HomeBlogsbalebovitz's blogContemporary A cappella and Music Education, Re: ACDA inclusion

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I wrote the following in response to a blog post about the discussion of being included with ACDA, the American Choral Directors Association.  That blog and its post can be found here: http://www.casa.org/content/quest-cappella-major-acda-inclusion-be-or-not-be

I'm a student member of both ACDA and NAfME, and former vice-president of the undergraduate ACDA chapter and current president of NAfME at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ.  I've attended three ACDA conventions (two regional, one national), performing at two in addition, and one CASA event and have some experience in the divide between Contemporary A cappella and the realm of choral directors and education-minded musicians.  

When I founded CatCall at the U of A, I chose our 'club advisor' from within the music school and choral department, a professor that has a constant and strong voice within the Western ACDA division, and one who I've shared many interesting conversations with on the general topic.

I'm of a divided mind on whether Contemporary A cappella (CAp) would benefit from inclusion in the Repertoire and Standards of ACDA.  As you've pointed out, defining the sound is no easy task and it would seem that the choral art is distinct from contemporary a cappella.  The easiest comparison one could make in repertoire would be comparing a competition or festival requirement.

For a cappella being a ballad, Top 40, or barbershop-style requirement wouldn't be out of place, yet for a choral festival the same could be said of a Renaissance motet, chanson or madrigal.  Equating the two seems to make a farce of itself; one piece of repertoire can be found in music history or literature books, and the other in the Billboard Top 100.  One could apply the same sure-to-be-scorned criticism to the current Jazz and Showchoir R&S set. They, too, seem to have answered the question of one additional question concerning the repertoire itself - the arrangements and publishing.  While sources such as Hal-Leonard and UNC Jazz Press don't always provide the most unique or satisfactory arrangement, they remain some of the most widely accessible and largely agreeable sources of repertoire.  The same simply can't be said of CAp - whether it comes down to copyright, ownership, due credit or simply voicing that is too group-specific, even forums that encourage and designate areas for the sharing of arrangements aren't widely used, certainly don't uphold the most consistent level of quality and don't do the best job of recognizing the arranger.  For R&S to include CAp, something has to change on that front.  A CASA publishing experiment might solve that but now that's just complete conjecture.

I am completely convinced that CAp merits inclusion on some level with ACDA, however.  There are always a few workshops that focus on recruitment, retention or generating productive enthusiasm in students.  In my experience and having given a half dozen or so workshops with my own a cappella group at local high schools and middle schools, there's no question CAp does that.  Perhaps solely because of its repertoire, students hear a cappella and respond to it.  When performing for a larger portion of a student body, students have asked the choir teacher if that sort of performance related class or club is available to them in the music department (usually, not always, no). When performing for just the choral department or one specific choir, students will ask a) how to start their own group or b) how to arrange.  Also, how to beat box, and that's by far my favorite part of each workshop.

While it's easy to see how students are excited about CAp after a performance or workshop, that inspiration usually isn't confined to CAp and translates easily into enthusiasm for their own repertoire.  If the teacher can make the connection with students with music history or just by thematic/subject relation, it can be apparent to students that singing, whenever pieces of repertoire were originally composed, was just as cool then as it is now for CAp.  My group being a male CAp group, we can tout that we've seen increased recruitment and retention of male choir singers at schools we've visited, though you can't attribute that to us.  We have, though, seen the creation of two high school a cappella groups in the area, both as clubs, both sponsored by a music teacher; it was easy for those teachers to make the requirement - to be a part of the club, you must sing or play an instrument in another school ensemble.  

So there's educational value.  If one can get those students to arrange, that's a major achievement that shows a lot of success on some level of that student's education.  Unfamiliarity on the part of the teacher though prevents much of that development.  On a more basal level, it would take  a deaf ear not to realize that aspects such as expression, dynamics, form, style, et al could easily make the jump between CAp and any other standard.  Even more 'advanced' aspects such as vowel unification, tone production, breath control and any other layer of voice pedagogy could be a part of a skilled or well prepared lesson.Inclusion at ACDA would decrease the fear factor, but it comes down to CAp ensembles to extend their groups as resources to local high and middle schools and introduce themselves to that teacher.  While many that take part in CAp do so solely for performance, a major change of attitude is required of those individuals - education is fundamental to the continued performance of CAp.  Furthermore it increases the awareness, appreciation and involvement in all aspects of music.

The big question though is how to the CAp society benefits from inclusion with ACDA.  My only answer, completely biased as a music major, is that it's a duty to educate.  Incorporation with ACDA puts you in touch with exactly those people that have the daily (or less frequently for community, professional or religious ensembles) responsibility.  If ACDA choirs and CAp ensembles can share the same stage and perform at the same concert (I don't mean a convention, though it's within the realm of imagination - just a community festival or high school choir concert is sufficient) then some discussion and collaboration is of merit.  

My experience in ACDA has told me that those that attend the conference are hunting for repertoire, planning to network and see colleagues, looking forward to useful workshops and clinicians, and hoping for excitement and inspiration in the performances.  CAp can meet three of those needs now - it's just the repertoire that needs some sorting out.

Welp, I'm on my way to writing a book ... 

Ben Lebovitz

balebovitz at gmail.com

CatCall A cappella

catcallua at gmail.com


As a complete aside with the name, as many ACDA, NAfME or chorally inclined folk might know, there's much effort to clear up the use of the word 'a cappella.'  When seen in music, it traditionally refers to its more direct translation - 'in the style of the chapel.'  Contemporary use of the word seems to undermine that historical fact and makes some history buffs and linguistic snobs smirk. "Contemporary Unaccompanied Singing" is the equivalent of the choral purist's form of being politically correct.