The National Association for Music Education – NAfME – has released a draft of brand new standards for music performance ensembles at the high school level. These standards are available for public comment until October 21st and high school a cappella enthusiasts should be happy with what they see.
First and foremost, the vision statement provided by the creators of the document includes mention of “emerging ensembles”. While a cappella groups aren’t listed explicitly, they would certainly fall under that label as well as the traditional “chorus” label that is plainly referenced. To be fair, the only ensembles that are overtly listed are instrumental groups.
One of the essential questions of the new standards revolves around musical selection and giving students an opportunity to pick their own repertoire of study. Students’ ability to select music will be a skill they can take to their own peer-led groups in college or the community following high school graduation. A cappella, with the ability to sing music in the students’ vernacular, provides an outlet for student selection not seen in previous performance ensemble models where teachers drive the music selection. When students get a say in the music they perform, it takes on more intrinsic meaning for the students.
Creating or composing music for the performance ensemble is also something usually not seen in the choral program outside a cappella ensembles. This new focus contained in the performance ensemble standards fits in well with a cappella music. Students hear a new song on the radio but a printed arrangement doesn’t exist. They can wait or they can craft their own arrangement with or possibly without the help of their teacher and with or without the use of traditional music notation. Again, this is a tool that could be useful to the students down the road, a goal for these new standards.
While the analysis and performance pieces of these new standards are pretty basic throughout all choral ensembles in a school setting, a cappella music can certainly fulfill these requirements as well. I’ve never advocated for an entire choral program based on a cappella music, but incorporating even one song into a program could hit on the two main concepts that might be more difficult to reach in a traditional setting.