On Myths and Legends

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, author of A Capella ArrangingEnjoy the following excerpt from his blog, CASA.

On Myths and Legends

In most fields, having a community that’s relatively very educated and Western-minded leads to an increased level of productivity and success.

However, the current contemporary a cappella movement, largely born out of East Coast elite collegiate a cappella circles, might also be hindered by the very same element and perspective.

When it comes to science, math and medicine, an exacting precision is essential. In the fields of economics and law, great consideration, research and care are all needed before action is taken.

Not so in music.

You cannot get better at performing by thinking about it. You cannot become a better singer by studying vocal pedagogy texts. Cerebral pursuits are without a doubt valuable, but the average Ivy League grad is likely already as cerebral as she needs to be to embark on an a cappella career.

There’s a deep, strong current that runs beneath our best Universities, and after drinking four years from the aquifer, we graduate a class of young, eager minds who all share a common perception: the belief that they are excellent.

Personal mythologies are essential to us all, bolstering our resolve in difficult times, and allowing us to forge our own paths when prudence suggests the road more travelled. But the myths have changed over the generations, and there seems to be an increased belief in one’s current self as the core mythology as opposed to the belief in one’s self in the future.

Keep reading at CASA.org!

A Capella Arranging

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.

Best of Breed

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, co-author of A Capella Arranging with Dylan Bell, talks about The Bobs on his blog at CASA.

One of the problems within popular music is the alarmingly short public memory toward legends. I remember being upset that no one was paying any attention to Ray Charles, one of my idols, throughout the 80s. Thankfully, the public rediscovered him, but the world’s stages are full of musicians who deserve more focus than they’re getting today.

None more than The Bobs.

In the early 1980s, there were very few professional a cappella groups, and many of those had a sound and style reminiscent of doo wop. Not so when Gunnar Madsen assembled some singers from the Western Onion Singing Telegram Company and searched the local scene for a bass (which they found in Richard Greene, best known to locals as the voice behind the “Fall in-to the Gap” radio ads.

The quartet was offbeat and perhaps even off-balance, with 3 guys and 1 woman (an unusual combination, even today) plus a small synthesizer in their early shows at the Great American Music Hall. Doesn’t sound like an a cappella group, does it? That’s because they didn’t care. It wasn’t about trying to do something that had been done, but rather blazing their own path in a music scene (think new wave and early 80s pop) that was coming to terms with the integration of technology into music.

Keep reading at CASA.org!

A Capella Arranging

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.

How to Write Your First A Cappella Song

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon is the co-author (with Dylan Bell) of A Cappella Arranging. The following is an excerpt from his blog on Casa.org. Check it out for tips on how to write an a cappella song.

There are endless books on the market about how to write a song, so I’m not going to go into depth. A brief web search will come up with many opinions, perspectives, techniques, models and best practices.

To these, I offer my own tidbits of advice to the first-time a cappella songwriter:

* Write what you know: Pick something meaningful to you that happened, be it an experience, a feeling, a journey, a moment. Do not make the mistake of trying to be clever, as that will be annoying. Do not try to write a general love song, as that will be unfocused. Do not try to write the greatest pop song ever, as you’ll collapse under the weight. Just as an essayist should have a thesis she knows about, make something small and personal and real.

* Write with emotion: You’re telling a story with this song, and as such the emotional content should be reinforced in your musical and lyrical choices. If you don’t care about the song neither will your audience.

* Write for yourself: Don’t start writing for other members of your group. Write for yourself. You might find it scary, but you are the one to sing this solo, so put the melody in your range, put the words in your voice. There’s no one and nothing to hide behind, and there shouldn’t be.

* Keep it simple, keep it short: There is a place for poetry and a place for epic scope. Your first song is almost certainly not that place, just as you should start by writing a short story before you write a novel. Less is more.

For the rest of the blog post, go to Casa.org!

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.

A Cappella Group Checklist

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, co-author of A Cappella Arranging, shares some insights on forming a successful a cappella group. Visit his blog for the full list.

Got a note from an ambassador wanting to take his region to the next level. He’s got multiple a cappella festivals, a harmony sweepstakes, ICCAs… but knows that a city’s reputation starts and ends with its local groups.

So, this got me thinking: what elements are needed, and which things don’t matter quite as much? Thinking out loud:
(note: this is not for all a cappella groups, but rather those that have a chance of blowing up in today’s media)

NEEDED: SOLOIST

Yes, everyone in your group must be able to sing well, but not all of them need to be amazing soloists. What do I mean by “amazing soloist”? A lead voice so compelling you would buy this person’s solo album: Jeremy Lister. Scott Hoying. Margareta Bengtson/Jalkeus. Jerry Lawson. The group can share solos, but you need at least one person whose voice is world class.

NOT NEEDED: SIMILAR VOICES

You’ll have an easier time building a blend if you create a group around similar voices, but it’s definitely not necessary. You can be Take 6 or you can be Straight No Chaser. Both are winning formulas.

NEEDED: GREAT BASS

After the soloist, the second loudest element in all popular music is the bass. That’s how it should be in your group’s mix as well, and that voice should be as low and as powerful as possible. The octave pedal can work, but if your group name isn’t a palindrome (hello, Sonos!), I don’t like your chances.

NOT NEEDED: GREAT VOCAL PERCUSSIONIST

Not every contemporary group features vocal percussion. If you’ve got one, great. If that’s not part of your sound, not a deal breaker.

NEEDED: ORIGINAL MUSIC

Your ensemble will likely have more success with cover tunes than original tunes early on, but eventually having music that you’re known for will become essential to keep you from simply being a cover band in the eyes of the public. Note that this isn’t always an original song, but it can be: Straight No Chaser has found success with both “The Christmas Can Can” (old music, new lyrics, new concept), and “Who Stole The Egg Nog” (entirely new). An original arrangement can serve this purpose, but it has to be as arresting and memorable as, say, the remake of “Mad World.”

NOT NEEDED: ORIGINAL CONCEPT

Yes, it’s excellent if your group has a new sound or approach, but I have to admit, there are plenty of bios boasting a sound and style unheard ever before in a cappella, and most fall short. Don’t tell the world you’re different. Show them. Don’t focus on being amazingly different. Just be amazing. Not convinced? Nothing about Pentatonix on paper looks much different from many other groups. There’s no huge fundamental concept behind it all, but the way they do what they do has indeed become revolutionary, and inspired millions.

Keep reading on Deke Sharon’s blog!

A Cappella Arranging

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.

How Straight No Chaser Changed The Game

deke4

Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon is the co-author (with Dylan Bell) of A Cappella Arranging. The following is an excerpt from his blog on Casa.org. Please pay them a visit for more a cappella news and discussions from Deke, who has produced music for the a cappella sensation Straight No Chaser.

They’re the funny Christmas song guys, right?

Yup. And they just sold out a 6,500 seat venue in Connecticut.

When you’re looking at the a cappella landscape over the past decade, no group has changed the game more than Straight No Chaser.

Yes, they were incredibly lucky when Atlantic Records called, but for 99 out of 100 groups, the story ends there. A cute footnote for a few thirtysomethings that had a viral video from a concert that happened decade before.

But it didn’t, because Straight No Chaser is group like no other, re-writing vocal music history year after year. What have they shown the world?

Ten Is Enough (and not too many)

Name a band with 10 people. I can’t. Maybe when you add up background singers and the like, but that’s not the band, that’s the road show. SNC is ten guys, always ten guys. Rock bands are 4 people, and theatrical shows are 30 people. You just don’t see 10 people on stage, and that kind of curiosity can be a deal breaker for promoters. They’re a cappella already… and they also chose a format that’s not done. And yet they made it work. Not only the number of guys was a risk, but…

Thirty Is Not Too Old To Start

Maroon 5 didn’t have their first hit until they were about to throw in the towel, but they don’t act or dress like they’re 30, and they’d been performing for years, building a fan base and learning the ropes. Straight No Chaser’s formula is not kids running around on stage like a band, it’s more like the Rat Pack: classy gentlemen in suits singing songs you love and making you laugh between songs. Sit out your 20s, then start your career in popular music in your 30s? Not done. Impossible. Until now.

To read read Deke’s next 4 reasons, visit this blog post on Casa.org!

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.

Happy National Barbershop Quartet Day!

deke4

Celebrating National Barbershop Quartet Day, here is a recent blog post from one of our a cappella experts…

Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon is the co-author (with Dylan Bell) of A Cappella Arranging. The following is an excerpt from his blog on Casa.org. Please pay them a visit for more a cappella news and discussions from Deke.

BOSS: A Little Bit Of Magic

It doesn’t make sense, at least on paper.

A cappella is at its best when precise, when clean and rich; an impressive, well balanced array of sounds akin to popular music with instruments.

Why then would I get up on stage and perform music I haven’t rehearsed? Music I perhaps don’t even know?

Well, it all started a decade ago in a town called Bremerhaven in Northern Germany. The House Jacks were performing for a packed club (“Pumpwerk,” a former waterworks of some kind), at which we were told a couple hundred of the attendees were all from the same company.

Northern Germans speak English better than most Americans (!), so we conduct our entire show in English, joking with the crowd between songs, and I recall the banter that night was particularly cheeky, probably due to the audiences obvious inebriation. Garth, our tenor at the time, stepped forward and said “our next song will be” and someone from the audience yelled “Great Balls of Fire!”

Ha. No.

“It will be…” and the song requests kept coming. Couldn’t finish the sentence. So, when someone yelled out “James Brown I Feel Good” we said “Fine!”, playing along with the joke.

And you know what? It was pretty good. So we took another request. And another. And the audience went WILD.

To read keep reading this article, visit this blog post on Casa.org!

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.

8 Contemporary A Cappella Coaching Tools

deke4Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon is the co-author (with Dylan Bell) of A Cappella Arranging. The following is an excerpt from his blog on Casa.org. Please pay them a visit for more a cappella news and discussions from Deke.

I looked at the clinician list for BOSS 2013 and thought “Holy moly! There are dozens if not hundreds of contemporary a cappella coaches now!” So encouraging, so exciting!

Alas, there’s literally no training program for coaches, no formal pedagogy. I assume they’re all just sharing the lessons they’ve learned as singers and directors, as I do.

To that end, I’d like to share with them, and with you, a few of the hard-leaned lessons and perspectives I’ve assimilated over 20+ years of working with groups. No need for me to mention the obvious musical techniques (tuning a chord, blending vowels, etc), as that’s easy to find. Instead, I offer a few thoughts to help round out a coaches approach, technique and toolkit:

The Big Picture

Music is communication, and as each piece of music has a particular message and mood, the myriad decisions there are to make around a particular song and arrangement should all point to the song’s central emotional focus. This is easy to conceptualize, but I find it alarming how often directors lose sight of this fact. Why did you choose this move? Why are you singing this chord in this way? “Because it looks/sounds good” or “because I like it” are not acceptable answers, especially in light  of a young director’s desire for perfection above (more on this later).

If I’m working with a group and I feel nothing when they’ve sung the song for me, my very first act is to make sure the group both understands the song’s meaning and has a clear emotional goal for the song. If it’s not clear, we discuss the lyrics, and I invite the singers to discuss their own related experiences and feelings. At the end of such a discussion, it’s very helpful to summarize in a few words, like “big crazy circus” or “gentle melancholy stream.” The specific words will be a trigger, something the director can mention when playing the pitch, just before starting the song, to help the group focus it’s emotional delivery.

Show AND Tell

There’s an oft-spoken adage in writing – “show, don’t tell” – that definitely carries an important message: use words to create a feeling rather than simply state what a character feels. Expanding this idea into coaching, I urge you not only to explain to your group how they should feel, but to reflect that feeling in your own tone of voice, your own gestures, your own mood. Create the moment yourself as you’re urging your singers to find it. In essence, you’re called upon to act while you direct, just as you’re asking your singers to do the same when they sing. Wave your arms and jump around, slump your shoulders and speak more quietly… whatever it takes. Change the mood in the room to reflect the song, and help your singers find the moment.

To read Deke’s next 6 tools, visit this blog post on Casa.org!

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.