The march 2012 edition of the Choral Journal, the official magazine of the American Choral Director’s Association, contained an interesting editorial written by the chairperson of Repertoire and Standards, Kirk Marcy. Professor Marcy leads one of the top vocal jazz groups in the country in Washington State and sings in the a cappella group “Just 4 Kicks.”
The article, entitled “Contemporary Unaccompanied Singing: Where Does It Fit in ACDA?” discusses the possible inclusion of a cappella singing (that’s us) into the standard repertoire of ACDA national conventions (that’s them). It’s like uniting the Jets and the Sharks- seemingly impossible, until Tony gets shot…wait…I’m getting off track…
The issues in uniting these two major factions are numerous and difficult to overcome, but not impossible:
1) Defining our sound
ACDA has determined that a cappella singing (such as the Sing-Off) is to be called “Contemporary Unaccompanied Singing” until a name is decided upon. This is our challenge. We must unite and determine what to call ourselves. “Contemporary Unaccompanied Singing” does not define us, because it reduces our music to the only label we are currently recognized for: Unaccompanied. This would mean that all music, from Lady Gaga to Eric Whitacre are sung exactly the same way, and we all know they are not. “Pop A cappella” does not fit us, because to use the word pop assumes that we are excluding Jazz, Barbershop, Doo-Wop, and all other types of unaccompanied singing.
“Contemporary A cappella” has always been my vote (mainly because the first two letters of CASA stand for Contemporary A cappella) but that name faces the same challenge as “Contemporary Unaccompanied Singing;” It is very ambiguous. So first, before we promote ourselves, we must have a name.
2) Educational Value
The main criticism of a cappella music is that it has no educational value. In a time where choral directors wish to connect the dots between Bach and B.O.B., a cappella ensembles are stubbornly refusing to sing anything before 1950. (the exception is vocal jazz and Barbershop- but even then, those ensembles sing repertoire before Faure) And though we are not doing it on purpose, our lack of inclusion shows the other side that we refuse to acknowledge they exist.
I’m not suggesting that we go back and sing Bach. That’s not the solution. The solution is to continue the work done by teachers- Connect the dots- Show how singing in an a cappella ensemble builds ear training, improvisation, sight singing, group management, performance skills, etc.
The other major concern with a cappella music is that we are viewed as strictly a commercial venture. A cappella groups are marketable- we have managers, we book gigs, and we care about performance venues. Katy Perry would never be invited to perform at ACDA, and we perform Katy Perry covers- ergo, we are not invited to perform at ACDA conventions.
3) Storm the Barracades
It is much easier to attend a CASA event than it is to attend an ACDA event. The reason? ACDA costs much more. But if we all made a gamble, and had our presence felt at the next national convention, people would take notice. Sure, one convention isn’t going to bring down the Berlin wall, but it’s a start. I urge every choral director who is a member of both ACDA and CASA (and I believe there are more of you than you are letting on…) to attend both conventions. The more we talk about the value of a cappella singing, the more people will understand the value of a cappella singing. And unfortunately, students alone are not enough. We need trained teachers, successful arrangers, pioneers in the fields of a cappella music to go and make appearances, present workshops, discuss research, and sing on the street corner.
4) Why are we including ourselves? Do we care?
Do we want to be recognized by ACDA? It’s like the popular kids at the lunch table- Do you want to concentrate all your efforts on getting a seat there, or do you just not care? In this scenario, I believe the right answer is “be who you are.” We should not try to change our values just to be something we are not.
However, the purpose of this article is not to change who we are, but rather strengthen us as a group. Regardless of whether or not we are ever recognized by ACDA, NafME, or any other major musical organization, evolving into a genre of music with an established canon will only help us grow. I am not trying to suggest that we are the unpopular kids, begging to be accepted. I am suggesting that we not become a clique, closing ourselves off from the rest of the school and seek to better ourselves by discussing the educational implications of the music we are making.
The Jets and the Sharks finally united. We just need to find our Maria.
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