HomeBlogsfuhrmsa2's blogGuys Can Rant, Too.... :)

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After reading my close friend Lolo’s CASA rant a few weeks ago, I began thinking about how I felt in regards to my own gender’s habits on stage.  We too have our own problems. I won’t go as far as to say I hate or loathe all-male a cappella, but it does irritate the heck out of me to see all-male groups fall into the same habits.  I have competed in ICCAs now three different years and in trying to remember the all-male groups we competed against, 2 of the 3 I can remember had sets that can be summed up in one word: ‘cheese.’ If Lolo wanted girls to have balls, we need to do the opposite and not let the testosterone get in the way of the diversity of our performances. Here is how we do this…

Cheese should not be the definition of male a cappella

Ugh…maybe this came from the stereotype of guys singing being un-masculine or “gay.” To not appear this way, we felt if we just made a joke out of everything we were doing on stage it would make it ok and maintain masculinity.  Then it’s just guys being cool. BULL.  Guys, we sing a cappella.  I don’t want to burst your bubbles, but we are not football players or MMA fighters.  No one, if given the choice, is going to pick an a cappella singer over a football player to have on their side in a fight.  Stop trying to protect your masculinity and own what you do.  You will be more of a man if you own it than trying to dance around it (literally and figuratively).

All this said, cheese has its place.  It's funny, entertaining, and can do a lot in helping the audience understand the personality of your group.  In fact, I think it’s an advantage we have over the other sex.  It is way easier for an all-male group to pull off comedy than an all-female group.  However, PLEASE do not fill your ICCA set with 12 minutes of goofy antics and ridiculous behavior.  It just plays to the stereotype that guys are all fun and never serious.  This will not help you.  The goal in competition settings is to show off the range and diversity of your group.  If you plan a full set of cheesy songs and dances, how much diversity does that show?  Use the cheese as a garnish to a mature, professional musical experience and not as the main dish.

Don’t be afraid to get emotional/vulnerable

Music is said to be the universal language.  It is because of the emotion it can elicit in people.  Your goal as a performer should be to make a connection with every audience member you can.  This connection is paramount to creating an emotional experience that they can share with you.  To do this you have to allow yourself to become vulnerable on stage.  This does not mean go onstage in your boxers (refer to the cheese comments above).  To be vulnerable on stage means to not be afraid to show your own emotions.  This is something girls have a much easier time doing on stage than us guys, but we too can utilize it very effectively to our own benefit.

I will grant that singing Da Vinci’s Notebook’s “Enormous Penis” is not the same emotion as singing Josh Groban’s “Lullaby,” but they both have emotion.  Too often male groups shy away from the latter and rely on the prior because it’s easier to talk about having an enormous penis than it is to show true, longing emotion.  You have to be comfortable with yourself and trust in the group around you to be able to show real emotion.

How do we accomplish this? Frequently, I have group discussions on more emotional pieces and ask each member to say what they are thinking about when we sing said piece.  This builds the trust of each member and really unifies the emotion we are trying to share with the audience.  I’m not suggesting you do this for every piece in your repertoire, but doing it for a few will help you understand the members of your group and how they think.  I promise this will help you.  Guys, set yourselves apart from the norm and embrace your emotions.

Don’t think that just because you’re a guy you can half-ass dancing

I have seen so many guys groups attempt to dance on stage and 98% of the time it ends in the same sloppy mess.  I think we have gotten to a point where all-male groups get the impression that half-assed dancing is OK because “we are guys and we are dancing…woohoo!” False.  It was cool to stand in arcs and bop around with the occasional sloppy intentional group movement 15 years ago, but not in today’s competition setting (although from what I have seen from some of this year’s competition, this may still be acceptable to some).  Sloppy movements distract the audience from quality musical performances.

I am not saying don’t use choreo.  In fact, I argue just the opposite.  Groups should put intentional group choreo in your performances.  Music is more than just an auditory experience.  Adding movements can be a very effective way of bringing out dynamic changes, emotion, and adds a dimension of difficulty to any set.  The key to all this is that it is intentional.  My group called the opposite the “indy boogie” (short for individual boogie) and it should not be the only movement we see in the show.  Uniform movements are very powerful and show how rehearsed and together a group is.  They are pleasing to the eye and in turn, will be pleasing to the score sheet.

An added side to this guys, don’t think you can half ass it.  If the group decides to put both arms up with jazz hands, don’t think you can get away with bent elbows and hands in a claw.  I get the feeling that all-male groups do not spend any time in ensuring movements are fully committed and uniform by all members.  Our extra lower octave isn’t enough to compensate for movements that are not together.  If you are going to use choreo in your show (which you should), spend time making sure it looks good.  Don’t move just for the sake of moving…

Don’t be afraid of the other gender's music

I have seen so many all-female groups take on the challenges of music originally by male artists.  It is commonplace.  However, I do not see the converse frequently (unless for comedy).  In fact, a while back on the Acappellablog I read a “do’s and don’ts” section on music selection and the author specifically said “DON’T: Sing songs of the opposite sex.”  They couldn’t have been more wrong.  Yes, the choices should be appropriate for the group, but think outside the box.  Take a female song and do something masculine with it.  This shows diversity, creativity, and flexibility in your arranging and in your group. So…DON’T listen to that article and DO think outside the box!

The word “sexy” is gender-neutral

Sexy in a cappella does not solely mean girls in short skirts dancing provocatively across the stage.  We guys can be sexy too.  No, I am not suggesting dressing in skirts and doing a booty dance on stage (although that would be really funny, used in moderation, and refer to point 1).  However, if you are singing a Michael Buble song, you need to have that crooner sexy attitude or it just will not be effective.  We have our own type of sexuality that can be expressed on stage.  Masculine sexuality is about confidence with a touch of cocky.  Without going into the many less-than-appropriate analogies that have been discussed between myself and others, masculine sexuality can be accomplished in many ways and none of them involve us being provocative.

In a quiet portion of song, be breathy or add in a sigh.  Always exude cocky confidence when you are on the stage.  Any time you are performing, you should know you are the best thing going.  Lose any timidity because timid does not equal sexy.  Sex the audience with your eyes and expressions (I have actually made my guys show their eye-sexy face to the group…amusing activity).  Most of all, relax….

Apply these things to songs that are supposed to be sexy and your group will have the audience wanting to meet you at the afterparty for more!!

Just because we don’t have sopranos, does not mean the high notes don’t matter

I want to reference Lolo’s rant on female a cappella on this one.  She pointed out that no one wants to listen to a whole group of girls belting high F’s.  It hurts.  It hurts when girls do it and it isn’t any better to listen to when you have high tenors singing parts that are not in their range.  Too often high notes are delegated to the high voices, but this isn’t always the best way to handle them.  If a note requires falsetto, do not assume that the tenor who sings the highest should sing it.  I have found that many basses/baritones actually have better, more controlled falsetto than my tenors do.  Make sure you investigate all options before you throw the highest notes to your tenors.  Never make the assumption that they are the ones best suited to handle them. Put effort into ensuring the voices chosen can give you the contour, control and dynamics that are desired for each line.

NEVER EVER EVER EVER direct on stage (unless it is built into the choreo for a reason)

This is not just for guys, but applies to every group that hits a stage (While I am on my soapbox, I figured I would throw this out there). You need to show that you are rehearsed enough that you don’t need someone directing.  VP is meant to keep the beat for the group.  If there is no VP in the song, practice with a metronome and your group will feel out a natural tempo and with enough practice, will be able to keep that tempo on their own without distracting me with your waving arms.  The only exception to this would be something like the ending of last year's winning ICCA set from Fermata Nowhere (look at the YouTube vids if you don’t know what I mean).  That is the only acceptable conducting on stage, period!

Shane Fuhrman: I am currently a Ph.D student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of Georgia and have been a member of the University of Georgia's only all-male group, The Accidentals, for four years.  I have been musical director and president of The Accidentals for two years.  Before my graduate schooling, I founded and directed another all-male group at my undergraduate school, Juniata College. 

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Comments

Agreed!

Thank you! All-male groups do have the advantage of being hilarious - we all know that, but you're absolutely correct when you say they don't use their vulnerability and sex appeal to their advantage. Men really sell themselves short when they don't recognize the power they have on stage as men with gorgeous voices. Even my non aca friends think male singers are hot. Work it, boys.

Diana Erskine
http://www.TrebleNYC.com

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