AcaVids is Back: May 2015

It’s been quite a while, but we’re going to get the AcaVids segment back up for at least 2 posts a month, possibly more.

Things have been quite busy in the a cappella community and with a cappella on mainstream social media and even traditional media outlets. Here’s a smattering of what’s been released, performed, or featured in the month of May. Enjoy!

 

The lovely ladies of Honey Whiskey Trio

The international virtual (and occasionally IRL) vocal jazz sextet Accent

Boston’s immensely talented Fermata Town


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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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Thoughts From The Field

Earlier this year, over at Acaville Radio, we launched a weekly show where I sit down – live and in person – with an aca-group or artist for an hour or so, we talk, they sing, and we edit it down for the air. The absolute best – and most logistically difficult – part of this show is spending time with these artists.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to sit in a room with nearly two dozen groups, from east coast to west coast, and talk about what they do, how they do it, and where things are in a cappella right now. And while I’ve never felt better about the state of the genre, there were some surprises along the way, too. Here are a handful of things I’ve taken away from it so far:

1. Our community is large and getting larger.

I sat down with high school groups that had only been formed a few months earlier, and pro groups that have been going for decades. The same was true at the collegiate and semi-pro levels, too. In many cases, the conversation was about what new groups were forming, what new performance opportunities were coming along, and how they were going to keep growing and developing.

I think, at least in my head, I too often compare today to ten or fifteen years ago, and marvel at how much has evolved. But we can just as easily compare today to five years ago, and get a similar result! More groups, more festivals and gig chances, more variety within the community. It’s pretty great.

2. Old problems are new problems.

For the show, we sat down for an hour with Deke Sharon, and talked (among other things) about the impetus behind founding CASA back in the day. A key reason? A cappella groups didn’t know about each other. The organization was initially started to help create and distribute a list of groups around the country (think pre-Internet, people!).

Well, that need is back and bigger than ever. Sure, there’s fairly widespread knowledge and understanding of many of the top groups out there. But we sat down with barbershoppers who didn’t know much about other parts of the aca-community, and with contemporary high school groups and directors who didn’t, either! One example: a HS group’s director said they didn’t think there were others like them in that town. And we were in the same town as a high school group that appeared on The Sing-Off!

Some semi-pro groups that are immersed in the Harmony Sweeps don’t know about the ICCA or ICHSAs. There are plenty of high school and collegiate groups that don’t know about some of the great semi-pro and pro groups out there. The schisms are everywhere, and they really prevent a lot of collaboration and learning opportunities for everyone.
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The Sing Off Live Tour Hits NYC

The Sing Off has always been a carefully choreographed opportunity for the world to see what a cappella music can do, both stylistically and in a more meaningful sense. It is a show which offers a glimpse into and an invitation to join the tribe of people who enjoy all vocal music to an almost irrational degree. While the dwindling ratings with each progressive season might seem paltry to network executives, the several million people around the country who tuned in to the most recent “season” still exponentially outnumber the highest estimate of the proud members of our little tribe.

The Sing Off Live Tour which is now working its way across the United States is also carefully choreographed, though with less age and gender diversity than its television counterpart. Instead, the tour offers a 100-120 minute show featuring three all-male headlining groups of varying styles.  Sort of.  Ok, they are all male groups performing pop/rock music, and the singers are generally between the ages of 24 and 40. However, their performing styles are indeed quite different, and we will have accept that this was the extent of the headlining diversity on the tour. Yes, each city features a different opening group, and many of those groups include women or groups with members that aren’t in the 24-40 age demographic, but the opening groups tend to get only 10-15 minutes.  Regardless, the three headlining groups are exceedingly talented, so it would be impossible to argue that any one did not deserve to be included.*

I was pleased to catch the show in New York City last Thursday, February 19, at the Best Buy Theater. Though I can only guess that the frigid temperatures were to blame, there was a noticeable lack of energy in the crowd leading up to the show and during the performance by opening group Traces.

Luckily, The Exchange kicked off the show with a ton of noise and energy, and things started to pick up shortly into their set. Though they are technically the group with the least experience singing together (certainly in temporal terms, possibly in terms of total number of performances), one would never know it. This “super-group” of former contestants, arrangers, etc. from the show put out a set of modern, edgy, aggressive, polished music. The Exchange is the rarest of commodities in vocal music, a group in which nearly every member could carry them or another group as a lead soloist. I have never heard Richard Steighner sing a solo (gauntlet: thrown), but Aaron Sperber and Jamal Moore showed off their powerful solo voices in season 3 of the show, Christopher Diaz has won solo awards at ICCAs, and Alfredo Austin appeared several times on The Daily Show singing soulfully behind Jon Stewart and has been featured in solos for groups like Hyannis Sound and Overboard. Any one of those 4 could carry a group, but they all took turns showing off (and I mean that in a good way) Thursday night. Continue reading…

Vocal Percussion in Contemporary Choral Music

Hey all!

It has been a while since I have posted but good things are coming!  This week is the National American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Conference in Salt Lake City, and I have the honor of presenting an interest session on Vocal Percussion in Contemporary Choral Music!

Ever since I grew up watching “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, I fell in love with a cappella music, mostly due to the fact that Rockapella killed it every show. When Jeff Thacher joined on as the groups vocal percussionist, I was more than hooked, I was obsessed!

Now, in 2015, after performing with my collegiate group (The Potsdam Pointercounts) and pro groups (Ithaca-based Sons of Pitches, and The Fault Line), I find myself presenting on a topic I am fond of to choral directors from across the country!

Now, for those of you not attending the conference, I will give you a sneak peek of what I will be discussing.

Why Vocal Percussion?

Teachers have asked me this before and I usually give them a variety of answers. Here are some reasons I tell them:

1. It provides a new opportunity for students to perform- Think about it. As students grow up, some see singing as being silly or they become too timid to sing because they do not want to be judged by their friends. Some students think they cannot sing at all. Vocal percussion opens a new opportunity for those students to still be a part of a group setting and contributing, without having the anxiety of singing.

2. It helps build rhythmic and reading skills- Working with vocal percussion in its beginning phase is like teaching a student how to play an instrument for the first time. You go through each note and how to play/perform it.   You then go through practicing on simple rhythms until the student becomes comfortable. As the student progresses, the level of difficulty increases. Students continue developing mental memory, building their “chops”. The same goes for students learning vocal percussion. Students can go through a similar process where they are starting off simple, then build upon those skills until they have learned complex sounds and rhythms.

3. It helps build improvisational skills- One of my favorite memories of performing with The Fault Line was our arranging process. We attempted to make songs sound different than their original counterparts. Our group would listen to the original and think about how we could change it. My favorite example was when we performed Fall Out Boy’s ” Dance Dance”. When we first started performing it, we tried to stick to how the original sounded. It didn’t really fly. We went back and thought of ways to change it without losing the integrity of the song. The result was a slower, laid back, swung version that changed every show with the inclusion of scat solos from our lead singer. The vocal percussionist and bass are the driving rhythm of the group. Think of the form of the piece… Do you want to go into half time at a certain part? Let the beat drop? Change the entire sound? The possibilities are endless. Be creative, improvise!

 

Throughout my week in Salt Lake City, I will be tweeting from my Twitter handle @JGloTweetsStuff and my student group’s handle @EldKeyElements Follow both for updates as I will be seeing and chatting with JD Frizzell, President of the A Cappella Education Association, Brody McDonald, author of A Cappella Pop, and many others in the a cappella world!