Sunday, May 27, 2012

A cappella day petition

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy A cappella day…wait…no…lies…when is it again?

Oh that’s right. We don’t have one. How can we change this?


It seems that national a cappella day is more than just the wish upon star dreams of a cappella fans. We now have the technology and the motive to make it happen. Go to the link below and sign the petition. Then get every single person you know, and several that you don’t, to also sign the petition. Then sign it again.

With your help, and the help of everyone you coerce, we can start a national movement to get people to sing….and possibly save the Sing-Off…

Marc Silverberg

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A cappella Day and S.O.S (Save Our Sing-off)

Did you know that National Show Choir day is August 20th?
Did you know that National Barbershop Quartet day is April 11th?
Did you know that March is music in our schools month?
Did you know that a cappella day is…wait…what is it?

Can you believe it? We don’t have a national a cappella day!!!

I know! [Cue Huge Gasp]

Why not? 20+ years after the breakthrough of contemporary a cappella and no way to celebrate it? Oh…and the Sing-Off was cancelled. Let’s address both ideas at the same time.

I know all too well the power of online petitions (Yay Community!) but I think if we want to save the Sing-Off, I think we need to go the extra mile. While many of our favorite programs entertain, the Sing-Off has educational value. Music educators are using the popularity of this program (and shows like Glee) to help justify the existence of music programs in schools and recruit more singers. Sure, anyone could argue that almost any show has some educational value (Survivor teaches you how to swallow bugs!) but I have seen first hand the kind of impact shows like the Sing-Off has had.

So I propose that an online petition is not the only thing we can do:

PEOPLE! WE. ARE. MUSICIANS. Stop talking and SING!!!

Let us swarm the masses! Gather your friends together and sing for the NBC executives. Send massive amounts of copies of your latest album to their mail room and flood the system. Call NBC and sing over the phone. Post an a cappella plea to NBC on Youtube. Call your famous friend and have him/her record the newest iTunes single a cappella.

Or better yet…let’s make a national a cappella day! A day where everyone in the country gathers together to sing for anyone in any place for any amount of time. And I’ll start by making a few suggestions:

1) June 14th- If we want to simultaneously attempt to save the Sing-Off and create a national a cappella day, June 14th would make sense. It is 6 months after the premier of the first episode of the Sing-Off. Problem is, it’s during the summer and this year it falls on a Thursday, which is awkward.

2) Sometime in March- March is already Music in our Schools Month. Let’s bolster that spirit with a day dedicated to the art of a cappella.

3) The day was founded

Any other date works- as long as it falls on the calendar year. (August 32nd is probably not going to work)

Losing the Sing-Off is a heavy blow to the proponents of a cappella promotion and education. While the upcoming movie Pitch Perfect will help bring our music back into the mainstream, we must fight to protect what we have. This means banning together and, in one loud voice, proclaiming that we are not going away.

Marc Silverberg

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Monday, May 14, 2012

ACDA Inclusion

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.

Marc Silverberg

Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major:

Monday, May 7, 2012


It’s time we established a few standards of a cappella. If my doctoral classes have taught me anything, it’s that the best way to evolve music is to establish rules, and then break them in half, and then chop them into little tiny bits.

The problem is, we don’t have rules. I recently attended 4 a cappella festivals in a row, and got 4 different answers for the same question. I believe a canon must be established if a cappella music is to be taken more seriously outside of the world that it now exists in. I’m not saying that the “world of a cappella” isn’t growing…far from it. If anything, I want it to grow even more. But when I see opinions about a cappella music from established and creative thinkers that groups are doing something “wrong,” well I want to know what “right” is, and I think everyone in every group has a different definition.

No, I cannot answer any of these questions myself. Neither can the pros, the amateurs, the intermediates, the arrangers, the composers, etc. Until an established canon is developed (hopefully by a few a cappella textbooks…hint hint…) then we can only begin to think about the evolution of a cappella music. Consider how each era of rock has established a well-known set of distinguishable traits. Think about it. You can tell the difference between a song from the 60’s and a song from the 90’s, right? Well what’s the difference between any song and an A cappella song? Right now…only one characteristic really defines us: singing without instruments.

I believe we can go further. What’s the difference between vocal jazz and contemporary a cappella? What’s the difference between contemporary choral music and a cappella music? Are they the same? What’s the difference between the genre of Barbershop and the genre of Doo-Wop? Deke Sharon says that there really is no difference, but from a musicological perspective, I disagree. I agree with this assessment that the experience of singing in each group is 100% the same. But there are rules that define Barbershop…in fact, there are 2 manuals published defining the distinct Barbershop style, one by the Barbershop Harmony Society, and one from the Sweet Adelines Society.

To develop this canon, we need to answer the following questions:
1) What are the appropriate syllables to use when singing the “back-up?”
2) What are the established recording procedures for developing a live album and a produced album?
3) What kinds of music will a cappella cover? What is the difference between “Contemporary a cappella” and “Barbershop?”
4) How do we define a cappella original songs? What category of music do they belong in?
5) What are the base arranging rules? What is the established procedure to start?
6) What are the appropriate microphone techniques for performing live?
7) How do we separate ourselves from contemporary choral music? Is there a difference?
8) What is the traditional note-learning procedure? Do we read or do it by ear? Do we use midi files or plunk out notes on the piano?
9) What are the standard procedures for choreography? What kinds of choreography do we regularly use and which styles are not appropriate?
10) What are the traditional methods of vocal percussion?

If we want our genre to grow, the next generation of singers must be able to learn from those who already know, and learn how to be better than average.

Marc Silverberg

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