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It's time we established a few standards of a cappella. If my classes have taught me anything, it's that the best way to evolve music is to establish rules, and then break them in half...and then chop them into little tiny bits.
The problem is, we don't have rules. I recently attended four a cappella festivals in a row, and got four different answers for the same question. I believe a canon must be established if a cappella music is to be taken more seriously outside of the world that it now exists in. I'm not saying that the "world of a cappella" isn't growing...far from it. If anything, I want it to grow even more. But when I see opinions about a cappella music from established and creative thinkers that groups are doing something "wrong," then I want to know what "right" is, and I think everyone in every group has a different definition.
No, I cannot answer any of these questions here. (that's what the dissertation is for...) Neither can the pros, the amateurs, the intermediates, the arrangers, the composers, etc. Until an established rhetoric is developed (hopefully by a few textbooks...hint hint...) then we can only begin to think about the evolution of a cappella music. Consider how each ear of rock has established a well-known set of distinguishable traits. You can tell the difference between any song from the sixties and any song from the nineties right? Well, what's the difference between a song and an A cappella song? Right now...only one characteristic defines us: singing without instruments.
I believe we can go further. What's the difference between vocal jazz and contemporary a cappella? What's the different between contemporary choral music and a cappella music? What's the difference between Barbershop and Doo-wop? Deke Sharon says that there really is no difference, but from a musicological perspective, I disagree. I do agree with his assessment that the experience of singing with a group is 100% the same. But there are rules that define Barbershop...in fact, there are two manuals published defining the distinct Barbershop style- one by the Barbershop Hamony Society and one by the Sweet Adelines Society.
To develop this canon, we need to answer the following questions:
1) Syllables- What are the appropriate syllables to use when singing "back-up?"
2) Recording- What are the established recording procedures for developing a live album and a produced album?
3) Music allowance- What kinds of music will contemporary a cappella cover?
4) Originals- How do we define a cappella originals? What category of music do they belong in?
5) Arranging- What are the base arranging rules? What is the established procedure to start?
6) Mic Technique- What are the appropriate microphone techniques for performing live?
7) Choral music- How do we separate ourselves from contemporary choral music? Is there a difference?
8) Rehearsal procedure- What is the traditional note learning procedure? Do we read or learn by ear? Do we use midi files or plunk out notes on the piano?
9) Choreography- What are the standard procedures for choreography? What kinds of dancing styles are appropriate and what do we avoid?
10) VP- What are the traditional methods of vocal percussion?
If we want our genre to grow, the next generation of singers must be able to learn from those who already know, and they must learn how to be better than average.
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major: