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October 5, 2008

Enough of the a cappella comparisons!

After reading the latest article (below) about collegiate a cappella I feel compelled to make comment. To Mickey Rapkin who wrote the article I say stop equating collegiate a cappella with the greater world of a cappella music! Collegiate a cappella is by its very nature sung by amateurs - students often with little formal music training and with no real music business experience. To include them with the professional artists and singers in the genre is disingenuous and unhelpful and frankly is an insult to the talents of these musicians. Rapkin and several other writers continue to make fun of the music without making any mention of the wonderfully talented performers who have indeed been signed to major record labels such as the Swingle Singers (5 GRAMMYS – Virgin, Philips), Real Group (EMI Sweden), Take 6 (8 GRAMMYS - Reprise), Sweet Honey in the Rock (Earthbeat - WEA), King’s Singers (EMI, RCA), Chanticleer (2 GRAMMYS - Warner Classics), Naturally 7 (Sony Germany, Japan), Bobby McFerrin (10 GRAMMYS - Elektra) and the many other artists who have had successful careers on independent labels.

Whereas I am very pleased that there has been an explosion of interest in a cappella on campuses around the country and am supportive of individual collegiate groups wherever possible I do not by any stretch see them in the same league as the many successful artists who make their living from singing vocal harmony. Nor do they come close to comparing with some of the other non professional a cappella performers such as top barbershop quartets The Gas House Gang, Acoustix and Ambiance or the many fine choral ensembles around the country.

There are many a cappella singers who have extensive musical training with decades of experience performing and recording who have garnered serious awards and great reviews and are doing this as a lifelong passion and not as a fun thing to do on the weekend to impress the babes!

Posted by acapnews at October 5, 2008 6:57 PM


Amen! I completely agree. It seems that any kind of mainstream press coverage of a capella falls short of recognizing it as a "legit" genre. Most news outlets have a way of skipping over powerhouses like Take 6 and McFerrin -- instead relegating a capella to "cute" music.

Posted by: Carey D at October 6, 2008 2:53 PM

I read the NY Times article on Sunday morning. I listened to Straight No Chaser’s new soundclips, visited their webpage, and spent too many hours on their YouTube videos. I can't get enough of them. I've got a handful of CDs pre-ordered from Amazon. I've been searching Google for two days now, reading up on everything about them that I can. Naturally, that search brought me to your news site. From what I've learned of them in the last 48 hours or so, your comments about the Straight No Chaser group seem pretty far off.

According to their history, website, and an article I found from a magazine, more than half of the original members were music majors at Indiana University, and several of them have been in the music business as well, as artists signed to RCA Records, and as performers on Broadway and for Disney. Straight No Chaser should be insulted that you don't consider them to be professional singers, as most of the original members ARE professional singers. It seems pretty clear that they do have extensive musical training, and I doubt they are doing this "on the weekend to impress the babes." From their website, it seems most of them are married, and I believe they are at the age where they are doing this as a career, not as a lark.

After looking at your sponsor links, I see that you sell their college CDs, and say "One of our favorite Collegiate a cappella groups, Indiana University's 9-man Straight No Chaser goes after another CARA award with the release of another winner (their 7th). Smooth, jazzy, vocal-percussion gems from one of the strongest Contemporary a cappella groups going!" So why the negativity regarding their new professional endeavor?

Lastly, the NY Times article seems to focus on the potential of a cappella to become mainstream. None of the acts you list are mainstream. The only one I have even heard of is Bobby McFerrin, and I haven't heard anything about him since the mid-80s when he sang "Don't Worry Be Happy." Barbershop quartets? Who listens to that? I automatically envision the 1930s with the mere mention of that phrase. That style of music certainly isn't getting radio play, nor would I be interested in buying that type of music. When I look around Google for a cappella, I certainly see more information pop-up about college singing groups than I do for any of the artists you list. Blame the marketing departments at their labels.

I know I'll be buying their album, and watching for them on television if they make any appearances.

A new fan in Chicago, Charlotte

Posted by: Charlotte at October 7, 2008 1:07 PM

I wholeheartedly agree. Yes, there are a ton of top notch, professional quality collegiate groups out there, and some might even be better than professional groups but even the best groups are only packed with talented amateurs. To somehow confuse the Collegiate scene with the entirety is a disservice to both the professionals and the amateurs alike. No one talks about classical music solely in the context of grade school and conservatory efforts, even though the professionals are far outnumbered in this field as well. If you want to celebrate the unaccompanied voice, celebrate all of it, from the solo folk singer in the rural country, to the 100+ member choir in the bustling metropolis. Be it barbershop, jazz, rock, folk, country, pop, or rap, there are a lot of artists beyond the collegiate world. Cherish the collegiate world for fostering a love of the voice and for building up the awareness of the art form, but forget not the people committed enough to make a living at it.

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