One way to inject popular music and energy into school-based ensembles is to include contemporary a cappella groups in their choral program. But many teachers don’t have the knowledge, skill set, or repertoire to incorporate this fast-growing style of music into their existing program. The A cappella Education Association, a new national organization abbreviated AEA, is aiming to help expand the resources available to teachers in order to help that process. Founding members J.D. Frizell, Brody McDonald, and Ben Spalding spoke with me recently about the group’s goals and what they have in the pipeline ready to help teachers looking to get into the a cappella game.
“A cappella music is the perfect intersection of student excitement – we get to sing stuff on the radio!? – and vocal proficiency,” says Spalding, head choral director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. “Singers must hold their own part on as few as one to a section, memorize complex arrangements, and perform with energy and great visuals.”
Spalding’s school group, Forte, has been runner-up at the International Competition of High School A Cappella for the last two years in addition to winning numerous recording awards including the coveted Best Overall High School Album. Most school choral directors are unsure how to wade into the a cappella waters , something McDonald would like to fix.
“If the director hasn’t done a cappella themselves, they are intimidated by things like sound gear, vocal percussion, and rhythmic syllables,” says McDonald, who holds a Masters in choral conducting from Bowling Green University and directs multiple choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School in Ohio. “We plan to help teachers overcome that fear by providing information about such topics that can translate a cappella into a musical framework that is more familiar. ”
“Our goal is to reach teachers who are not currently involved, and help them get in the game,” says Spalding. “By starting from scratch, [with a new organization] being formed BY teachers FOR teachers, we will help alleviate any concerns teachers naturally have about getting involved in new styles of music.”
Legal a cappella arrangements for high school are hard to find as most music publishers don’t carry titles. The AEA wants to provide a common place for arrangers around the country to share their original songs and get them in the hands of educators.
“We plan to have a library of original pieces arranged so that members may download music for free without fear of copyright infringement,” says Spalding. “We’ll have original music from folks like Deke Sharon, Ben Bram, Christopher Harrison, Street Corner Symphony, Alex Phan, Bryan Sharpe and others.”
“You wouldn’t believe how many groups get stuck on King Singers or Deke [Sharon]’s arrangement books just because they don’t know anything else,” says J.D. Frizzell, the group’s President. “I was there 6 years ago.”
To provide this content, the AEA website (http://www.acappellaeducators.com) is being readied for launch. The site will have a variety of resources for teachers that expand beyond sharing arrangements and include resources for teachers without a background in this type of music.
“We want to create a comprehensive, interactive website that will allow members to access resources (written, video, audio) on subjects like recording, vocal percussion, visual performance enhancement, arranging, and rehearsal,” says Spalding, who notes the group will incorporate newsletters and presentations at existing music education conferences to further this goal. “We also will begin to address issues of a cappella pedagogy, including pop vocal technique and elusive topics like vocal percussion notation.”
The national board of directors and 15 state-level presidents are already in place. Content is being developed within the organization to roll out in the near future with the goal of expanding the choral directors that see a cappella as a viable option while also reinforcing those who already do.
“The AEA leadership is seriously committed to the task at hand,” says Frizzel, the Director of Fine Arts and Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis where he oversees the K-12 program and directs three choirs. “They are willing to do the hard, behind-the-scenes work that no one else wants to do, while maintaining a long-term perspective. If the focus of its last six months of planning is any indication, the AEA will be tremendously effective in its mission.”
Though they are passionate about a cappella music, they aren’t banking on a cappella being the end-all in choral music, and would eventually be open to collaborations with other organizations once the a cappella community is large enough.
“It’s also very important for people to know that we have a love for the traditional choirs as well and that we know that both traditional and contemporary do so much to help the kids,” say Spalding. “Through contemporary a cappella I’ve seen such huge musical growth with my kids and this is also a legitimate art form.”
The trio is joined by a host of other committed individuals serving in board and state-level roles. They plan on going live with the site later this year. If you would like to donate to get them off the ground, they have a CrowdTilt account going strong.