by Adam Conner-Simons, Boston Globe, April 26, 2009
For years, a cappella has kept a low profile, hidden in ivy-encrusted college campus centers, dismissed as derivative mimicry, and relegated to the annals of history as novelty tunes sung by overgrown choirboys. Matters haven't been helped by Folgers commercials, children's game shows, or the endless parade of jokes on shows like "Scrubs," which has not-so-subtly derided the art form as "ear rape."
Yet suddenly, the world of contemporary a cappella has gone pop, graduating from its collegiate comfort zone to the realms of film, television, and yes, even rock 'n' roll. On Tuesday, Ben Folds will unveil "University A Cappella," a collection of his piano-rock songs covered by student a cappella groups (including the Newtones of Newton South High School). May marks the release of the second album from the former Indiana University group Straight No Chaser, who, after being plucked from YouTube obscurity by Atlantic Records last year, proceeded to top the iTunes charts and sell 100,000 records of its Christmas debut. "30 Rock" scribe Kay Cannon is writing a screenplay for a recently optioned feature-length comedy based on GQ editor Mickey Rapkin's book "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory." Even reality TV is getting in on the action, with NBC recently giving the green light to an a cappella competition show called "The Sing-Off."
Folds, who hand-picked groups for his album through an open contest posted on his My-Space page, was astounded by what turned up. "I never realized that it was such a big scene," Folds says. "It amazes me that college kids are voluntarily getting together and arranging difficult harmonies and counterpoints for my songs."