HomeBlogsDocac's blogThe search for the A cappella Textbook, Part 2- A cappella Pop

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In the past few months, there has been a renaissance of publications about contemporary a cappella. Just this past week, I received both “The A cappella Book” and “A cappella Arranging” in the mail, and now my reading list is fit to burst. Amidst this sudden explosion of a cappella-themed books, I began to wonder if any of these books could constitute a worthy textbook for a college curriculum about a cappella.

And so, I continue my “Search for the A cappella Textbook,” with the second book, “A cappella Pop” by Brody McDonald.

(For last week’s review, follow the link below)

http://www.casa.org/content/search-cappella-textbook-part-1-powerful-voices

What is the book about?
Once you breeze past the introduction, which chronicles McDonald’s introduction to the world of a cappella, the first two sentences of the chapter “How to use this Handbook” say it all:

“Thank you for purchasing and/or reading this handbook. Well, it’s really more of a guidebook.”

“A cappella Pop” is the how-to book you have probably been seeking all your life. It is the first book of its kind (that I can find anyway) that describes, in fervent detail, how to start, rehearse, train, and evolve an a cappella group from scratch. Each chapter has a specific focus, highlighting one or two elements of a cappella that demand your attention. For example, chapters include “How to structure your rehearsal,” “Planning your set list,” “Booking a gig,” “Live sound,” and much more. There are even chapters that have clever names, such as “Turkey Bacon,” and “A cappella meets PR.” It’s unclear from the table of contents what these chapters are about, but after reading through them, you understand the metaphors. (Turkey Bacon is about making sure you sound authentic. A cappella meets PR is about publicity, fundraising, recruitment, and inspiration.)

Why should you own this book?

The reason is simple. If you want to start an a cappella group, train your a cappella group using time-tested techniques, or just want to understand how a high school a cappella group, like Eleventh Hour, could get from the high school choir room to the Sing-Off, then this book is for you.

Why wouldn’t you own this book?

If you run a successful a cappella group- one that has achieved the level of success that Eleventh Hour has earned- then you may not find much use out of this book.

Target audience

It is clear that this book tailors itself for two audiences: choral teachers and a cappella beginners. Every chapter relates a technique that McDonald has learned through the lens of being a high school choral director, not a college student. The language is easy and fluent, and the techniques are balanced nicely with anecdotes. But there are subtle clues McDonald leaves that suggest this book is for teachers, not students.

McDonald uses the words “students” and “kids” often. He talks often about holding a command over the group and a respect that must be earned. He avoids talking about social interaction and “hanging out together.” These are the words of a teacher. A great teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.

Strengths

McDonald basically spills his guts out. (This is the second review with a “guts” reference…by the way) It’s clear that his only goal in writing this book is to help you succeed. He gives almost every little trick away and lays out the step-by-step process of achieving your a cappella goals.

Even more effective are the chapters not written by McDonald. Every now and then, a chapter will appear with a guest author. Producer Freddie Feldman talks about making a recording. Nate Altimari talks about the solo voice. Jake Moulton discusses vocal percussion.

It would not be an authentic book if McDonald tried to write a chapter in which he was not a master of the subject. I believe he earns even more respect by going to the masters and asking them to contribute to the book.

The final set of chapters provides a great argument for a cappella in the schools. McDonald discusses how to establish an a cappella culture, how to educate administrators on a cappella’s value in the classroom, and how to use a cappella techniques to improve musical skills such as sight reading.

Weaknesses

With a how-to book, especially one as detailed as this, there is something you have to leave out. Nowhere does the book talk about the evolution of a cappella history, and only one a cappella group, Voices of Liberty, is mentioned as being a big influence on Eleventh Hour. I’d bet that plenty more a cappella groups have influenced McDonald in the process, but very few are mentioned or explored.

This, of course, is the point of the book. If you wanted an a cappella history textbook, then purchasing a how-to book is not your best option. While this book is revolutionary in terms of discussing how to build and maintain an cappella group, a complete a cappella education would require more than just this handbook.

College students may also be turned off by the narrative of the book. Brody Mcdonald is a highly competent, successful, and knowledgeable teacher. Keep in mind, the highlight of that sentence is teacher, not student. McDonald approaches each element of a cappella like an educator (a man after my own heart) and avoids the social elements that collegiate a cappella brings. I’d wager that many a cappella directors will find this book very useful, while others may hinder group motivation by trying to run the group like a class, rather than a total democracy.

If you are going to follow this book to the letter, you should make sure your group is okay with a step-by-step educational approach and a divide between you as the music director and them as the musicians.

What college classes could use this book as a reference?

If there was an a cappella class on rehearsal technique, this book would be number one on the “required” list. I would even go so far as to say that traditional “choral methods” classes could learn a thing or two from this handbook.

Performance groups, even credited courses, should apply some of these techniques to their rehearsal process. This book goes far beyond rehearsing for a performance. McDonald discusses everything from “how to dress” to “adding effects on stage.”

Final Opinion

Personally, ever since I heard this book was in the works, I have been patiently waiting for the release date. I can tell you now… it was absolutely worth the wait. The information the reader obtains in this book is like holding solid gold in your hands. You suddenly become a wealthier person and the possibilities of what you can do become endless.

Where can you find it?
I purchased my copy off Alfred.com.

McDonald, B. (2012). A cappella pop: A complete guide to contemporary a cappella singing. Van
Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing

Marc Silverberg

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