There is a very spirited debate going on about the recent regional level of the National Harmony Sweepstakes in Los Angeles. First it was about how poor the sound was for all of the groups. Then it turned into a discussion about whether it was against the rules for the members of King4 to compete a second time that night by adding one person and going under a different name (Throat). It’s a very interesting discussion that is worth a look while you are exploring this site.
The whole thing got me thinking about how it seems like every year there are similar discussions about the Sweeps regarding the rules, the judging and the sound. The producers of the Sweeps seem to have taken the position that if they deem it appropriate they will look into these concerns. But, the thing that is being overlooked is that this is supposed to be a celebration of harmony and a cappella. It’s about community. And then inevitably, nothing gets fixed.
Part of my contribution to the discussion was to suggest that since the rules seem to have clouded and tainted the true intent of the Sweeps, perhaps they should do away with the competition aspect and make it a true “Sweepstakes” that is about community and a celebration of harmony and the many diverse forms of music that comprise modern day a cappella. Since the chances of these changes being made are probably pretty slim, I have come up with my own alternative to the Sweeps. It’s a kind of wish list, “if I had my way” kind of thing.
I am certain that this would be no small undertaking. I’m also pretty confident that with the right planning it would be realistic to do this and still put on a great, entertaining show with a similar excitement surrounding the question of who will have their name drawn and win a chance to be a part of the Nationals showcase in Marin County.
Currently, groups submit materials to the producers of each region to be considered as a participant of the competition. This could basically remain the same but instead of “competition” we use the term “showcase”.
I’m going to pause here for a moment to discuss how the regions are divided up and how it could possibly be affecting the amount of quality submissions each region is submitting. To help to resolve this problem of not having enough submissions or enough quality submissions, I would propose that we have less regions, particularly in the northeast. Right now there is a Mid-Atlantic Region in Washington DC, a New York Region in NYC and a Boston region in Boston.
I’m here to tell you that this is highly unnecessary given the proximity of each region to each other. Besides that, it has never made sense to me to have those three regions so close to each other, but have no southeast region. Given the fact that Orlando, Fl is a veritable breeding ground for quality a cappella, and that there are more and more groups springing up in the Carolinas and Atlanta, I think that there should be two regions in the east. There should be a Northeast Regional showcase in NYC/Boston (alternating every other year) and a Southeast Regional showcase in either Charlotte, NC or Atlanta, GA. (Or alternate every other year)
I would eliminate the Rocky Mountain Region and just have one Midwest Regional Showcase in Chicago. To be fair, you could alternate between Denver and Chicago every other year.
I would combine LA and San Francisco into one Southwest Regional Showcase in Los Angeles (possibly alternating every other year) and then have a Northwest Regional Showcase in Seattle.
So now what you have is 5 regions instead of 7, but you would still have the same amount of submissions. This allows you the ability to assert a little more quality control so you can narrow down your submissions to where only groups who meet the minimum standards of quality will be considered for the drawing at each region. I would also not allow a person to submit in multiple groups. That means that you can only be in one group AT ALL for that year. No duplicate membership will be allowed and each member of each group will be verified nationally. So submitting under fake names will do you no good. Everyone will be verified prior to each regional which ideally, would all be held on the same night. If for some reason scheduling or unforeseen circumstances cause a group to be unable to attend, another name will be drawn to determine the final spot. You can only submit in ONE REGION each year.
Each region would draw only 5 names instead of 7 to allow for longer sets from each group. You could still have the producers determine the order of the show the way they do now, only, the order means nothing to the groups because they aren’t competing, they are simply showing up and giving the audience an outstanding and entertaining set. You could also still have a panel of adjudicators to offer critique and suggestions for each group. That would be a nice educational touch. No need for a rubric any more or scoring sheets. They simply fill out comment sheets throughout the evening for each group.
There could still be awards for prizes at each regional level as well. You could still have “Audience Favorite”, “Best Original Song” and “Best Original Arrangement”. But you could also have the judges pick their top 3 favorite groups as well and have “Best VP” and “Best Soloist”. There could be different prizes for the awards so that all of the winners get something. Then after handing out the awards, there will be a drawing to see who wins a trip to Marin County to represent their region at the National Showcase.
Finally, at the National showcase there would only be 5 groups. Now each group would also be able to do a longer set so they can have more time to really show us what they can do. The awards would be the same but the prizes would be sweeter. There would be a final drawing at Nationals to determine who wins the grand prize. There would be a handpicked panel of elite and/or celebrity judges.
The winners of each region would host the regional showcase the next year as they do now. The winner of nationals would get to host nationals next year like they do now. There would be a recording of the National Showcase and the CD would contain 3 songs from each of the groups and the host group.
There would be a technical rider for each region and for nationals and each showcase would ONLY be engineered by an engineer with adequate experience with a cappella. This would be carefully overseen by a “quality control team” comprised of experts in the field of a cappella engineering. It would no longer be necessary to limit the use of audio effects “to be fair to the other groups” or to simplify the EQ and mixing for each group to “level the playing field”. Special effects welcome (within reason) and throat mics, pedals and etc… but you have to know how to use them and they have to be able to be set up at a sound check in a reasonable amount of time.
So you see, it could be possible to put on a good show, celebrate harmony, community, a cappella, diversity, innovation and originality and also offer prizes and awards as an extra incentive for groups to come out and participate. I think this would also help to bring out more pro groups who would normally shy away from this sort of thing. It all starts with an idea and a collective willingness to make it happen. So, is anyone up for the challenge?