We’ve all heard it. That one (or many) a cappella group that isn’t quite together. They clearly haven’t practiced enough. Their arrangements are not up to par with some of your favorite a cappella groups. They let gimmicks, choreography, and showmanship get in the way of the music. They are all sick. They just put on a bad show. Whatever the reason, everyone of us a cappella fans have walked out of a show with the desire to shove an ice pick into our ear canal.
Okay, I’m being graphic. But let’s face it. If every a cappella group was as good as all the others, ICCA wouldn’t exist. BOCA would be a 2,000 track compilation and cost hundreds of dollars. We all have different opinions, and we all want our criticisms to be heard. There are standards that each of us must face and those standards differ depending on who is the person that we are trying to entertain or impress.
There are clearly better groups than others. I am in no position to say which is which. My favorite a cappella group, The Real Group, is what I consider the platinum standard of a cappella, but many would argue that their style of a cappella does not fit with the contemporary style, represented by Rockapella or Pentatonix, that many consider to be mainstream a cappella. My point is, we all have different opinions of who is greater than others. But I ask this philosophical question and I want you to consider the opposing points of view:
Is there such thing as “bad” a cappella?
In short, no. In a longer answer, noooooooooooooooooo.
The next time you cringe at a missed high note, roll your eyes at a “hackneyed” arrangement, or start comparing one group you saw to the next, I ask you to consider the following factors before you officially call them a “bad” group:
1) Singing a cappella is a wholly remarkable and difficult thing to do. Singing without the support of tuned instruments to help you stay in key is difficult enough. Add in the factor that you alone have to hear where every pitch fits in the chord AND you have to do that while everyone is singing something different, is nothing short of remarkable.
2) A cappella groups change lives. Maybe the group you see on stage just got through a difficult period of their lives. Maybe the group has worked their butts off to get as far as they have come now. Maybe the group doesn’t care if they are the greatest group in the world, so long as they enjoy rehearsal time with each other. Maybe the soloist is singing by him/herself for the first time in her entire life. What if the person everyone was “cringing at” was you?
3) Collegiate and high school groups change rosters every year. Many of us forget this fact. Only professional or semi-professional groups stay together for years, building their overall group blend. But collegiate and high school groups, who I believe make up the majority of what we consider a cappella music to be, change rosters every year. In addition to everything a group has to worry about, adding new members who instantly have to learn a stack of music and blend with a group that’s been together far longer is just added pressure.
4) The performance is not everything.
As an educator, I consider a successful choir to have progressed over a period of time, not a choir who robotically learns music for the purposes of being the best. I would rather choose to teach inexperienced singers with a passion for learning than a choir full of drones. If you were going to brand an a cappella group as “bad,” you are declaring that everything they have done from this point on is not musical, un-educational, and basically a waste of time.