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"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" holds an unusual position in our repertoire. We decided to sing it on whim and have no written music for it. We learned it in about ten minutes in one rehearsal, and we've never spent more than five minutes at any one time refining it since that first rehearsal. The song is a cliché in the a cappella world. Yet, our audience keeps demanding it, so we keep programming it and singing it to thunderous applause.

Audiences come to concerts to be entertained, and it's important to know your audience and program accordingly. Our audience wants to hear "Lion Sleeps." If our audience were a roomful of CASA members who would undoubtedly roll their eyes as soon as we started the familiar “a-weem-a-way” of “Lion Sleeps,” we would not put the song in our set.

In the post-collegiate a cappella world, you'll find that audiences are much more diverse than a room full of your college friends. Audiences span the complete spectrum of ages from grade school to senior citizens. Their idea of “a cappella” is often limited to barbershop or doo-wop. Maybe they realize that Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, and Bobby McFerrin have each charted with some more modern a cappella songs.

Ideally, you'll find your target market and specialize in exactly the type of music they like. The best a cappella groups in the world are highly specialized, and in my blog post a few months ago, I suggested that the way to get a recording contract in the 2010s would be to find your niche and do it well.  (But note, even highly specialized groups usually branch out a little from their core repertoire in order to deliver some variety in their concerts.)

But the typical Contemporary A Cappella League group comprises post-collegiate singers who have "day jobs," and they sing for the fun of it. Their goal is not to get a recording contract and be famous.  This is what CAL and its "Sing for your Life" motto are all about.

If this is you, then you'll find yourself singing to diverse audiences who want to hear a variety of songs, and that includes some clichés like "Lion Sleeps Tonight."

This is not to say that we don't have a responsibility to ourselves as artists. If we sang a complete concert of songs like "Lion Sleeps," we would quickly grow bored of performing and stagnate.

As artists, we work very hard to deliver perfect performances; we concentrate on learning complex arrangements. But in the end, sometimes the most complex songs fall flat in performance because we're so busy connecting with each other in trying to stay in tune and keep together rhythmically that we fail to connect with the audience. Remember, a less-than-perfect performance delivered energetically is more entertaining than a perfect performance delivered lackadaisically.

There is a perennial debate about whether we are singers who entertain or entertainers who sing. There's no need to choose. Somewhere in the middle is invariably the best. Program some simple songs. Program some complex songs that are a challenge for you to sing but that the audience might not "get." And program a lot of songs in the middle.

About the author:
Jay Mednikow runs his family’s 100-year-old jewelry business in Memphis.  He sang with the Harvard Din & Tonics while in college and with the Duke Pitchforks while in business school.  Then he took a 17-year break from a cappella, because in 1990, there were very few avenues available to continue singing a cappella music after school.  But in 2007, Jay’s desire to do it again led him to found DeltaCappella, a twelve-man contemporary a cappella group that was a charter member of the Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL).  He has become an avid proponent of post-collegiate a cappella music.  Jay’s wife and three children, thankfully, support him in his musical endeavors. DeltaCappella are the winners of the 2010 Stone Awards for Most Outstanding Recording Artist/Group.

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Comments

too true

Jay hit the variety button on the head.

We have a running joke in the group about my hatred of billy joel. And it's not really billy joel, but the amount of his standards that I sang while in college. He has other songs! So we program another one, I grit my teeth and perform the heck out of it. It's always a give and take. 

And, yep, guess who the soloist on LION is. <--

[=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

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