What drew you to a cappella?
I always loved being at summer camp and hearing someone improvise a harmony to a simple pop song. And I was actually one of the Tufts Beelzebubs, a group I later joined as a music director at Tufts University. They came to my high school all the way from across the country because I was living in San Francisco, and they were from the Boston area. They came and sang at my high school and it just changed my life. I was like what is this? This is the greatest thing in the world! Up on stage and there was all this energy, all these sounds, layers of voices and the audience—I mean I just looked around and the entire high school was going bananas. This was back, a while ago—the early ’80s. I was in the quartet in the music band my freshmen year and then kept that going through all of my lunch hours for the next four years. We’d be a little barbershop and we’d sing a little doo-wop. I just started to arrange music then and tried to make it work.
What makes writing a cappella music so different from other types of musical composition, and what’s most rewarding about it?
There are a couple of things specific to a cappella. One of them is that each person can only create one sound at a time with very rare exceptions so it’s not like writing something for a rock band because if you’ve got guitars, keyboards or whatever all of these instruments can make multiple sounds at once. It gets really exciting and interesting because while a voice can only make one sound at a time, it’s actually able to create a wider range of sounds than any instrument and it’s also able to span musical styles in a way that instruments really can’t. I mean, you can sing popular songs and then kick into modern, heavy metal, lead guitar, rock or dubstep madness within a breath. There’s great variety and versatility that can happen within a cappella.
As seen in Pitch Perfect, a cappella can really merge different genres and different eras. Are there any particular artists who inspire you or whose music you particularly enjoy as a cappella?
I’ve always been seeking out different kinds of music with different sounds. It turns out that back in the early ’80s when I was going to high school I was falling in love with the beginning of what has become a giant a cappella movement. I was trying to find recordings by the Bobs, the Nylons, the Persuasions and Sweet Honey in the Rock. It was really hard to find out not only what a cappella could be, but also where you could find it. You’d have to dig around in the vocal section and ask people. With the Internet it’s much easier for people to find. It’s all over YouTube, it’s all over movies, television, iTunes—it’s everywhere.
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The world loves to sing. From barbershop groups to madrigal choirs to vocal rock bands, there are tens of thousands of vocal groups in America. The success of mainstream television programs such as Glee and The Sing-Off not only demonstrates the rising popularity of vocal music; it reflects how current trends inspire others to join in. In addition, through various online and on-the-ground vocal music societies, the “a cappella market” is well defined and well connected. Like singing itself, a cappella is a global phenomenon.
At the heart of every vocal group is the music it performs. This often means writing its own arrangements of popular or traditional songs. This book is the long-awaited definitive work on the subject, wide ranging both in its scope and in its target audience – which spans beginners, music students, and community groups to professional and semi-professional performers, vocal/instrumental songwriters, composers, and producers – providing genre-specific insight on a cappella writing.
The tone of the book is instructive and informative, yet conversational: it is intended to stand alongside any academic publication while remaining interesting and fun. A Cappella Arranging is a good textbook – and a “good read” – for every vocal arranger, whether amateur or professional; every vocal music classroom, and any professional recording studio.