Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dissecting Pitch Perfect

In honor of the DVD release of Pitch Perfect, I’ve decided to take a closer look at the accuracy of specific scenes in the movie.
First, let me clarify by saying (as if you didn’t already know) that I am a big fan of this movie. I loved every minute of it. I love what it’s doing for a cappella groups. I loved how funny it was. I loved the arrangements. I loved Adam Devine and Anna Kendrick.
But like any good movie geek, I feel I have to over-analyze, dissect, and examine this movie from every angle. (This is the part where you scream NO YOU DON’T!!! LEAVE MY MOVIE ALONE!!!)
Look…if you don’t like that I’m dissecting it, don’t read on. I believe there are things we can learn from the movie, besides the message that “A cappella music is never going away.”
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! (If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now…)
1) The ICCA Commentators.
No, the ICCAs do not have commentators, but you probably already knew that. We tend to save our critiques and praises for after the event, in which the RARB explodes with opinions.
There are legal issues with broadcasting a live music competition. Every major singing competition acquires the rights to each song. In fact, I recall an anecdote that no one on the Sing-Off was allowed to sing a Beyonce song, because the rights were not available. I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes sense.
But…couldn’t we find a way? Are you telling me that there is NO legal way to broadcast the ICCAs over television, radio, podcast, or the internet? I live in New York and there is just NO way to attend the west coast ICCA rounds, but I am very interested in seeing them. Maybe one day...
2) The groups hold a joint audition.
I’m not debating whether this is true, because frankly, I don’t know. I have never gone to a school where the a cappella groups held one overall audition instead of individual group auditions. But I’d like to examine this procedure a little more closely, so that if you have never done this, you may decide you want to try it, or if you have already done this, you may notice something about the process you never knew before.
The pros of holding a joint audition:
#1-Time. Let’s say there are seven groups on campus. If each of them holds a three-hour audition, that’s collectively twenty-one hours that a potential auditionee could be waiting and singing. (assuming he/she tries out for all seven groups) A joint, three-hour audition saves everyone a considerable amount of time, and the students who are auditioning only have to sing once, which could either be a positive or a negative.
#2-Consistency. Often, there are debates about which group has the best audition process. Some groups keep you in the room for ten minutes, some for two. Some ask you to sight-read, some don’t. A joint audition would eliminate opinions of which group has the better audition process, and reduce confusion for the auditionees, because they would know exactly what they had to prepare.
#3-Potential singers. Sometimes, a singer, who you desperately need, doesn’t audition for your group, because either they don’t know what time/date your audition is, or because they didn’t even know you existed. This gives all groups the chance to see everyone who is interested in a cappella music and potentially catch the “diamond in the rough.”
The cons of holding a joint audition:
#1-Conflict. Unless the groups decide on specific rules for drafting singers, more than likely two or more groups will want the same singer. A clear and concise set of rules must be agreed upon, and unlike the movie, it should not be dependent on who competes in the ICCAs.
#2-Group interaction. Most groups like to know if this person will not only fit musically, but socially within the group. A joint audition gives you very little time, if none at all, to test this character trait. Also, singers aren’t given the chance to show whether or not they can blend within the group, which is just as important as being able to stay on pitch.
#3-Restrictions. Maybe one group covets sight-reading ability more than others. Maybe one group wants to hear you improvise. Maybe one group wants to hear you sing only ballads from the 80’s. If every group gets their way, the joint audition will last too long, and this will contradict one of the pros of holding joint auditions: time.
#4-Intimidation. It’s scary enough to audition for one cappella group. What if you were auditioning for seven groups at the same time? Some singers don’t want to be soloists, they just want to belong. I feel that forcing someone to sing in front of eighty-plus people might be a little cruel.
3) The Bellas run laps.
Ummm…why? This could only help choreography. Running laps does not help you become a better singer.
4) Chloe gets nodes.
Unfortunately, nodes are very real and very bad. Let’s take a closer look:
A node is actually called a Vocal Nodule. In your throat are two “flaps” called the vocal folds (also known as the vocal cords). These “flaps” move up and down and disrupt the air flow so you can form words and sounds. Because these two folds are made of human tissue, they can develop small masses of tissue, just like a hand can develop calluses due to excessive usage.
A node creates a raspy sound, making it difficult to sing with a full voice, and sometimes, painful to talk. I have heard rumors of heavy metal singers actively trying to develop nodes, because they seek that raspy singing quality favored in heavy metal music.
It is possible to remove nodes with surgery and vocal therapy (I have a friend who removed nodes on her voice), but sometimes the damage to your voice is too great and you may never regain full vocal strength. (she didn’t)
If you scream loudly once every now and then, you probably won’t get nodes. If you scream at full voice every day for months, then the chances you'll get nodes will increase dramatically. Make sure that when you sing loudly, you place the majority of your sound in your resonators (nasal passages and forehead) and stop singing if your voice hurts.
Oh, and that scene where Chloe’s voice drops two octaves because of her surgery…that’s movie magic, not reality.
5) The pitch pipe is passed around the group, and at one point falls in the vomit.
Ewww…please, clean your pitch pipes. Don’t share your germs. If your pitch pipe falls in vomit, maybe it’s time to get a new pitch pipe.
6) One group is disqualified, because they have a high school student.
Is this possible? Can this be true? I’ve never seen anything like this, but how do I know for sure?
What about part-time students? Graduates who take continuing education courses? Alumni who still look they are in college? Professors?
This is most likely not the case. There has never been a recorded disqualification so far (that I know of...feel free to contradict me), and I highly doubt there will be one in the future. I simply ask that everyone plays fair. If you think it’s against the rules, don’t try it, even if it’s not.
7) The Bellas win the ICCAs.
Okay. Here’s the one part of the movie I disagreed with, only because I read Pitch Perfect before seeing it.
If there was any group whom the Bellas were modeled after, my guess would have to be Divisi. (not only because they were the only all-female group mentioned in the book, but their story resembles much of the Bellas)
In the book, Divisi, despite the tremendous amount of challenges they overcame, lost the ICCAs, twice. The first time was due to very unfair judging procedures, and according to Rapkin, the judging system of ICCAs was forever altered because of this event.
I’m a believer that the journey is more important than the goal. I was happy when “New Directions” from Glee lost the competition their first two years, because it proves that, despite losing a competition, it does not mean your group is worthless. This is a lesson that I believe every group competing in the ICCAs needs to know.
I know, I know. The movie had a happy ending, because it’s a movie. But I’ve seen other movies where the hero didn’t always win (remember Rocky?) and the payoff was so much sweeter, because he/she became a better person.
Despite my nitpicking, Pitch Perfect is an excellent movie. Buy it on DVD now and help support the rise of a cappella.
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major

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