Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Muhlenberg Weekly on a cappella.

I have been advised by many not to publish this article, but I will no longer be silenced. Before getting to the meat, allow me to give some background on myself and my relationship to a cappella. I am no stranger to a cappella, for three years of high school I myself was in an a cappella group, the Creshen-dudes, and in my senior year I co-ran it. Two of my siblings also spent their fair share of time in a cappella groups, and I went to their performances. There was a point where I thought a cappella was cool, but that point has passed.

I understand the culture on this campus, I get that I will be in the minority here, but enough is enough. I do not like a capella. Not only do I not like a cappella, I also do not understand how people can consistently be engaged and entertained by a cappella shows. Obviously people here at Muhlenberg like a capella, there are six a cappella groups on campus, which for a campus of approximately 2,000 students that seems excessive. But before saying something as rash as that, we must consider what distinguishes them from each other. For the most part, what distinguishes them is the demographics of their members (like Acafellas or Girls Next Door), with the exception of Noteworthy, who only performs Broadway tunes, and the Chaimonics, who perform traditional Hebrew songs as well as contemporary pop hits. I can see what makes these groups different from each other, but the greater question remains.

What makes any a cappella group different from any other a cappella group in the world? As far as I can tell, not much. And this is true of all a cappella groups, not just those here at Muhlenberg. One of the best things about music is what people do with it. Musical genres are supposed to grow, develop, change with time and groups but I just don’t see that with a cappella. A cappella is just a regurgitation of popular music and it has been since its inception. How am I supposed to be interested in the Acafellas rendition of Year 3000 when I can find thousands of other groups doing virtually the same thing? This is not an attack on the Acafellas, this is an attack on a cappella. Because if I went to Williams College I’d be writing about why the Williams College Ephlats do those same songs. And I get that writing new and interesting a cappella songs is difficult, that’s why I don’t do it. That’s why I write comedy, because I enjoy putting in the effort to try and write new and interesting comedic pieces. If you aren’t going to try something new or try to make something different, what’s the point in doing it? And if you aren’t going to see anything new or different, what’s the point in seeing it? I understand that this would take a long time, but wouldn’t it be better to have less concerts that are more interesting and engaging?

I want to be clear, I do not mean to cast aspersions on any of the a cappella groups at Muhlenberg or their members, they are talented and I couldn’t do what they do. I get why people do a cappella, it’s a lot of fun to be in an a cappella group and if you like to sing it is a great way to get yourself out there. I am casting aspersions on you, the reader. Yes, you. You who attends these concerts seeing the same songs with different singers. Look at the GND valentine’s day concert. There was only one new song at this event, yet it was packed. You are going to see people you have seen before sing songs you have heard them sing before. Why?

That isn’t a rhetorical question, I really want to know because I don’t get it. To me a cappella is boring and tiresome and I don’t see the appeal but there must be some appeal. The obsession with a cappella on campus made me angry for a long time, I was frustrated that people didn’t seem to want anything new and were instead satisfied seeing the same old thing over and over again. Now it just makes me sad because trying something new on this campus is difficult and usually not supported by the student body. This isn’t a Muhlenberg specific issue, in America college a cappella groups are more common than colleges. I clearly am missing something. I am still frustrated that it seems that people would rather see a cookie cutter a cappella group rather than, for instance, a new comedian coming to campus. Maybe there is something appealing about the comfort in knowing that you will get the same thing, comfort in knowing. But what is that comfort good for? You have power, if you stop showing up in support for a cappella groups, they will have to start doing more. You can like a cappella, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have high expectations and hold people to those expectations and I hope that you do.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Good thing this is an Op Ed because you obviously don’t get it. A cappella is the oldest and most human art form on the planet. Scientist’s have shown that it was around before formed speech. If you don’t like a cappella on your campus fine, but why goad others to boycott it based on your opinion? To what end? If you don’t like a cappella then it doesn’t matter what they do live and let live. It’s not their fault that you can’t understand the complexities that are involved in the art.

  2. Hi! University of Rochester student here. Some people joke our a cappella groups are more popular than our sports teams. It’s probably true.
    Of course you’re entitled to your opinion, but be careful how you come across because it really just seems like you’re blaming a cappella for the failure of your stand up career, and maybe your stand up is also just bad.
    Anyways, people like a cappella because it’s fun, and it allows people to engage with their friends in the joyful and cathartic experience that is singing and dancing to and connecting with popular music. Not every art form necessitates originality, and whether originality is valued also depends heavily on context- I’m a solo musician too, for example, and there are many cover songs I would play live because I sound like the original artist, but not put recordings online unless my cover was unique. Likewise, I might not go out of my way to seek out a recording of an a cappella group doing a pop song when I could listen to the song itself, but a cappella allows us the chance to experience those songs live and in-person and up close to create a feeling or experience that a recording can’t.
    And there’s all kinds of growth and change in a cappella as a genre- even in the last couple decades it’s gone from more akin to barbershop to imitating EDM, and the people I know are always trying to write arrangements that keep songs interesting.
    Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s that community experience I mentioned before: it’s fun to perform for friends, and watch friends perform! A cappella will inherently have a greater draw than comedy simply by virtue of the fact a group might have over a dozen people on stage who can all promote a show and invite friends and family when a comedy show will only have a couple performers. That doesn’t mean everyone hates comedy, that’s just how promotion works.
    So, consider your motives, have a great day, and let people enjoy things.

  3. Hi, Will – I am 76 years young and have been singing most of my life. Not “you gotta hear this guys voice” quality but good enough to carry a tune and learn a part. Music is music and can make a huge difference in a life, either from participation to just listening. Do you have any idea of how much harder it is to sing with no piano, guitar, etc.? Do you understand that the smaller the group the more important it is that each singer be right in the middle of the note? There is a handbell publication called “Overtones” and the reason is simple: handbells are so perfectly made that the tone can be pure. The human voice (and other instruments) can produce overtones as well. Thus a group of four can sing a chord with 5 or 6 notes in it. The closer the harmonies, the more important that every singer be right in the middle of the note. For four years in college and for the last 15 years I have been involved with the Barbershop Harmony Society. Through choruses and quartets and some of the most talented arrangers out there I have been exposed to some of the most enjoyable music I have ever heard.
    So not to inconvenience your day at all I am giving you links to some of the groups I have had the honor to listen to often. The only instrument other than the human voice is a pitchpipe. Be careful or you might find yourself listening to other songs by these artists that are suggested alongside the video.
    Vocal Spectrum is a gold medal winning quartet. Westminster is a gold medal chorus. Voctave is just out of this world good – at least four of their members sing Barbershop. Ringmasters is a gold medal quartet from Sweden and the Voices of Lee are from Lee University in TN. Some of the harmonies in these pieces of music are close enough together that they may sound unusual but if you consider how hard the chords are to produce you will appreciate what you have just heard. Enjoy.

    Vocal Spectrum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jawmji4Caas

    Westminster Chorus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EZ3k10Hpp4

    Voctave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cculZZLY6z4

    Ringmasters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qo_N9_ZFBhs

    Voices of Lee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgHO8TcmSQ

  4. This article seems a bit redundant to me. I can understand that as a former singer, one would want a cappella to grow and develop, but all of that depends solely on the goals and inherent talents of the current groups themselves. Why does anyone cover a song? For themselves. For the people that love them that are watching these singers/arrangers do what they love. For the sense of accomplishment and pride that one has by recreating a piece. It’s not always about the audience. I get that some songs may seem less catchy. Some arrangements may be borrowed from other groups. I wouldn’t want to chastise someone for trying to work on their craft while having fun and bonding with people with the same passion. It’s about the love of the music. You want change? Do something about it. Arrange. Direct. Be an active promoter of genre diversity in a positive way. Draw people into wanting to develop their skills. This entry seems to come from a coworker that complains about their job, but refuses to communicate or take initiative to make a difference. If you have the knowledge or desire for change, but refuse to aid in a revolution, your words fall flat, ijs…lol.

  5. Hey Buddy. Your view feels very narrow/myopic because the example you use is very narrow. In your piece you also display a lack of World A cappella experience. When you have been exposed to 50 years of a cappella from around the world, you may have a good platform for a piece, but I bet it would read differently.

    College or University a cappella is just one version with many differing styles of a cappella. You mentioned on at least three on campus of a cappella styles being performed.

    In the real world if you want real difference/variety and innovation you might like to compare Take6 vs. The Kings Singers vs. The Real Group vs. PentatoniX vs. Voctave vs. The Four Freshman vs. Voice Play vs. Ringmasters (Barbershop Quartet) vs. The Suntones (Barbershop Quartet) vs. The Spooky Mens Choral vs. GQ (Girls Quartet).

    Your view is skewed by an extremely limited a cappella palette. You will find all of the above groups on YouTube so you can broaden your perspective and allow the variety within the style to wash over you.

    Happy listening.

  6. The Barbershop Harmony Society has reluctantly transformed itself to change with the times, with new and interesting arrangements.
    They have contestable and non-constable music but they are also judged on performance/presentation as well.
    And I invite you to enjoy some comedy quartets such as Storm Front, on youtube. It may quench your need for variety as well as comedy.
    Heck – maybe you’ll end up getting them a gig at a comedy venue when it’s all said and done. 😉

  7. I am so sorry you don’t enjoy a capella music. Different strokes for different folks.
    One point you make about how the group’s sing the same songs over and over, or a certain group sings a lot of the same sonsgs at their concerts/performances … People the world over pay outrageous prices to see too vocal performers at concerts sing the same songs they have sung for years, they buy recordings so they can hear the sings over and over and they go to events to hear comedians perform many of the same jokes/skits/sets that made them laugh in the past. Nothing wrong with that if it’s enjoyable. I pray you have enjoyable things in your life, with or without a capella music, and wish you much success with your comedy and your writing.

  8. I feel like this has gotta be a social experiment or an elaborate comedy routine. I doubt you would alienate an entire group of people based solely on your own preferences without some eventual comedic payoff. You’re better than that, right?

  9. If you think all a cappella groups sound the same, you’ve obviously never listened to Pentatonix, Voctave, Take Six, Straight No Chaser, Disney’s DCappella, The Nylons, Dwende, Vocal Spectrum, Crossroads, Signature, After Hours, Ringmasters, Voices of Lee, and Boyz 2 Men (when they sing a cappella). You really need to broaden your horizon before condemning all a cappella.

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