Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Case for Curriculum

There has been a lot of debate and discussion lately about whether contemporary a cappella should be included in the music curriculum, whether that be a cappella examples in the general music classroom, a cappella ensembles at the college level for college credit, or most importantly, the creation of a four-year degree in contemporary a cappella.

Today, I make my case.

Including a cappella music into a formal curriculum has far more advantages than detriments.

Before I begin my incoherent rant, I must clarify the argument I’m making. I’m making the case for adding a cappella music into a formalized school curriculum. I’m not addressing education initiatives such as Next Level, A cappella Academy, Camp A cappella, or the A cappella School. I love and support all of those creations, but none have specific ties to a formal college or degree. I’m suggesting we take the model that the aforementioned organizations have already devised and add it to a degree-granting institution.

The benefits are:

1) Popular Music Base

This is nothing new. Most students respond better to popular music than they do classical music because it is familiar and more representative of the current music trend and their culture. But choral teachers are still hesitant to include popular repertoire into their curriculum, because popular music is made for the masses, and the simplistic, repetitive composition of pop music yields little material to study and analyze.

But (of course) I disagree with the above assessment. If utilized correctly and fully, a general music classroom can go a full year teaching new musical concepts with just a popular music base, and nowhere is that more prevalent than a cappella.

Last year, I joined the Association for Popular Music Education (APME), an organization that promotes the inclusion of pop music into the classroom, not as a one-off lesson anomaly, but as the fundamental basis for all musical learning. It’s entirely possible (and utterly plausible) that your kids aren’t ready to appreciate the complexity of Mozart, the uniqueness of Stravinsky, or the thematic development of Wagner. So I say, screw it. Don’t teach it until they’re ready, even if that means they won’t be ready until they go to college.

2) The End of Mediocrity

Behind closed doors, buried deep within the confines of Facebook comments, there is a word understood by many a cappella professionals who dare not speak its name. It’s called mediocrity.

True, the a cappella community has never shone brighter, thanks to all of the educational initiatives and the sudden expansion of a cappella companies. But for every new bright star, five more groups are struggling to keep up, unaware that educational resources are easier to find than ever.

An a cappella major, or a cappella college classes would help in the fight against mediocrity. Imagine if you will, a recent college graduate who has had 3 dedicated semesters of a cappella arranging, covering everything from medleys to barbershop, 2 semesters of recording techniques covering everything from tracking to mixing (not mastering because there just wasn’t enough time to squeeze it in), a full semester of vocal percussion techniques and live sound, a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary a cappella history, and seven semesters of training in pop vocal styles.

I imagine if a college began churning out students like that, the fight against mediocrity would be more evenly matched.

3) Ensembles for College Credit

When a college includes a dedicated a cappella ensemble as part of the course offerings (as they do in many colleges such as Wright State, Tiffin, or UCD), it sends a clear message that a cappella is considered to be a legitimate style of singing.

Let’s take the age-old Pentatonix discussion: Pentatonix, and Ben Bram, wanted to be known in the music industry as a band. Not an a cappella group…a band that just happened to use no instruments. Their desire to send a message was clear: "A cappella is as legitimate a musical style as pop, hip-hop, or heavy metal." The unique characteristic that this particular group sang without instruments was less important than the fact that they SAAYNG. (pronounced “sang” with extreme emphasis on daaaammmmmnnnnn!!!)

They have made many strides in this endeavor. Now, it’s education’s turn. To truly legitimize a cappella music as an art form equal to classical choral music, educational institutions must transform it into a credit-worthy ensemble, under the umbrella of the music program.

4) Better for Beginners

I teach a for-credit a cappella ensemble where I work. The ensemble is unique for three reasons: one, we exclusively sing contemporary a cappella arrangements from a variety of arrangers, two, it is a non-auditioned ensemble so anyone can join, and three it is made up of mostly beginning singers who can’t even identify a treble clef, let alone sight read.

By the end of the semester (or more likely two consecutive semesters), several changes have occurred: The students can sight read, but only in a stepwise direction, the students have learned the basics of pop vocal production, the students have sung complicated, syncopated rhythms, and the students have freely improvised over a simple chord structure. True, none of these advancements are at an expert level, but the change from day one to the end is significant, and I believe the unique characteristics of chosen a cappella arrangements contribute to it:

A. I choose arrangements where the background voices serve as chordal accompaniment so that the voice leading is simple and stepwise.
B. I choose arrangements where the pitches are almost identical, but the rhythms are very challenging and fun to sing, requiring a high level of concentration and internal counting.
C. I choose arrangements with repetitive chord progressions so that the students can have the freedom to improvise a section.
D. I choose arrangements with a limited range so that I can demonstrate healthy chest singing and the transition from chest voice to head voice.

What do you think? Does a cappella belong in the school curriculum?

Marc Silverberg

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Where Do I Sing?

One of the biggest challenges of being in a cappella group (in my opinion) is finding and landing a gig. A cappella has the distinct advantage of being portable and adjustable- the group can basically go anywhere and fit in almost any space (assuming they aren't using microphones).

However, a cappella has the distinct disadvantage of being insanely dorky, shunned by the traditional choral community, and in need of amplification, whether that be from the acoustical environment or with sound equipment.

These disadvantages may seem overwhelming but fear not. A cappella groups can sing in more places than you realize...

Allow me to list 100 places where an a cappella group can find a gig:

1) Be an opening act for another group
2) Local television appearances
3) Radio appearances
4) Sporting events
5) College a cappella shows
6) Public school concerts
7) Workshop demonstrations
8) A cappella festivals
9) Local theatres
10) Nightclubs
11) Corporate gigs
12) Private parties
13) Amusement parks
14) Specialty fairs
15) In the studio
16) Weddings
17) Funerals
18) Private shows for one or two people
19) Restaurants
20) Gigsalad.com
21) Charity events
22) Religious houses of worship
23) Marathons
24) Caroling door-to-door
25) Caroling door-to-door on a day that isn’t Christmas
26) Music festivals that are for voices
27) sonicbids.com
28) gigmasters.com
29) Family gatherings
30) ACDA festivals
31) NAfME festivals
32) Your local music organization’s festival
33) Post on Youtube
34) Post on Dailymotion
35) Post on Vimeo
36) Career fairs
37) Libraries
38) Public parks
39) 4th of July festivals
40) Pet adoption places
41) Music stores
42) Open Mic Night
43) Comic conventions
44) Other conventions
45) Planetariums
46) Museums
47) Malls
48) Famous landmarks
49) Cruise ships
50) Movie theatres before the movie starts
51) Country clubs
52) Local sports games
53) Zoos
54) Comedy clubs
55) Casinos
56) Outlet malls
57) Bowling alleys
58) Private classes
59) Cocktail hours
60) Wineries
61) Tastings
62) Camps
63) Flea markets
64) Farmer’s markets
65) Ski resorts
66) Beaches
67) Boardwalks
68) Playgrounds
69) Fashion shows
70) Gigfinder.com
71) Mini golf courses
72) Botanical gardens
73) Penitentiaries (Don’t laugh…it’s been done)
74) Boy scout meetings
75) Girl scout meetings
76) Fraternity houses
77) Sorority houses
78) Showcases
79) Tournaments
80) Another country
81) Another island
82) Magic shows
83) Aquariums
84) Monuments
85) Gift shops
86) Auctions
87) Veterans Hospitals
88) Any hospital
89) Nursing homes
90) Assisted living centers
91) Banks
92) Rooftops
93) Public pools
94) Rec centers
95) Gymnasiums
96) Game rooms
97) Arcades
98) Proposals
99) Hallways

100) Make your own damn concert

There. Now you have no excuse.

But wait! There's more!

I would argue that finding and booking a gig is as important, if not MORE important than rehearsing whatever score you're working on right now. You NEED to spend time hunting for gigs. 

I firmly believe that if the group does not have an upcoming gig, there is no reason to practice.

That's not saying there's no reason to meet/hang out/sing together and improvise. But as far as practicing and perfecting scores, a live performance is the main motivator. 

How do you find gigs? Here are some ideas:

1) Gig Committee

Assign 2-3 people from your group to be part of the gig committee. The SOLE PURPOSE of the committee is to do the legwork on finding and booking gigs. And yes...it requires work. Gigs don't fall out of the sky like cupcakes in my recurring dreams.

2) Gig-finding Party

Assign part or all of one rehearsal for researching, finding, and booking gigs. It's a lot of hard, annoying work, so anything you can do to make it more fun should be encouraged.

3) Hire a Manager

My group has discussed this option in the past. The advantage of a manager is that he/she takes care of all that annoying work so you can focus on singing. The disadvantage is, of course, money. Plus, professional managers probably aren't sure where to book an a cappella group. 

Is there someone you know personally, whom you can hire (pay a small fee) to be your unofficial manager? I know if someone gave me money, I'd work much harder for them.

4) Gig Websites

Websites like Reverbnation, Gig Salad, and others charge a monthly fee for membership. In return, the company frequently contacts you about possible gigs. Yes, you have to do the follow-up leg work (calling, texting, begging, crying) but the difficulty of finding the gig is made much easier.

Find a gig. Do it. Now.

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Audition Bingo

The quest is back!

For real!


I'm not joking!

Prepare yourself for another full year of ridiculous posts, opinionated articles that everyone disagrees with, and inane discussions that go absolutely nowhere! Hooray!

But for the start of the year, I thought we'd have some fun first.

It's time to play....AUDITION BINGO!

This bingo sheet should make things MUCH more interesting, especially when your group is staring down the never-ending line of freshmen who don't understand the difference between Pitch Perfect and perfect pitch.

You can copy the game board below, OR you download a FREE copy here:


Marc Silverberg

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