A blog that discusses contemporary a cappella music, the educational practices of a cappella music, a cappella improvisation exercises, and a cappella in popular culture.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
The Presidential A cappella Debates- Round 1
Marc Silverberg (MS): Welcome to the first of three Presidential A cappella Debates between the candidates from the "See Major" party and the "Be Sharp" party. Tonight's debate is brought to you by "A cappella Fire Extinguishers," handy for when your group literally sets the stage "on fire." Tonight's debate will focus on questions about the Democracy of a cappella groups and questions about recording techniques and the use of Auto-Tune. I've asked our fake audience members to refrain from making extraneous noise, such as clapping, shouting, or singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." We will break that rule just this once to welcome our candidates, A and B.
[Sound of applause]
[Sound of "Wim-o-weh"]
MS: No, no. Stop that. Candidates, welcome. Let's begin with a brief statement about your party's beliefs, policies, and where you stand on the issues. Candidate A, since you won the pitch pipe toss, you go first.
Candidate A: Thank you Marc and thank you to the a cappella fans for listening in tonight. I want to thank my opponent, Candidate B for attending this debate with me, and I'd like to add that Candidate B is a loser.
Candidate B: I would like a quick rebuttal if I may. Candidate A is a stinky doo-doo head.
MS: Now, now. Candidate B, it's not your turn.
A: The See Major party believes in you, the a cappella people.
MS: Stop it. A, continue.
A: The See Major party also believes in a future where A cappella music is taken as seriously as traditional choral singing. Many of the elements that constitute "good singing" are shared between the classical choir and the a cappella group. We believe that the draw of a cappella groups is good musicality. While it is important for every group member to be recognized as an individual and integral part of the ensemble, it is the whole group, not the individual, that should be the primary focus of singing. When we are asked to blend, for example, we are asking our group members to sacrifice their individual voices for the good of the overall sound. We believe in hard work and the constant striving of perfection. Groups should never perform a song that is still being rehearsed. Groups should seek ways to make them stand out from the ever growing a cappella crowd, and we believe that a well-rehearsed, tightly executed performance with unique and original arrangements is the key.
MS: Thank you Candidate A. Candidate B, your opening remarks.
B: Thank you Marc for moderating this event. I'd like to thank Candidate A for telling nothing but lies, as this will make my job a lot easier.
A: I'd like to thank Candidate B for continuing to drool slightly, as it makes me laugh.
MS: Children! Please! This is a formal fake debate.
B: The Be Sharp party believes that the purpose of an a cappella group is to collectively bond, rather than shine at the risk of overexerting themselves. A cappella groups are, at their core, social outlets that should continue to foster relationships and embrace the social medium of "singing together" above "perfectionism." Each individual performance should inform the audience that they are here to have fun, and not to marvel at the technical prowess of the musicians on stage. We believe that a cappella groups don't need to expand their palate of music if they choose not to. A group should be comfortable singing the songs they want to sing, and performing in the places they want to perform in. True music comes from a natural performance, rather than a perfect one.
A: If I may rebuttal...
MS: Only if it's nice.
A: Never mind.
MS: Let's move on. On the discussion of Democracy within the ensemble, where do each of you stand on the decision making processes? Candidate B, we will start with you.
B: The fundamental difference between a choir and an a cappella group is the way each ensemble is run.
A: I agree.
B: You do?
A: Yes, but I still think you smell.
B: That's fair. After all, you lie about everything else...
B: A choir is run by a director. It is, therefore, essentially a dictatorship or monarchy, and there are good directors and bad ones. That is the reality of music. A cappella groups have the unique opportunity to make decisions together, like a Democracy. The majority wins. Not everyone is happy with every situation, but just like nations with democratic governments, the same is true. Group members should be responsible enough to stay informed on all matters, and voice their opinions on everything from song selections and solo choices, to gig selections and performance choices.
A: What you are describing, Candidate B, is a congress or parliament, and we know that these bodies of government take too long to do anything.
B: But the process is fair and democratic.
A: Yes, but democracies work best with elected leaders making the tough decisions. If every group were to vote on every decision, the song selection process, for example, would take months.
B: Unless the group had a concrete voting process outlined in their constitution.
A: Which very few do.
B: I disagree.
A: Groups should elect officials, like a president and a music director, with the sole purpose and understanding that it is these elected officials that will make the major decisions. A group that votes on everything will accomplish nothing.
B: Not true. A group that votes on everything is an a cappella group.
A: Choirs succeed because they follow the director's intent without question.
B: Even if that director's choices are bad?
A: That is not the choir's fault.
B: But then, how do you replace a choral director who makes bad choices?
A: You can't.
B: Which is why a cappella groups should be wary of allowing one or two people to make all the decisions.
A: But a cappella groups often elect new officials every year, so it balances out.
B: But some don't. And our party speaks for the members who feel oppressed, like their opinions don't matter. Everyone has an equal voice.
A: That's not how an efficient ensemble runs.
B: Some a cappella groups don't want to be efficient ensembles. They want to sing because they enjoy singing.
A: And what about the ensembles that want to be both efficient and spectacular?
B: You can still be spectacular without having a rigid system of discipline. If a group wants to work towards winning the ICCA's, then that's their priority. You are saying that all groups should work towards the betterment of the music, when we say the music should work towards the betterment of the group.
A: Music is not being made if care and consideration are not taken into account for every single song.
B: No. Care and consideration should be taken into account for songs that require care and consideration. Some songs are just fun to sing.
A: And those are the ones that should stay out of the performance.
B: No. Those are the ones that show the audience what the true meaning of music is.
A: Our party speaks for the ensembles who want to better themselves as a whole. You cannot deny that there are a cappella groups out there that strive to be the best.
B: Of course they are. And that's fine.
A: But there are groups that secretly wish they were like someone else. That's because these members are stuck in a group that is, themselves, stuck in a rut.
MS: If I may interrupt you both for a moment...
A & B: No!
MS: Tough. I'm the moderator. You both mentioned something that should be addressed. Does music exist to serve man, or does man exist to serve music?
A: Man exists to serve music.
MS: Could you elaborate on that?
A: Music is a higher power. It transcends us all and unites us as the common language. However, it its we, the musicians, who must fulfill the musician's role in elevating this art form to the next level.
B: I believe the music exists to serve man. Music is, like my opponent said, a much higher power than us all. But the Be Sharp party believes that the sole purpose of music's existence is to better us as people.
MS: So which came first? The chicken or the egg?
B: Who's talking about chickens?
A: Yeah. What are you? Hungry or something?
MS: I was being metaphorical. Which came first? Music or man?
MS: Well that clears things up. Let's move on to recording techniques. One of the most heated debates in the a cappella world originates from the use of the recording studio as a musical tool. Many critics of contemporary a cappella believe the music is "too perfect," while many a cappella groups strive for a unique sounding album, regardless of which tools they need to execute that. Your thoughts?
A: As we have stated before, the best possible sound is what groups should strive to achieve. Critics of a cappella music think albums are not musical, because the arrangements are not unique, not because the group sounds "too good." Of course groups should try to avoid mechanical sounding tracks, but technology is a tool to help us create something new and exciting. The Beatles discovered this when they released "Sgt. Pepper," and the same has been true ever since, for both rock bands and a cappella groups.
MS: So you advocate the use of programs like Protools, Melodyne, and Auto-tune?
A: Absolutely! The more tricks you can use in the studio, the better you will sound.
B: Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
MS: Candidate B, do you have something you would like to add?
B: We in the Be Sharp party agree with our opponents in one regard. If you are going to release an album, it should be a great sounding album. The use of Protools and Auto-tune programs are support systems that have great features. The problem comes from groups who over-utilize these tools.
MS: How so?
B: If someone listens to an a cappella group, they should be able to hear voices, and voices only. If a group puts too much time and money into sounding exactly like the original recording of a song, why not just go out and listen to the original recording of a song? This is why a cappella gets a bad rap. A cappella is unique because we are vocalists using only our voices. Adding too many effects, or even making our voices sound like guitars using inputs and distortion boxes is destroying the very nature of why we sing without instruments. If I am listening to an a cappella record, I want to hear distinct voices using only the tools they have at their disposal.
A: So according to you, groups that use technology in a live setting, like SONOS, are not being true to a cappella?
B: Not at all. That's a live setting, and they are still using their voices only. We don't believe effects and pedals are bad. We just want to hear a cappella as a vocal medium.
A: So technology is not a helpful tool?
B: Technology is an instrument and a cappella is singing without instruments.
A: Technology is not responsible for creating the sounds. We still provide the necessary data to create sound. Technology is making us sound better. Groups should feel free to use anything and everything at their disposal, as long as it makes them sound better.
B: So, they are not being true to a cappella?
A: That's not what I said. I think they are evolving a cappella.
B: Why does a cappella need to evolve? Why can't a cappella be for the sake of a cappella? If a cappella makes us better people, hasn't it already done its job?
A: In a sea of new albums, a cappella groups yearn for their album to stand out among the weeds. We believe that every group should use everything at their disposal to make that happen.
B: Assuming they want it to happen.
A: Every group should strive for that. That's what elevates music.
B: That's what makes music manufactured.
A: Manufactured is the incorrect term. It's polished and produced.
B: We consider polished and produced to be manufactured.
A: That's because you are ugly.
B: You're ugly!
MS: Well, before these two candidates kill each other, I think I better end this debate. Join us next week for round two, and check back next week for instructions on how to vote for your favorite candidate.
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