that time, or new equipment, or just new information will get me over the mountain.
“I can’t start performing live until I have a better loop station.” “I can’t make this arrangement sound amazing until I understand jazz theory.” “I can’t convince my group to compete until they gain more confidence.” “I can’t perform this complicated choreography until I lose at least ten pounds.”
Those are some of my mountains. Your mountains will probably sound much different. But if BOSS has taught me anything, it’s that waiting around for the answer is defeating in itself. You have to grab life by the horns and drag it down to the ground, because we only have so much time left.
How much more satisfying is it to defeat the boss after thirty tries instead of two?
In the case of a cappella, the harder arrangements are the ones that get you noticed. The hard choices, like choosing the solo undemocratically is how you make your stage show the best that it can be. The hard truths, like sacrificing your beliefs and your time for the betterment of music, gives the music a new life.
And the hard part is, once you climb one mountain, another one appears almost immediately. Unless you are the biggest star in the world and you can demand anything at the snap of your finger (and chances are, you are NOT), then your life will be nothing but climbing mountain after mountain after mountain.
But climbing mountains is what makes you strong. It makes you talented. And unless everyone is doing the same thing (and chances are, they are NOT), you WILL rise above.
That’s how you bring your group to the next level.
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