Friday, July 12, 2013

The Final Countdown

Before you read on, this should get you in the right mood:
It’s the final blog post for the summer, and what better way to say “I’m taking a break” than with a discussion of how I plan to use my time off, as well as a helpful suggestion list of ways to spend your time preparing for the new aca-year.
10) Use your free time to brush up on materials.
In a similar post, “The Hydra,” I outlined several methods you could use to catch up on your a cappella listening. Here it is again:
9) Arrange like a madman.
You are only going to become a great arranger by trying, failing, trying again, failing again, and trying some more.
Pick 3-5 songs that you know your a cappella group would never sing in a million years and arrange those. In fact, arrange them for your group with the distinct goal of convincing them that your arrangement is so good, they have to get over the fact that the song is terrible and use the arrangement for the upcoming year. After you arrange five songs, you might actually convince them.
8) Chronicle the success of a cappella groups.
Now that schoolwork is over and your time is yours again, how about stalking a great a cappella group? Find out everything you can about them, how they achieved their success, and how you can translate that to your own a cappella group.
7) Devise and short and long term battle plan.
Start with the big stuff, like “winning the ICCA.” Now, what steps do you need to achieve that goal? Well, first you have to submit an audition video, which is usually due in the fall. That means your entire set must be learned and memorized by the audition date, which doesn’t give you a lot of time.
Devising a month-to-month plan, even a week-to-week plan, helps keep you organized and will eventually make you more successful.
6) Read.
Read absolutely everything you can about a cappella. This includes books, PDF’s, blog articles (*cough cough*), album reviews, CD liner notes, etc.
5) Branch out into other areas and make a cappella connections
One of the things I do best is find connections between a cappella practices and other educational methodologies. Instead of reading an a cappella book for the 47th time, how about reading a choral methods book? What about a history of rock book? What about a composition book?
4) Develop your piano proficiency/MIDI capabilities.
The two most common ways to learn music is by plunking it out on the piano, or making a set of learning tracks and distributing them amongst your group. Because let’s face it…everyone in your group is probably not a proficient sight reader (but we’ll get to that in the fall…).
Both methods require some skill. Plunking notes on a piano requires you to actually know how to play, in some small way, the piano. Making and distributing MIDI files or learning tracks is technology based, which means you have to know what buttons to push and in what order.
3) Develop your ear.
One of the best things you can do as a musician in develop your aural skills. Try transcribing an a cappella arrangement from sound only. Try one of the zillion free online ear-training apps. Try listening to a bunch of music and singing along after only one play-through.
2) Learn Google.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am Mac user for life (once you go Mac, you never go back). But Google is the software that keeps me organized. I’ve even starting using Google Drive and Google Calendar.
Google can keep your group organized too, and it’s not terribly difficult to use. If you are going to learn it, now would be the time.
1) Sing.
Have a great summer. See you in the fall.
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major:
Coming in the

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I don’t’ know if you know this, but SONOS recently changed their name to ARORA. The group claimed that the speaker company, also named SONOS, was getting a lot of recognition, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the two.
Fair point. Your name is everything. It’s your brand, your identity; it’s how people can find you, talk about you, search for you, socialize with others who share the common interest of you.
Unless you have the fan allegiance of SONOS…ummm…ARORA, changing your name is either next to impossible, because it’s like starting all over again with a new band; or it’s too easy, and by changing it, you’ve sent a message that your group is not important or liked well enough for it to matter what your name is.
Andy Dwyer’s band, Mouserat, from the television show “Parks and Recreation,” changes band names as often as Leslie Knope creates idea binders. (if you don’t watch the show…that’s A LOT) From Eagle Eye Tiger to Ratmouse, the band has gone through a number of different identities, even though the four members have stayed exactly the same.
Why is this on my mind? Because a new a cappella group at Five Towns asked me for advice on a group name. Here’s what I told them:
1) No music puns or music vocabulary
There was a time when I truly believed that music groups should have musical sounding names.
This is only one man’s opinion, of course, but now I dislike group names with musical puns. Besides, a music pun doesn’t explain that you are an a cappella group, just that you are a music group, so the purpose of a musical-pun name is already moot.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t some amazing groups out there with musical pun names. Rockapella, for example. Or Pentatonix. Or…
Backbeats, Divisi, Noteworthy, Forte, Solo, Fermata Nowhere, Street Corner Symphony, Vocal Point, Deltones, Soul’d Out, Clef Hangers, Crosstones, Logarhythms, Ithacappella, Acappology, Low Key, Cognitive Resonance, Midnight Ramblers, Undertones, Voices in Your Head, Chollaries, N’Harmonics, Chordials, Rusty Pipes, Off The Beat, A Completely Different Note, Veritones, Scattertones, Casual Harmony, Blue Notes, Rip Chords, Xtension Chords, Fermata Town, Octaves, Counterpoint, Takenote, Groove For Thought, Acafellas, Sirens, Naked Voices, Lost Keys, Compulsive Lyres, Whispers, Singsation, Overtones, Dodecaphonics, Callers, Acoustix, Eight Beat Measure, Decadence, Fundamentally Sound, Pitch Slapped, Socal Vocals, Treble Makers, Da Capo, Vocaldente, Hi-Fidelity, Toxic Audio, The Accidentals, Bvocal, Major Minors, Town Criers, Fundamentally Sound, Jukevox, Men of Note, B-naturals, B-sharps, Joint Sound, Unstrumental, Beyond Measure, Ascending Height, Mxolydians, Tone Appetit, Fermata, Encore, Muses, Offkey, Double Treble, Here Comes Treble, Downbeats, Artists in Resonance, Vocal Rush, Aural Pleasure, Twisted Measure, Spartones, Vox One, Maybebop, MuSix, Class Notes, Ransom Notes, Aural Fixation, Pitches Be Crazy, Opportunes, Nothin’ but Treble, Dischords, Takenote, Sympathetic Vibrations, Treblemakers, Bostones, Undertones, Minor Variation, Notables, Lookin’ Sharp, Not Too Sharp, Cadence, Vocal Motion, Capital Blend, Vocal Majority, MelUDees, Duly Noted, In Achord, Metropolitones, Frequency, Achordants, Vocal Suspects, Vocal Chaos, Groovestand, Soundcheck, Capital Hearings, Keychange, Smokin’ Hot Pipes, Deaftones, Toccatatones…
2) It must have character
Is your group sexy? Hilarious? Professional? Hard-rock lovers? Brainy? Secretly the Ninja Turtles?
The name must reflect that. Don’t call yourselves the “Clownbutts” and expect to be branded as the hippest a cappella group on campus. Speaking of which…
3) It should represent something you have in common
Most commonly, college and high school groups will name their a cappella group after the college mascot or local hotspot. This gives it instant recognition and location dominance. The Pitchforks are from Duke. The Sil’hooettes are from Virginia. No one is going to mistake them with anyone else.
4) Please Google/Bing it
If you don’t want to have to keep explaining “Oh no…we’re that OTHER group with the same name,” then don’t have the same name.
5) Can you draw it?
Once you’ve allegedly picked a name, draw a logo for it: something that embodies the entire name in one picture. Can’t do it? Don’t use it. That means it’s probably forgettable.
6) Make sure it can’t be transformed into something bad.
Eventually, you are going to develop a nickname for your group. Pentatonix is PTX. A group I was once in, Vocal Point (not BYU…a different one) was referred to as VP.
A group like “Pitch people” may run into some trouble (The PP’s). The University of New York (not a real place) Sextet could also be misconstrued (UNYsex, The Sexes, The Tet’s).
7) Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!
Will this name, with it’s twenty-plus letters, cost too much ink on your T-shirt? Will your groupies be known as the “UNYsex lovers?” Will you be able to identify your songs on iTunes?
Creating a name, or even changing a name, is a big responsibility. Don’t take it lightly.
Of course, you could always go to a random name generator. For example, my Hobbit name is “Reginard Foxburr of Loamsdown.”
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major: #UNYsex

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A cappella Game Theory

I recently read a book that included a chapter on “Game Theory.” Did you know that there is a mathematical formula for determining the outcome probability in games?
I sure didn’t.
I tried to learn more about this theory, but after realizing I have the math skills of a four-year-old, I gave up quickly.
However, it got me thinking…Are there elements of a cappella that could be better understood by mathematical equations? (assuming you understood mathematical equations...)
Let’s try it…
Arranging for an a cappella group:
1 root-filled bass line + (3 rhythm voices + LOTS of eighth notes) + (3 harmony voices singing only words) – “jen” and “jo” + solo + solo harmony – written out solo because I’m lazy + “doo” = A cappella Arrangement
Planning a concert:
1 set list + 15 contrasting opinions – logical sense of order + vocal percussion microphone + bass microphone + solo microphone + other random microphone that no one is really sure why you need it + 1 hour of light design – 50 minutes of wasted time discussing one color of lights x number of audience members who don’t understand what “a cappella” is = Concert
Recording a CD:
1 protools + 2 producers – 1 producer – 1 solo microphone x hours per day needed to track the arrangement x (number of dollars you think it takes to produce an album + 7,000) / number of notes that must be corrected using Melodyne = A cappella CD
Vocal Percussion:
1 “dm” + 4 “ts” + 1 “pfft” + boots + cats + (number of beats per minute in the correct tempo – 2 beats per minute) x volume of human saliva= Vocal Percussionist
1 music director x (human ego + 5,000) / number of group members + 3 hours – 2.5 hours for business + number of water bottles required to hydrate group + 1 bag of salty Doritos + 1 piano – 87 out-of-tune keys= Rehearsal
Competition set:
10 groups + 5 judges – 4 biased judges + (number of group members/ 1 microphone) + 12 minutes – 2 minutes for unnecessary audience applause – highest score which could have helped you win – lowest score which is too embarrassing to read + 10 judges’ comments – 9 unhelpful comments + 25 dance moves + 4 solos – 3 bad solos = Competition Set
Bobby McFerrin:
God + music = Bobby McFerrin
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major: #acappellaequations

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Hydra

The Hydra is a mythical Greek serpent/water-beast. The Hydra's most distinguishing feature was its many heads…and its ability to regrow them when one head was chopped off. Chop off one head, three more sprout up. Ever see Disney’s “Hercules?” Kind of like that.
I like to think of a cappella as a Hydra. Not because I think the term a cappella is actually a mythical Greek serpent/water-beast, but because I think the process of "keeping up with a cappella trends" is like fighting a many-headed Hydra.
Imagine that listening to a new a cappella song is the equivalent to “chopping off a head.” Listen to one song, three new ones are released in its place. Every day I check facebook, and at least five new a cappella groups are releasing singles, or making albums, or trying out new music on tour. It’s enough to make your own head spin.
How can someone keep up with the latest a cappella trends, when new ones pop up every day? Here are some handy methods that I use to keep myself informed:
Method 1: “Buying in Bulk.”
Picture a warehouse store, like Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s. You don’t go there every day to buy toilet paper…you go there once a month to buy a tremendous amount of toilet paper and keep yourself stocked through Christmas.
Method one is sort of like shopping at these warehouse stores. Instead of downloading or listening to new a cappella music every day, take one day out of the week/month/year to download a "buttload" (technical term) of music, and then spend the rest of your down-time listening to your new purchases.
You may be slightly behind everyone else in terms of present-day knowledge, but you won’t have to worry about playing catch-up every day of the week.
Method 2: “The Family Tree”
This method is similar to a family tree. You start at the top. Your parents/siblings are listed below. Their parents/siblings are listed below them, etc.
Let’s put this to some aca-use. Look at the five CARA-nominated albums for best pop album. You download/listen to those first. Next, you download/listen to every album by those same artists. Then, you download/listen to every album that comes up in a music store recommendation list. Then you download/listen to all the albums by those artists, etc.
Method 3: “The Subscriber”
Like an a cappella group? Subscribe to their Youtube page, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, blog about them on Reddit, bookmark their website, sign up for a Google notification, look at their instagram photos, download their app…see where I’m going with this?
The best part is, most of these websites and programs do the notification work for you. They inform you when a group’s page has been updated or new information has been added. You can decide what to look at and what to ignore.
Method 4: “The Expert on Nothing”
Who says you have to be up-to-date with every a cappella trend? Why not spend all of your time becoming an expert on one particular group? It would save you time, money, and you could be considered the foremost “expert” on group knowledge at every major a cappella festival.
When fighting the a cappella Hydra, one method may not be enough. Hercules kept chopping off heads, only to make his situation worse. If you want to be an expert on a cappella, you have to try different methods and spend your time, and money, wisely. Good luck.
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major:
Coming soon:

Monday, July 8, 2013

The top five a cappella moments of Andy Bernard

And…we’re back…
This spring, we lost a dear television show that revolutionized the “mockumentary” format, as well as the “America always steals good television show ideas from England” format. It’s time to celebrate “The Office.”
A cappella was treated more as a punch-line than a serious art form, but Andy Bernard’s passion for a cappella represented more of the a cappella geeks than previously realized. So today, we honor the top five a cappella moments of Andy Bernard:
Number 5- “Night at the Roxbury”
His first day at the Scranton Dunder Mifflin branch showed us how ambitious Andy Bernard was. He was willing to mimic Michael Scott’s personality, down to the exact inflection of his tone; he won over Angela by changing his screensaver to kittens; and he managed to out-grovel Dwight during the “Integration Celebration” meeting.
Michael, in one of his utterly miserable attempts to be funny, claimed that a day at work was like a “night at a party.” Michael goes on to say that “business should feel like a night out…at the Roxbury.”
Cue the boombox…which doesn’t work. Andy steps in, singing the bass line to “What is love” in a ridiculous techno voice. And the age of “Nard Dog” begins.
Number 4- “Drift Away/Lion Sleeps Tonight”
On the road with Jim to speak to one of their biggest clients, a local high school, Andy is asked if the car has any music. So of course…Andy begins to sing “rit-dit-dit-doo…Gimmie the beat boys…” and Jim is thoroughly annoyed.
Then it turns out that Andy’s new girlfriend attends the very same high school...and Andy becomes jealous of a seventeen year old boy who flirts with her.
In an attempt to cheer him up on the way home, Jim sings a very…unique…”wim-o-wep” (John Krasinski is not the greatest singer in the world) and Andy’s blues melt away with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Just another example of how a cappella can cheer anyone up…even someone who accidentally dates a high school student.
Number 3- "Here Comes Treble"
In the final season, Andy’s Cornell a cappella group, “Here Comes Treble” makes a guest visit to the Dunder Mifflin branch, and the a cappella jokes commence.
Best parts about this episode…Stephen Colbert’s guest appearance as Broccoli Rob, the battle of the “Faith” solos, and the hundreds of jokes thrown in a cappella’s face.
Number 2- “Take a Chance On Me”
In one of the sweetest moments on the Office, Andy tries to court Angela with a song, sung by his college a cappella friends on speakerphone. The rendition of ABBA’s hit isn’t perfect…often the tempo falls apart and the chords are not always in tune…but the moment is a perfect example that a cappella doesn’t haven’t to be perfect to mean something.
It also proves that a cappella can sound good with only three voices.
Number 1- “Rockin’ Robin”
In his first season on “The Office,” Andy was the office villain to end all office villians…a scheming “yes-man” whose focus was destroying Dwight. When he finally achieved his goal, he stole Dwight’s desk, right across from Jim. And the battle began…
Andy’s most annoying feature? His cell phone ringtone, which was a spectacular four-part a cappella arrangement of “Rockin’ Robin,” which according to him “took forever to record.” It wasn’t the arrangement that was the problem…it was Andy’s insistence of calling himself, just so everyone could hear it over and over again.
Jim’s revenge was swift and effective. By hiding the cell phone in the ceiling, and then calling it repeatedly, Jim drove Andy to the point of no return: Andy’s frustration with not being able to find the phone made him so angry he punched a hole in the dry wall…proving to Michael, and everyone else, that Dwight deserved to be there much more than Andy did.
To this day, I have still never heard a better "Rockin' Robin."
Honorable mention- “The next great A capella Star.”
No…you didn’t read that incorrectly…a cappella was spelled wrong on the show. Andy quits his job to audition for the Sing-Off/Idol hybrid reality show, bombs the audition, cries in front of the judges, and becomes an internet phenomenon. I’d put this moment in the top five, but the fact that they spelled A cappella incorrectly, on a show that airs on the same network as “The Sing-Off,” is unforgivable.
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major:
And coming!