2015- The Year in A Cappella

By: Dave Bernstein,  Tara Marie Ahn, and Christopher Hoffman

 

Unless you were unplugged from society in 2015, we shouldn’t have to tell you that it was another HUGE year for a cappella.

It all begins and ends with Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect 2, with a whole lot of great albums, videos, and news in the middle.

Before we begin, we just want to note that we have revived the monthly news posts at Acatribe so pay attention at the beginning of each month for all the relevant news from the previous month. In light of preparations for this post, we are skipping a formal December post but you may find some December news scattered in here. We will also include some of the big news from the September, October, and November news posts but you can read the rest on the summary post for each individual month. As always, if you have big news you’d like to share, feel free to email us at news@acatribe.com.

Finally, if you can think of some noteworthy a cappella news we omitted (and we’re sure there is plenty), please feel free to comment below or email us and we will update the post accordingly.

Also, though she is credited as a co-author, we have to note that our own Tara Marie Ahn did a ton of the work here and is very deserving of most of the credit. Show her some love on Twitter!

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So, let’s dive right in with the box office and music charts success of Pitch Perfect 2 and Pentatonix, respectively.

Pitch Perfect 2 was…a little bigger than expected. As in it grossed nearly $70 million in its first weekend and found up at $184 million domestic at the box office, and another $103 million elsewhere, for a total worldwide gross of nearly $287 million. So, yeah. A cappella is even more mainstream than you might have thought. The movie did fine critically, for what it is, garnering a 66% at Rotten Tomatoes and getting decent reviews at Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The movie also won the Top Soundtrack and Anna Kendrick thanked Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer in her acceptance speech.

Pentatonix did more in 2015 than we can fairly recount here. A few of their notable highlights, however, were:

Obviously there is plenty more Pentatonix news from 2015, but again- we can’t possibly get to it all. Feel free to add or share in the comments below! Continue reading…

November 2015 A cappella News

The leaves have fallen, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the annual holiday music aca-outpouring has begun. This is a busy time of year for all of us, so forgive us if we missed anything and for the brevity of the “Releases” and “Videos” sections this month.

News

– Pentatonix leads the news once again with their performance at the American Music Awards, where they were introduced by Harrison Ford (!) and then performed a Star Wars medley. Read about it here (with video). Also at the AMA’s, Pitch Perfect 2 won the Top Soundtrack and Anna Kendrick thanked Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer in her acceptance speech.  In other Pentatonix news, the group appeared on ABC’s The Muppets program and announced the winners of the MACY’s a cappella challenge.  Congratulations to Briarcrest Christian School’s One Voice, UCD’s MIX, and Orange Center Elementary School.

– The Swingles performed with and opened for jazz vocalist and composer Kurt Elling at the London Jazz Festival, and the Guardian offered a very positive review.  The Swingles will be performing in the United States, Italy, and Russia this coming month, with a lot more to come in 2016. You can check to see if they will be near you on their website. Lastly, the group released their new Christmas album, Yule Songs Vol. II, which is available online now.

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The House Jacks’ Newest Member Revealed!

The word is finally out! After recent news of Troy Horne’s (bass) return to The House Jacks, their final member has been revealed. Mark Joseph will bring his smooth, sultry tenor sound to complete the lineup.

11950988_1034317419914324_2032470071_nMark has been singing his entire life. In his earlier years he was always in a choir or group of some kind. His love for a cappella was cultivated in high school when he was a part of the jazz choir. There he realized that he wanted to be a part of a collegiate group in the future.

 

Mark graduated in 2014 from the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. There he was a member of Pitch Slapped, winners of the 2014 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA). He can be heard on their album, ‘Good Life’. He also won ‘best male soloist’ at SoJam 2011.

“I love how everyone has everyone’s back in a group. There’s nothing like singing and blending in harmony with other voices. That’s so much more fun than singing alone! Also, the relationships you build in a group is my favorite thing. Makes everything that much better.”

Mark is thrilled to be a part of The House Jacks! He sees the group having a great deal of versatility, as their voices are all so different. In addition, to be in a group that has been around for 20+ years, “It’s going to be a great learning experience for me because these guys clearly know what they’re doing.”

When asked what fans can look forward to with the new lineup, Mark replied, “You can expect new music, of course, and you can expect even more outside of the boxness.”

We CANNOT WAIT to see what this rebirth of The House Jacks will bring! Stay tuned to all of their social media to keep up with news, tour dates, and more! (fb/Twitter/IG: TheHouseJacks)

Acappella the Musical: A Journey Worth Taking

The world seems to be moving awfully fast these days. News is old almost instantaneously, “friendship” can mean nothing more than the click of a button, and the medium by which we experience simple joys has shifted from our eyes to our screens, from watching, absorbing, and embracing an experience to capturing, tagging, and sharing it.  Acappella, playing now at the New York Music Theater Festival, explores the road back from this rapidly-evolving cyber-immersion, as reflected through the journey of a fictional church and gospel singer turned pop star.  That the show tells its story through just human voices, sung and spoken, is not a gimmick but an endorsement for the power of two people sitting in a room talking or 4 people standing on a stage singing, connecting on the most basic of levels. In fact, it is this mode of musical delivery, a cappella music, which most effectively engages the audience during the 90-minute production.

The vocal music comes in three varieties: solo/duet numbers, dialogue-based or supported ensemble numbers, and the distinguishing point in the show, a vocal band serving as the pit orchestra.  The first two are standard in musical theater, so it is the vocal band-as-orchestra which stands out.  Sometimes, the band is onstage providing context for narrative while backing up a character.  Other times, the band serves a traditional pit orchestra function, providing music while the set pieces are changed or while a character enters or exits.  On Sunday, the band was consistently strong, with arrangements rooted in soul and gospel, but also in doo wop.  Evan Feist, music director and sound designer (more on that in a moment) has crafted simple, effective harmonies from the deep catalog of music produced by The Acappella Company.  His arrangements should please traditionalists with full, accessible chords, but also appeal to those seeking something more intricate with moments like the ringing reverse belltones near the end of the first act.  One of the emotional highpoints of the show, the R&B-flavored “War With Myself,” is a little bit loose with some of the sparse backing parts but the goal, of allowing the powerful lyrics and soloists to connect without distraction, is well-conceived if a little tenuous on Sunday.

Feist also serves as sound designer, a role which undoubtedly involves the difficult task of managing 14 separate wireless microphones.  As I was told in my interview with Executive Producer Greg Cooper and Author Vynnie Meli last week (read it here!), the group was just beginning the sound check process a few days before opening night.  Considering that very short adjustment period, the sound was pretty good on Sunday. A soprano in the vocal band was too loud at times, and a few of the middle voices were occasionally muddled, but the lead characters came through clearly, both in dialogue and in music.

So, as the a cappella writer, I’ve covered the basics of the music. Two more quick points on that topic. First, The Acappella Company is usually a Christian music quartet (otherwise known as “Acappella”), and their inspiration clearly derives from a strong faith-based source.  As Cooper correctly assured me, however, the show does not feel like a “church” or “praise” show, at least not in any exclusive sense.  Harmonies like these are universal, whether the words have religious or secular meaning, and Vynnie Meli’s book manages to broaden the story’s appeal without excising the undertones of faith and hope.  Second, the performers in the show are outstanding.  Tyler Hardwick, as lead Jeremiah, has a bright, soaring tenor which is neither brittle nor strained.  Anthony Chatmon II offers a compelling contrast with his earthy, resolute baritone.  The show’s experienced backbone, featured as both a quartet and as comedy relief, includes the immensely talented Broadway veterans Cheryl Freeman and Virginia Ann Woodruff, former Drama Desk nominee Miche Braden, and the outrageous Darryl Jovan Williams. The group’s performance of “Old Time Gospel” is a rollicking good time and one of the musical high points of the show. Simply put, Acappella is an unconditional success on the musical front.

Now, I don’t claim to be a theater critic but I will do my best to articulate why this could work as a long-running staged production, but not without a little revision and polish.  Despite Meli’s best efforts to take a collection of pre-existing, loosely related music and craft a moving and engaging story, there is still work to be done (as I’m sure she would agree).  To begin with, the story is a little disjointed and even confusing early on. There is not enough time invested in creating the backdrop for Jeremiah’s rise, including his relationship with Simon. The two were, we are later told, “Black-Eyed Peas in a pod” from the time they were young, but the vast majority of this narrative comes after the fact and is largely told through the embittered viewpoint of Simon, who comes across as a bit one-dimensional.  There may well be external factors such as show length and source catalog which will make introduction of additional character development a challenge, but it is a challenge worth tackling in order to give the story a better arc and a more nuanced portrayal of both Jeremiah and Simon.  This is important, particularly since their relationship depicts the dichotomy at the core of the story, with Jeremiah’s wandering and superficial career taking him further every day from the simple acceptance of self which Simon purportedly claims to have achieved.  Despite Simon’s claim, he bristles from the moment he learns Jeremiah is back in town until his final lines walking away from Jeremiah in false triumph, and a little less might go a long way here. Other than that, there are also a few creaky transitions, some attributable to the music and others to the book, which still need to be ironed out.

The story succeeds in the bigger picture with the help of Aunt Leona (Freeman), Mary (Woodruff), and the irascible and hilarious Mrs. Sanders (Braden).  The trio, joined occasionally by the charming Mr. Turner (Williams), bring a light and welcome respite from the heavy drama of Jeremiah’s return to town.   More importantly, the show works because the music is inspired, the performers passionate, and the journey relatable.  The show’s tagline, “A musical about finding your own voice,” is hardly exclusive to the context in which it is portrayed here, and it is one which most audiences will find familiar and accessible.

In our prior interview, Meli conveyed her early hesitation about joining the team for a jukebox musical.  However, she has successfully avoided the potential pitfall of creating a disparate, incoherent story and instead honed in on a narrative which comfortably bridges the gap between the faith-based gospel music and a coming-of-age tale with broader social and personal themes.   There’s no question in my mind that a fully-developed and broadly appealing musical is inside Acappella if she and the rest of the creative team can polish a few of the rough spots, flesh out the characters a little more, and clean up some awkward transitions. Acappella is better than I expected, but with the right development it can be everything an audience looks for in a night at the theater: a relatable story told with drama, humor, and some terrific music.  Here’s to hoping the show continues to find its voice.

2014- The Year in A Cappella

**Yes, this is going up way later than I typically do the annual review. You have my heartfelt apologies and a sincere promise to get the 2015 review up in January, 2016. If you want to help out with these types of posts (or any other types of posts), I could always use some help. Just email me at dave@acatribe.com.

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While it seemed like nothing could top 2013 in terms of the expanding global reach of a cappella music, 2014 found ways to do precisely that. Pentatonix once again led the way with some remarkable achievements in their quest for mainstream pop relevance, Peter Hollens was signed to a Sony record label, and The Sing Off continued to create a variety of new and amazing offshoots.

We begin, of course, with Pentatonix.  A comprehensive list of the performances, appearances, and other relevance would be impossible (for me), but let’s review a few of the most noteworthy items. We begin, of course, with record releases and sales. In May, the group was signed to RCA Records.  As with 2013, they released a new pop music EP (PTX Vol. III) and a Christmas album (That’s Christmas to Me). The first reached number 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart and with 46,000 sales in the first week, but it was the latter that truly exploded. That’s Christmas to Me hit number 2 on the Billboard 200, was one of only 4 albums to go PLATINUM all year (the other 3? Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, and the Frozen soundtrack).  It was the highest-charting Christmas album by a group since 1962.  The global superstars of a cappella have nearly 8 million followers on YouTube and close to 900 million views.

Ok, welcome back. So, PTX sold a lot of records. What kind of opportunities does that bring with it? Just a few things like…

 

They were interviewed on CBS, featured in articles on Huffington Post, called social media superstars by Parade magazine, and so much more.

Their 2015 is off to an amazing start with sold out shows around the country and announcements that they will appear in this year’s Pitch Perfect 2, be opening on tour for Kelly Clarkson, and are rumored to be working on an album of all originals. Their meteoric ascent continues to astound.

Nothing else in 2014 a cappella news compares to the Pentatonix story, but here’s what else was noteworthy.

Noteworthy Recordings and Releases

The House Jacks released an album, “Pollen,” in which each track features a collaboration with a different international a cappella group.

The Swingle Singers released the first of two new albums on the way, “Weather to Fly.”
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