HomeBlogsMister Tim's blogBYU's Vocal Point : The Secret of SUCCESS!!!!

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 I dropped in on a Vocal Point (BYU) rehearsal, because I wanted to know the secret.

You know, the secret to success. 

BYU Vocal Point was the 2007 ICCA champions, are a part of the Brigham Young University music department, sell out their public concerts (with actual tickets that sell for, you know, money), have a successful line of albums, and are one of the most effective, if not the most effective, PR entities for their University.

Which means they must have a secret to how they do it all.  Right?

This is what I learned from their rehearsal:

They rehearse 3 times a week, for 2 hours each.

They warm up.  They sing.  They talk business.  They sing.  They leave.

Almost none of the singers sang a cappella before they were in Vocal Point.

They audition new singers at the beginning of the year, in August, just before the semester starts.

That’s about it.

The more I learned about Vocal Point, the more I saw that they are virtually identical to most college a cappella groups I have met.  Same amount of rehearsal time, same semester schedule, same general mode of operation.  The group was started by students, they sing pop music.  It’s really no different than most other groups.

So how do they do it?  What’s the secret of their success?

There are far more details than can reasonably put in such a short blog post, but here are the main things I noticed that I think would be of most value for other groups to know:

They have a plan.  They have shows scheduled before the school year begins.  Their big fall concert was on the calendar the year before: you get the best venue this way, and you know what you are working toward

They do lots of shows.  This requires them to learn music faster, and performing music is the fastest way to learn it. 

They have a machine.  It’s not a secret, or complicated, or unattainable machine.  They have rehearsal tracks: before someone leaves the group, the make sure all their song parts are recorded, so the new person in that voice part has a ready reference.  Their rehearsals are very organized: singers know what songs they are going to be rehearsing, what parts to review before they come in that day.   Singers returning from the previous year mentor and support the new singers, help them with music, get them up to speed.  It is organized efficiently.

They have hired a music director.  Even though they are affiliated with the BYU school of music, they take care of all their own business.  Somewhere along the line, they decided that they were going to pay for a music director.  With the money they bring in from shows, the group has hired a part-time, post-college music director.  At times it has been a faculty member; currently it is a former-VP member.

They have very clear expectations. 

First, personal expectations: BYU already has a strict honor code, standards of dress, grooming, personal conduct and academic responsibility.  On top of that, singers know that they are previledged to be in VP, and they are expected to live up to that.  When the expectations are high, the results are better.

Second, performance expectations: VP has proven that they are more than a singing group: they are a performing ensemble.  They have a very clear idea about variety, propriety, show flow, dynamics, and performance nuance.  They don’t do concerts: they do shows.  From day one they are choosing songs based on how they fit into the overall set, how different audiences will react, how a specific song can be used throughout the semester.

Third, they have a tradition of excellence.

Fourth, they have created the infrastructure to maintain that excellence.

These are verifiable things about Vocal Point.

Here are my speculations about other, intangible, reasons they are successful.

Most of the people in VP have not sung in a cappella groups before.  However, they have all been in musicals, choirs, all kinds of performing organizations, often at a high level.  I think this is an advantage to them because they know how to rehearse.  Semi-professional music theater shows have fast-paced rehearsal periods, expectations that performers learn parts on their own, accountability to a director: they get a lot done in a short amount of time.  Well-run choirs, successful bands, any good performing organization runs at a level that participants understand, and the professional ones expect and appreciate.

The singers in VP know how to perform: they have done it, a lot, even if it wasn’t in an a cappella group.  Staging, choreography, show flow, lighting, engaging an audience… you learn these things by rehearsing at a high level, with qualified people, and then performing, a lot.

They are not afraid to look inside their group for help.  The guys are talented.  Many play piano: they plunk out parts when needed. 

They are not afraid to look outside their group or help.  They have their music director. 

Every group has their own situation, goals, opportunities, talents, etc.  No one is going to run their group exactly like VP, nor should they.  However, here are a few things that groups might want to consider:

If the people with theater and performing experience aren’t already involved in the performance planning for your group, they should be.  Good staging is good staging.  Choreography, show flow, presentation principles apply from other performing fields.

Singers in your group ought to be doing other performing, if they can.  During the summer, during off-times, outside of the a cappella group: theater, musicals, bands, any performing they do in other venues, what they learn there will apply back to the group.

The more detailed your long-term plans, the easier it is to short-term plan.

Many groups have large funds to pay for the next CD.  Why not use part of that fund, or start a separate fund, to hire a music director?  Or, at the very least, find a faculty member at your school, or a trusted musical friend, to act as an advisor.  Or, barring that, bring in a great aca-mind regularly (the same one, or different ones each time) to work with your group.  The resources are out there: you just have to invite them in.

So that’s it.  No secrets, really.  Ideas, maybe.  No secrets.



can you add one more thing...

they are not a 28 person college a cappella group...I would argue 14 basses, 26 tenors, 93 altos, and 3 sopranos (ha!) is just too much (unless you just can't bear to see them go to the other group)...

The Allstars have had 20 different members in 21 years. With a 5 person group that translates to just under 5 years on average...a bit longer than the length of a college career.  What if you went more than 5 members and smaller than 19 members? what if you went to, say, 9 members? couldn't that sustain itself and THEN no weak links...

either that or just be a choir...?

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