I’ve talked to other a cappella directors in the Cincinnati and Dayton (OH) area a lot about a cappella. We’ve all decided that we have a cappella-itis. Maybe there is a place where we can have AA meetings (Aca Anonymous?) as Brody McDonald at Kettering puts it. Well, a cappella-itis or whatever you want to call it, has definitely helped our program grow at Winton Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s the first time in my choral career that I actually have to cut off rehearsals and tell the students that it’s time to go home. My students come in on Saturdays on a fairly consistent basis to rehearse because they love it. They have no problem rehearsing all day on a Saturday! We do that not because we have to, but because we want to. A cappella music has had such a positive effect on our choral program at Winton Woods and that is going to be the primary focus of the rest of this article.
Below is a list of the benefits we’ve reaped at Winton Woods because of the a cappella program:
- -Students are able to perform contemporary music that wouldn’t typically be performed in a normal choral setting. It is music that they love and truly enjoy performing.
- -Performing in the community has raised awareness about our music program and a cappella in general. Performing at other schools in our district has really helped to bridge the gap between the middle school and high school programs. We now perform prior to scheduling each year at our middle school to get students excited about vocal music opportunities when they get to the high school.
- -Working with sound equipment if you have it. It took a while to get the money to purchase the equipment, but when you can put on an amplified concert the kids get even more excited and it makes all those efforts needed to obtain the equipment worthwhile.
- -Our choral enrollment has largely increased due to a cappella and the buzz it has created. Last year we had more men than women for the first time ever in our Freshmen Chorus. We had 34 freshmen guys (that’s quite significant for the size of our program!!).
Below is a list of some of the things that have made our a cappella program successful:
- -I won’t let my students audition for an a cappella group unless they are involved in one of the curricular choruses. This definitely helps with recruitment for the program.
- -Getting involved with or starting an a cappella Festival. My groups travel annually to Kettering Fairmont in Dayton, Ohio for an amazing festival. Through this festival, my students get feedback on their performances and get to see what other schools are doing in the a cappella world. The festival ends with a huge headliner from the a cappella world. The headliners so far have been Rockapella, The Fault Line, and next year’s festival will include Firedrill and Mr. Tim. The kids love the bonding experience with the other schools! This has been the single most important part of our growth as an a cappella program. If there isn’t a festival in your area already, then I would start one!!
- -Building a sound system one piece at a time. I can tell you that our school definitely doesn’t have a lot of money, but we have been able to compile a sound system slowly over time. I’m very lucky to have a Fine Arts Facilitator that is very supportive of our program and has helped me to put this together. Beat boxing is an entirely different experience when you have a microphone and some effects! The kids love it!! We even have days where we just have open mic time and they jam at will. It’s a blast!
- -Custom arrangements! They’re not as expensive as you might think and I have found a couple people that do an amazing job with this. Deke Sharon is fantastic and Alex Phan, one of the directors at Kettering Fairmont High School, is very talented as well.
- -Record a CD! We haven’t completed the process yet, but I can tell you that we have recorded a clip of one of our songs in the recording studio and that alone has done wonders. I can’t imagine what a full CD would do.
I now have three a cappella groups at Winton Woods. They are:
-Counterpoint – an all female group
-Harmony – an all male group
-Evolution – a mixed group of the top students.
When I first got to Winton Woods, Harmony already existed, but the group was only performing maybe one song per year as a student led group. So I took over the group and eventually started the other two because of the need and excitement. You don’t need to have three groups! Just one group could have a huge impact. In fact, I’m probably crazy to direct three, but that’s why I say I have a cappella-itis.
I’ve talked to directors that are scared to really put a lot of effort into their a cappella program because they feel it may take away from the choral program. They see it as fluff and not substance. They feel that they need to develop their Choral Program first. All I know is that success breeds success! If you handle things the right way, it can do nothing but improve the quality of music and excitement at your school dramatically! So what’s the cure for a cappella-itis? I’m not sure! But if you want to catch a case of it, come by Winton Woods some time and see what all the hype is about because the momentum of the a cappella program isn’t going to slow down any time soon!
Winton Woods High School
Associate Choral Director/A cappella Director
About the author:
Ben Spalding is a Choral Director in the Winton Woods School District. When he began teaching at Winton Woods High School there was only one a cappella group and now there are three because of his efforts. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Kentucky. Ben’s a cappella roots go back to college, when he was a member of the University of Kentucky AcoUstiKats and a semi-professional group called 5 by Tuesday. His love for music goes as far back as elementary school and music has and always will be a major driving force in his life.