Monday, February 4, 2013

Six Seasons and a Movie!

Troy and Abed A cappella!
Okay. Let me preface this by saying that if you are not a fan of the show Community, this is probably not the blog post for you.
Community, one of my all time favorite shows, is finally returning to television on February 7th. Community is, like many shows of recent years, a critical hit and cult fan favorite, but a ratings disaster.
Basically, the show centers around a group of seven individuals (not counting other major characters) who attend Greendale Community College. The plots always start out simple, but then escalate to sheer chaos and insanity. In one particular, and well-appreciated episode, a simple house-warming party creates six different reality timelines, each spiraling the same events to different conclusions. And let’s not forget about the paintball episodes.
I love the show for many reasons. (and yes…every one of these reasons can tie into a cappella music…) Here’s why:
1) Abed, the pop-culture guru with a social disorder
The character Abed, played by Danny Pudi, is a pop-culture spouting super-geek with a very active imagination and an extreme social disorder. He knows every line from every movie, television show, and comic book. He’s a walking encyclopedia straight from the Nerdist Youtube channel, but he’s still unable to “know left from right without reciting the pledge of allegiance.”
Isn’t that the crux of a cappella music? A genre devoted to showing off our encyclopedic knowledge of songs long forgotten or showing off our musical theory prowess by tying two, seemingly unrelated, songs into a crazy mash-up?
Every time I listen to a new a cappella album, like a new box of cereal, there is always a surprise inside. Just recently, I heard an a cappella cover of a song from “A Goofy Movie,” one of my favorite animated movies as a child. (Credit goes to the AcaBellas)
But just like a kid sifting through the new cereal box, I always found that one prize was not enough and soon I’d have to live with boring old cereal. I challenge a cappella groups to make albums that constantly shock and amaze us. Let the other groups do top 40. I want to hear you sing another Weird Al tune.
2) The season-long, running gags
Community is one of the rare shows on television that gives the audience hidden gems to find and doesn’t care if you find them or not. (It’s sort of like LOST, but funnier)
For example, over three seasons, the word “Beetlejuice” was uttered by one character. When the name was said in the third Halloween episode, Beetlejuice walked by the window.
It’s a gag that would only appeal to anyone who had watched the show enough to see the connection, but it’s a payoff that makes me respect the show even more.
I don’t think a cappella groups can have running gags from concert to concert, unless they are sure that their audience is usually the same every time. Running gags certainly wouldn’t work at every stage of the ICCA, because you’d have to assume that you will even progress to the next stage, and every stage is in a different state.
But one of the things I love about a cappella arrangements is our ability to slip in musical jokes when no one asked for them. A cappella is such a unique genre, in that the human voice is capable of making more than one sound (unlike a trumpet, which sounds like a trumpet). Plus we have the benefit of using words.
I challenge a cappella arrangers to slip at least one “hidden gem” into their next arrangement. And don’t worry if no one catches the reference. That’s not what matters.
3) The homage
Like many comedies today, almost every episode of Community pays homage to another television show or movie. One episode was almost a pitch-perfect re-creation of Law and Order. GLEE has been spoofed twice. Mockumentary shows like The Office and Modern Family also got their due.
A cappella music is almost nothing but an homage to other genres of music. Singing “Come Together” in the style of Stevie Wonder, singing “Teenage Dream” in the style of Imogen Heap, etc.
Since this is common knowledge, my challenge to you is to combine two, COMPLETELY DIFFERENT styles together and hopefully create something brand new. What about singing “Purple Haze” in the style of Britney Spears? Put a reggae spin on Metallica. Turn a Beyonce song into an “Eric Whitacre” arrangement.
4) The theme of togetherness
One overall theme of the show is “community.” I know that’s kind of obvious, since the show is called “Community,” but it should be addressed anyway.
The members of the study group, or as the show calls them, “The Greendale 7,” creates quirky situations by grouping together seven strangers, who are as different as different can be, and forcing them to get along.
This is about as close to the definition of “a cappella group” as you can get. These differences shouldn’t be ignored, but encouraged. Like a republican and democrat forced to compromise, so should you learn how to use everyone’s strengths to counteract everyone’s weaknesses.
And everyone fights. Oh boy, how they fight on the show. This leads to some of the greatest moments, like when Jeff chops the study table with an axe out of frustration, or they ranked each other by popularity in order to avoid being lab partners with a random stranger. The point is, they may fight, and the fights may be big, but they always get back together in the end, even if it is to fight bullies on top of a nativity scene.
5) The underdog status of the show
The thing I love most about Community is how it keeps fighting back against the powers that be. If the fan base wasn’t so committed, NBC would have cancelled it a long time ago. NBC even put the show on hiatus during season three and the internet literally exploded with “NBC hate.”
Will the show last past season four? Probably not. The show is truly a ratings disaster and NBC has every right to pull it from their schedule, but the fans are so hardcore and so devoted that the show has, miraculously, hung around. It is the ultimate underdog, fighting a war it shouldn’t have been able to win and still hasn’t.
There are probably several groups out there who feel like they are the underdog, battling a sea of phenomenal on-campus groups that seem to hold all the power. Take Community’s struggle as a lesson on how to be the underdog:

1) Develop a small, but incredibly loyal fan base
2) Produce tracks on a regular basis and market them
3) Find concert venues outside the college or school to boost group confidence
4) Make humorous viral videos to show your college that you are, in fact, still around, and still
5) Develop a single identity that will differentiate you from the rest
All in all, the pop-culture world we live in today can and should have an impact on how you approach a cappella music. Don’t just look to other a cappella groups for inspiration. Turn on the television and see what’s on.
Cool, cool, cool.
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major

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