Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Your Summer Aca-Fix

One pet peeve I have about a cappella music is that the volume of interest seems to wind down during the summer. Obviously, this is the time when colleges wrap up their semesters, graduation looms upon us, and group members disperse to their home town/state/country.
I notice a dip in aca-internet traffic as well, as if we were a sports-ball team and this is our off-season.
But we are not a sports-ball team. We have no off-season. Sure, the competitions may be over, but do we really only get together to compete? Are we not able to perform over the summer? And what about the aca-holics, who live off a cappella music like junkies? Are we supposed to sit in the corner of our bedroom, rocking back and forth, singing bass lines to no one?
I refuse to believe it. For those of you who don’t want the fun to end, here’s a few suggestions on how to get your aca-fix this summer:
1) Conventions
VoCALnation is held in Philadelphia this year. Camp A cappella is in Ohio. The Real Workshop is in Sweden. The Women’s A cappella Association is having their first festival in Oregon.
Just because college may be over does not mean the world is slowing down. Now is your chance to take the big leap of faith/money/travel and go somewhere you couldn’t go before because of your academic priorities.
2) Record an album
The summer is the PERFECT time to record an album. The process of recording the vocals (called “tracking”) is a time consuming process and is best done one person at a time. In fact, the entire group doesn’t even need to be there simultaneously. You only need a group representative and the album producer with you in the room. Then you can go part by part, person by person, day by day.
3) Tour
Did you know that the members of popular a cappella groups like Musae and Overboard don’t even live in the same area? They live in opposite ends of the country. They get together a few days before a concert, rehearse, perform, and go home.
What’s stopping YOU from doing that with your own group members? Plan a performance, pick a location to meet, plan a blitzkrieg rehearsal, sing, go home.
4) Catch up on your listening
Chances are, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of a cappella albums you haven’t yet listened to because you just didn’t have time. Well guess what…now you have time! Get cracking.
5) Loop yourself
Who says you need an a cappella group to have fun? Download a free loop app on your phone and go nuts. Write some original songs. Improvise. Make a fool out of yourself in the privacy of your own home.
6) Train for a riff-off!
Start building a repertoire of songs now and figure out how the chord progressions move. Challenge a friend to a game of Hot Spot. Form a small team and challenge another team to a riff-off. Or…you could just completely abandon the riff-off idea and start a massively large circle song.
7) Get a jump start on next year.
Only one group can win the ICHSA. Only one group can win the ICCA. Only one group can win the Harmony Sweepstakes. Only a handful of groups can appear on BOCA, BOHSA, SING, or Voices Only.
If you are not one of those groups, now's the time to start planning. Your next ICCA set should be arranged during the summer. Your album that you will submit to BOCA should be mixed during the summer. Your choreographer should start planning moves during the summer. The sooner you get a head start, the more time you will have to perfect your set.
As far as I’m concerned, the end of another school year is not an excuse to stop singing. If you need your aca-fix, go make it yourself.
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major:

Monday, May 13, 2013

A cappella Development

And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together…It’s Arrested Development.
"Miraculous" would be the best word to describe this show’s resurrection. In 2003, a humble, under the radar comedy, aired on FOX, with nine of the most talented actors ever assembled and a writing staff who chose to write for highly intelligent audiences instead of the lowest common denominator. In its first year, Arrested Development won the Emmy for best comedy. Critics around the country were hailing it as one of the most groundbreaking comedies of all time.
But no one watched.
The show got picked up for a second season. The jokes became funnier. The show had the uncanny ability to set a joke up in one episode and then delay the punch-line for three to four more episodes. It was a show you had to actively watch to catch everything, a show in which I’ve seen, in its entirety, ten times, and I still catch something new every time I watch.
But no one watched. And the show was cut back to 18 episodes instead of 22.
The show somehow got picked up for a third season...but only for 13 episodes. Arrested Development brought in A-level guest stars, and even begged you, the audience, to tell your friends about the show by actually saying the line: “Please tell your friends about this show.”
But no one watched. And it was cancelled.
It was mourned for 8 years. And then…out of the blue (get it, fans?)…Netflix picked it up for a fourth season. It was the Mother(boy) of all comebacks.
Why? Because the DVD sales were only growing, sort of like Family Guy. And a movie was rumored. And the fans grew in number.
That’s what this post is all about. The fans. As great as Arrested Development is, and as thrilled I am to see it return, it really would not have done so without the fans. A cappella groups…this is where you should start paying attention.
The lifeblood of your group is your fans. Does music exist if no one is around to hear it? Of course it does, but it’s not nearly as appreciated. I always respect successful stars who acknowledge that it is because of the fans that anyone knows who he/she is. My point is, if you are successful…if everyone knows who you are…thank the fans.
As for the fans, it is up to YOU to help people succeed. As talented as Rockapella is, they would nothing without the fans buying their CDs, attending their concerts, and checking them out on social media. The fans are in power, not the superstar. And we have to shoulder that responsibility.
Just like Arrested Development, the fans (or lack thereof) was the reason the show got cancelled. Popular a cappella groups, like Five O’Clock Shadow for instance, don’t get nearly the recognition they deserve, because the fans think the group will promote themselves.
Let me tell you this…no marketing tool, no billboard, no commercial, no social media blitz is more powerful than word-of-mouth. You talk about something to two people. They tell two people. They tell two people…and so on…and so on…and so on…(Party on Wayne!)
You, as a fan, must go and actively promote your favorite a cappella groups. A cappella groups must take time to celebrate and thank your fans. The little people may not matter during your current show, but if you want to keep performing more shows, you need the little people to support you.
The fans are in the driver’s seat. The fans are in control. And when the fans demand something, it gets done. That’s why Arrested Development is back on the air…the fans.
Please, be an active fan for your group...and watch Arrested Development.
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A cappella for Soloists

If I had to estimate how many members of collegiate a cappella groups were actually music majors, I would guess about thirty to forty percent. If I were to estimate how many of those people were vocal majors, I would estimate about fifty to sixty percent.
Even if the numbers are off, one detail that keeps staring me in the face is that some, even many, a cappella singers are also vocal majors. I mean, I was one in college, and there’s no way I could be the only one. So we know there’s at least two.
This blog post is for those people. The rest of you can go back to watching Game of Thrones.
Hey vocal majors! Ever wonder how you can translate your love of a cappella music into your classical studies? Ever get that burning desire to bring a cappella music to your next senior recital, even though your voice teacher would rather die than let you perform a popular song?
Well I’ve got good news. There happens to be a small, practically unknown subset of classical arias that are….wait for it…A CAPPELLA!!! YAY!!!
When I mean a cappella, I'm talking about classical arias written for one unaccompanied voice. They use a combination of traditionally sung notes, extended vocal techniques, vocal sounds, scat singing, overtone singing, and spoken word to create musical paintings that actually force the audience to consider what the true definition of music is.
Here is the history.
Before a cappella arias were written, early 20th century composers like Arnold Schoenberg were using one specific vocal technique called Sprechstimme, or singing with an approximate pitch. In his masterwork "Pierrot Lunaire" (which is NOT a cappella), the singer is encouraged to recite the text around the notated pitch, but not exactly on the pitch. Listen to a part of it here:
The first composer to write a classical aria for unaccompanied voice was the highly controversial, but also highly revered composer, John Cage (Yes…he’s the "4’33" guy). Cage composed a piece called "Experiences: No. 2 for Solo Voice." It was traditionally notated, like you would see in any other type of music. Take a listen:
I posit that all of the unaccompanied vocal arias I could find can be categorized into three groups: Art music, Theatrical Music, and Popular Music. Art music, like Cage’s "Experiences No. 2," is composed with a message in mind. While it can be freely interpreted and it contains a lot of extended technique, the philosophy behind the piece, the moral of the story, and/or the message of the lyrics takes precedence over the flash of performing as an unaccompanied soloist. Here are a couple of examples:
Theatrical music is what I call the “bang for your buck” music. Composers of unaccompanied theatrical music try to include more visual elements, to keep the audience entertained. The scores of these types of pieces are more graphically notated, and there are usually written instructions on what to do as a performer and how to interpret the score. Here are a few examples:
Cathy Berberian’s "Stripsody" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dNLAhL46xM
Dennis Bathory-Kitsz’s "The Moon" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTGPTfPS3UE
Popular music is exactly what it sounds like: Interpreting popular radio music, like jazz and rock-and-roll into solo unaccompanied vocal works. The most famous (and most experienced) performer of these works is the great Bobby McFerrin. Just listen to his one man "Blackbird:"
I would also categorize a cappella live loopers in the popular music group. I believe that if a live looper is looping his or her own sounds, and the only sound source is coming from the singer, then the piece can still be considered an unaccompanied solo aria. Julia Easterlin is a very good example of this:
However, if a live looper uses voice modulation boxes or electronic effects, I would NOT consider the work to be an unaccompanied solo aria, because the electronic device is adding a new sound source.
Here are some references to help you find solo a cappella literature for your next recital:
Edgerton, M. (2004). The 21st century voice. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press
Mabry, S. (2002). Exploring twentieth-century vocal music. New York: Oxford University Press
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest For The A cappella major:

Monday, May 6, 2013

2 P's, 2 L's, No O

I went to see the doctor the other day. As part of the mandatory requisite chit-chat outlined in his medical school contract, he asked me what I do for a living. I said that I teach a cappella music.
“Oh yeah! A capello! I love that music. That’s like what they do on X-factor, right?” He said.
“No.” I proclaimed. “It’s like the television show the Sing-Off or the movie Pitch Perfect.”
“Oh…so you work in television?”
“No. I teach others about the music.”
“Cool! Acopello is awesome.”
“Could you just give me a prescription please?”
About a month ago, Jon Stewart interviewed Allison Brie, from Community. Allison was talking about her three-woman singing act that she had started, and Stewart asked the following question:
“Oh, so is it like A cappello?”
I turned off the television right then and there.
It’s a pet peeve of mine, spelling the one word that has defined my career path for the past ten years. Can you blame me that I become enraged when someone misspells a cappella, or even just mispronounces it?
If we want our music to be taken seriously, then people need to identify it by its correct spelling. According to this blog post on “Primarily A cappella,” there have been several ways A cappella has been misspelled and misrepresented:
The correct way to spell a cappella is with a space between A and C, two P’s, and two L’s. The most common variations are:
A capella and Acappella.
Because of the origin of the word, the first variation, A capella, is technically correct, because it is the Latin variation of the Italian word. The second variation, “Acappella,” is a slang term for the unaccompanied doo-wop singing of the 50’s and 60’s.
In my opinion, I’d rather stick with the tried and true: A cappella.
But there are some who see playful variations of the word on album titles and think to themselves: “Oh…this is how you spell A cappella. Neat.”
I’m all for artistic freedom, but I wish the general public would be able to tell the difference between creative word play and misappropriation.
Here are some great albums, NONE of which should be mistaken for the original spelling:
A cappelican
A cappello Blues
Bossa cappella
a Cappella
La Cappella
Please, please, please...spell it correctly. Think of the children.
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest For The A cappella Major