The Problem With Collegiate A Cappella Groups (Part 1)

First off, what’s even that great about being in an a cappella group anyway?

Lots of things.  I’ve worked closely with a couple and gotten to see some of that world first-hand.  First off, it’s a legitimate “cohority” (like a non-gendered fraternity or sorority). The cohort is truly committed to a set of goals.  There is group support.  There is an identity (generally an inclusive and non-egotistical one).  There is deep friendship. There is an ever-evolving ensemble that generates a singular energy, as members change through the years.  And there is music: beautiful music that enraptures my soul.  It doesn’t matter what genre they’re singing, there’s just something about a room filled with the human voice, and only the human voice, that is unlike any other musical experience I’ve had.

Then, what’s the problem with a cappella?

Have you ever spent 10 hours writing an essay before realizing that you read the prompt incorrectly? What about that great sandwich you were looking forward to eating all day, that you dropped in a puddle or that the dog snatched? Maybe you placed all but the last few dominoes, and accidentally knocked them over before the camera was rolling?  Washed your car to have it rain an hour later?  Or perhaps you’ve battled for 30 nonstop weeks through trials and tears to learn incredible music with your favorite people, with whom you’ve strived to reach your highest potential, just to have it all sound terrible at your final concert?

That last one strikes a chord with me.  (Actually, it strikes a tone cluster.) And from what I’ve been told, it happens far too often.  I’ll write a future post about our high expectations as modern listeners, our departure from acoustics, and how it came to be this way.  But for now, let’s take it for granted that our ears are very picky when it comes to sound.  And when months of your greatest struggles and best work leaves an audience disengaged because of a sound engineer’s unpreparedness for some “little” college gig, it’s truly unfortunate.

To finally answer this post’s question: The problem with collegiate a cappella groups is how the voices often are very poorly reproduced in concert.

Now that I’ve just thrown a bunch of sound engineers under the bus, let me tap the brakes a little. It’s not necessarily the engineer’s fault.  More on that in Part 2…

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