Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Learned From SOJAM 2014 Edition

This past weekend, I attended the latest SOJAM a cappella festival. A good time was had by all, but I also learned a lot. Here’s what I learned that you can take back to your groups:
1) A cappella is the new Show Choir
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching countless competition sets, and especially at this year’s SOJAM, it’s that contemporary A cappella has basically become the new “show choir.” With high energy dancing, acrobatic feats, theatrical staging, costume changes, and thematic mash-ups, a cappella has basically taken the show choir format and removed the house band. There’s really no other difference. The National A cappella Convention, hosted by The A cappella Educator’s Association (AEA) is trying to do just that: Convince the competitive show choir teachers to give “all singing and no instruments” a try. I’d wager the link between show choir and a cappella is so strong that one could probably write a dissertation on it. (Any takers?)
2) VP Patterns
A very interesting take on vocal percussion was led by Matt Murphy, where he laid out technical patterns to build upon, instead of working on sounds. I found this approach very refreshing, being an analytic/technical thinker myself, as it reinforced the opinion I’ve always had about vocal percussion: The percussionist’s job is to make the group look good, not the other way around. I personally couldn’t care less how many sounds you can make with your mouth. I want to know if you can keep the beat.
3) How to build a long distance group
Robert Dietz’s group The Funx, talked about how they manage to stay together, despite living in cities across the country from each other. They hold bi-weekly Google hangouts, they learn the music on their own, and they rehearse only if a gig is coming up. It’s not the most perfect scenario, but it allows them to occupy several a cappella groups simultaneously. Also, if you build a long distance group, be sure that the reason isn’t to make money. You would only build a long distance group if you really liked these people. Flying across the country on your own dime just to rehearse for a gig is nowhere near as motivating as flying across the country to see your best friends.
4) The preparation wheel
And speaking of Robert Dietz, he showed me the “Preparation Wheel,” a four step process to crafting an a cappella arrangement. It starts with the Genesis, a reason for doing the song. The technical takes care of intonation, pitches and rhythms. Then you move to crafting the arc of the song, which applies dynamics, articulations, and phrase shaping. Finally, you demonstrate the emotional core of the song by bringing out the emotion in the music. And because the wheel is circular, after you are done with the emotional core, you should then reflect on the Genesis, and see if the reason you originally picked the song is still your main motivation for singing it.
5) Elie Landau is the funniest human being ever.
Seriously. Follow him on twitter. You won’t be sorry. @elielandau
Marc Silverberg
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