A blog that discusses contemporary a cappella music, the educational practices of a cappella music, a cappella improvisation exercises, and a cappella in popular culture.
Monday, May 5, 2014
My wife and I are huge fans of Survivor. Not because we enjoy the game play. The show is basically the same every time. We love the yelling. We love the backstabbing. We love watching the smart ones succeed and the dumb ones cry. We love watching the human drama unfold, even if it isn’t totally real.
As much as I love Survivor, I would never apply to be on the show. It’s not the athletic prowess one needs to have which I currently, and probably will always, lack. It’s not being confined to eat rice, fish, and coconuts for 39 days. What keeps me from ever applying to Survivor is the same thing I love watching: The drama.
I love watching the drama, but I hate living it. A cappella groups are, in many ways, like the contestants on Survivor. They must work together to succeed, like the tribe, but deep down, everyone knows that only one can be the star. One person will be the sole survivor and claim a cappella’s top prize: The solo.
Solos can turn a tribe into individuals. Solos can be the cause of drama, especially when you have divas (male and female) in your group, and then they don’t get the solo. Oh man…that’s a nuclear bomb waiting to go off. Solos tend to think of themselves as winning individual immunity. They don’t have to worry about practicing blend or dynamics, because they are separate from the rest of the group.
But that is not what solos are. Solos are integral to the foundation of an arrangement. Even if there was no solo, someone [cough, sopranos, cough] usually has the melody in a vocal arrangement, and we all know that asking an entire section of sopranos to sing the melody of a pop song is a terrible idea, just because of consistency.
Assigning someone a solo cannot be avoided, because the alternative is much worse: [Deep Breath] You try to give multiple people in your group a solo, and then you get to the venue and there’s only one solo mic, so all of you have to share, and the timing of the arrangement means everyone’s first word is always going to be cut off because you have to switch stage positions, and then the audience gets mad because they can’t understand the words anyway, and basically it looks like a free-for-all on stage, so then your group looks unprofessional for doing it this way, when the whole time all you really wanted to do was avoid this particular thing from happening and make everyone happy [runs out of air]
Here are some suggestions for handling your solo:
1) Audition the soloist BEFORE you arrange the song.
This gives everyone a chance to audition, because the key has yet to be set. What if someone can “kill” the solo, but only if it’s down a whole step? In my opinion, you should give it to that person, not the person who can barely squeak out the solo in the original key.
2) Stop, drop, and roll
Stop crying over spilt solo. Drop the issue before it causes drama. Roll with the situation.
3) Have a plan
Are you the group that has one front man? Are you the group that wants to spread the wealth? Guess what, you can’t be both (Or can you?). Everyone in your group needs to understand the group’s philosophy on solos. If you are going to audition for competitions or the Sing-Off, then one soloist is king. If you want to do some freelance gigs or make an album, spread the wealth. If you want to do everything, have a system in place that ensures people know whether or not a solo is up for grabs.
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