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.
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.