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Artikel Tagged ‘The Real Group’

The Real Group – on their 30th anniversary tour in Korea

24. September 2015 Keine Kommentare

by Juliana Baron, Vocal Blog Asia, September 2015

It was 1984 when The Real Group was formed. More than 3 decades later, they are still touring across the globe and celebrating their 30th anniversary with their fans all over the world. A few days ago, The Real Group had a concert in the Seoul Arts Center in Korea. Although in the same time zone, we failed to do a „Real“time interview due to bad internet connection. But Morten, baritone of The Real Group, was so nice to give me an interview at a later time. I am very happy to share it with you here on Vocal Blog!

An Interview with Morten Vinther (The Real Group)

Juliana: Congratulations to your 30th anniversary – The seniors of contemporary a cappella! This year (2015), you started your anniversary world tour – is it routine or how does it feel different?

Morten Vinther Sørensen, The Real Group

Morten Vinther Sørensen, The Real Group

Morten: It feels like an extreme privilege for us, to get to celebrate our anniversary with so many people all over the world. And singing songs from almost the whole period of 30 years, puts our own work into a new perspective – for example; choosing songs for an anniversary concert is REALLY hard, when you have hundreds of potential candidates for the list. So that feels different! And even though singing concerts and traveling is what we do, it never becomes routine to meet a smiling audience. Every night is different and we thoroughly enjoy it – recently in South Korea we had fans bringing cake and enjoyed it a bit extra! :-)

Juliana: On your „round the world tour“, you’ve just been in Korea. It seems you’ve been almost everywhere. How did you choose the countries and locations for your anniversary tour?

Morten: We actually sat down with a wish to spoil ourselves a little and said: Which places that we have been to would be on a wish-list? And then we basically tried to make that happen with our manager Helena Roos and our hardworking contacts all over the world. This far the tour has included central Europe, most of Scandinavia, United States, Japan, England, South Korea and before the year is over we will visit Germany, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Latvia, Denmark and have a few trips in Sweden.

Juliana: What is your favorite location?

Morten: Impossible to answer! Every spot has it’s own charm, and I really like getting to switch between cultures and regions all the time. We are all in love with FOOD though (!), which results in tough concerts when we visit countries like Italy and Japan – note to self: don’t eat the 15th bite of sushi before the concert!

Juliana: What is your special linkage to Korea?

Morten: Some years back a very visionary man - Jay W. Sung, FEEL MUSIC – contacted us, because he wanted to use our music in TV-commercials in South Korea and he immediately made us appear on big campaigns on national TV. So that was actually the start of when ended out extensive touring in Korea, hosting an a cappella festival in Seoul, singing at the opening-ceremony of the FIFA World Cup and developing the “a cappella phone” with LG to name the most important things (of course, the love for Korean food followed…)

Juliana: What is your personal highlight touring / singing with the Real Group?

The Real Group

The Real Group

Morten: Personal highlights, hmm, there’s almost too many highlights – but I will try to name a few.

- Touring in South Africa is definitely on the list. We are ambassadors for the charity organization Star for Life that work in South Africa have been visiting schools with that initiative, while also doing our normal concert. Deeply moving encounters with the smiles, the singing and the past.

- Almost living for one month (in total) in the middle of Shibuya, Tokyo, while singing 19 concerts in almost all the suburban areas of Tokyo. Feels a little like home when we come back now.

Juliana: Looking back in your band’s history and your many visits to Asia, how do you think the A Cappella world changed during that time? Especially in Asia?

Morten: The genre has opened up to so many different ways of approaching a cappella. In Asia we have seen both the contemporary and the folky styles develop a lot.

Juliana: Three decades „The Real Group“ – you became ambassadors for a cappella – What is the secret of establishing a worldwide successful renown a cappella group and keeping at the top, motivating and inspiring other groups to sing a cappella?

Morten: I would say that The Real Group has never had those “goals” in mind. I’m not sure it’s secrets but curiosity, timing, respect and extremely hard work has definitely been factors, that has helped on the way – hard work being the biggest one! :-)

Juliana: Do you need to continuously reinvent yourself?

Morten: It would be very boring if we continued to do the same, so I think we have a natural urge to invent new music, new arrangements and follow new ideas – no sure if that is reinventing. But it probably comes out of the aforementioned curiosity… it’s hard to stop that!


The Real Group greeting the Vocal Blog followers “Meet!”

Juliana: What comes next? What are your upcoming projects? Will you continue with LEVELELEVEN (The Real Group + Rajaton)?

Morten: We have a repertoire with a symphony orchestra, that we will take out a few times within the next year. And yes, that’s our plan to continue with LEVELELEVEN – as long as Rajaton wants us on stage with them :-) It’s a very dear project to all of us and besides developing new music and exploring a new instrument together, we have so much fun when we meet. There’s already a few concerts in the calendar for next year with Leveleleven, and we’re looking forward to the luxury.

Juliana: Is „the Bass-Anders“ leaving the biggest change you experienced during your time with The Real Group? 

Morten: Yes, it is definitely the biggest change I have experienced, because Anders Jalkeus is the first member that has left the group, since I joined. That being said, I have been singing with Emmas substitute Kerstin when Emma was on her maternity leave and now more than half a year with our new bass Janis Strazdins – so the changes feel less dramatic than they might look, I guess. The music always lingers on

Juliana: Your new bass Janis joined this year. How did Janis make his way from Latvia to The Real Group?

Morten: We already knew about Janis before we started to look for Anders Jalkeus’ replacement. He used to sing in the extraordinary Latvian vocal group Cosmos and since they split up some years back he quickly made it to our list of people we wanted to talk to. For the last five years, Janis has been singing and touring with the renowned Latvian Radio Choir so it was a steady, calm and experienced guy who entered our rehearsal place to try out with us. I remember rehearsing much longer passages of the pieces than we had planned for, and generally our feedback to his singing was very positive – Janis was cool and answered: “Well, that’s what they pay me for…”    :-)  Janis feels like a great addition to the group and his background reflects the same kind of musical curiosity that can be found in The Real Group – so now we are curious about the future :-) !

Juliana: What is ”The Real Group Academy” about?

Morten: The Real Group Academy is our online “hub” for education within the vocal music field. We have tried to find a way to tie all the great teachers we know out there to all the wonderful singers who wants to learn more. So we really try to connect the singers/conductors/arrangers who want to improve – to the one they need to talk to, so they can meet in real life or via Skype or other digital platforms. The Real Group Academy organize weekend-courses, festivals, coachings, workshops and through Peder Karlsson we’re a part of the RAMA Vocal Center in Denmark. We care a lot about vocal music, basically.

Juliana: Thank you so much for your interview! Enjoy the remaining 30th anniversary tour of The Real Group!


The Real Group “Live in Japan” (also mentioned by Kaichiro Kitamura who is a guest performer on the CD)

 

Vocal Asia Festival 2015 – Impressions of Day 5

21. September 2015 1 Kommentar

by Juliana Baron, Vocal Blog Asia, September 2015

Every moment is just so special – Juliana’s first-hand impressions of the Vocal Asia Festival 2015

Sad, but true – the last day of Vocal Asia Festival (VAF) 2015 in Shanghai has come:

Day 5: Caught in the moment

Sun (Aug 9), the last day of the Vocal Asia Festival, started with one of my favorite workshop topics: „Imprecision in an Age of Musical Perfection“.

DeltaCappella’s workshop „Imprecision“

DeltaCappella’s workshop „Imprecision“

DeltaCappella inspired and motivated people in their workshop to try out new ways of learning and arranging a song without strictly sticking to the notation. Unfortunately, we found no time during the festival to have an interview. I hope, I will get the chance some day soon, to have a deeper discussion with DeltaCappella on this interesting approach.

In the afternoon, I attended the Jazz vocal percussion class of Kaichiro Kitamura, an amazing Jazz vocal percussionist and founder of the Japan A Cappella Society.

After his workshop, I got a chance to talk to Kai about the status and development of A Cappella in Japan.

Interview with Kaichiro Kitamura from Japan

Kaichiro Kitamura, Juliana Baron, Ray Chu

Kaichiro Kitamura, Juliana Baron, Ray Chu

Juliana: Kaichiro-san, you are such an international person, fluent in English, Chinese, Korean – and of course Japanese. Is it ok, to call you Kai?

Kai: Yes, well, you are half Korean, you can also call me Kai Obba (elder brother).

Juliana: (laugh) This year, Vocal Asia in Japan was kicked off. How would you describe the status of A Cappella in Japan?

Kai: Actually, we are deeply impressed by Take 6, Singers unlimited, Doo-wap and so on. Those, who listen to their music, they form up their college a cappella groups. The first a cappella club was established in Waseda University in Tokyo, which I graduated from, and that was more than 30 years ago. This was the first college a cappella club in Japan. Then, 10 years later, new a cappella clubs occurred in many colleges and many places and not only the students’ associations, but also the vocal festival associations for the public. So now, spreading out nationwide from Hokkaido to Kyushu area. There are pretty many a cappella festivals right now in Japan.

Juliana: How come that there are not so many Japanese a cappella groups going outside of Japan?

Kai: Well, one of the reasons is, they don’t know about the international festivals abroad, actually. And the second reason is, they are interested to join in international festivals, but it is tough for them to speak English. They need to understand everything in English, need to express themselves, need to understand the classes, the instructors – that’s tough for them. There is a language barrier.

Juliana: Are there any professional groups in Japan who can make their living from a cappella?

Kai: Yes, more than 10 professional groups are in Japan. Most of the teams are living in Osaka or Kobe area and about 3-5 groups are now active in Tokyo.

Juliana: What was your highlights and lowlights throughout your musical journey with vocal percussion and a cappella?

Kai: It is hard to tell, because I experienced so many highlights. One of the big highlights is the Vocal Asia Festival. Every year I was invited as an instructor. And every year coincidently, I was invited as a guest performer at the gala concert to accompany the master group of the festival. For example with The Real Group in 2011, in 2012 with Slixs, then Rajaton, The Idea of North. That gave me the big chance to perform in the world. And this year, tonight, I will also join Naturally 7 on stage. We just finished the rehearsal, it was OK (laugh). Oh, and with The Real Group, when they came to Tokyo, I just hopped into their show and the whole performance was recorded. The CD is now on sale, the title is “Live in Japan – The Real Group”

Juliana: Any lowlights?

Kai: Actually, I’ve never experienced bad things. Always the music cheers me up and people motivated me. So, every time I feel happy.

Juliana: What is your wish for Asia’s A Cappella future?

Kai: Especially for our country, we have lot’s of difficulties to host an international festival. But I want to make a change. If we promote a cappella festivals like those from Vocal Asia to Japanese concerts, to the Japanese people, Japanese singers – maybe that attracts them, I believe they will participate. All I can do is being an ambassador, tell people what is good, what is happening in other Asian countries. I will be in charge of promoting. I’ll do my best.

Juliana: Thank you so much, Kai Obba! I wish you all the best for your a cappella promotion!

 

VAF Gala Concert - The Wanted

VAF Gala Concert – The Wanted

The final highlight of the 2015 Vocal Asia Festival was the gala concert. Asia Cup winners „The Wanted“ opened the show. Although just coming out of High School, they were absolutely stunning and almost professional.

VAF Gala Concert - DeltaCappella

VAF Gala Concert – DeltaCappella

Special guest DeltaCappella brought a different sound experience and a diverse program of jazz, swing, rock and pop songs – the audience loved it. The workshop participants of the morning session were invited to sing along the chorus of Good Livin’: „We’re gonna harmonize and we’re gonna shout…“

VAF Gala Concert - Naturally 7 giving everything.

VAF Gala Concert – Naturally 7 giving it one’s all.

VAF Gala Concert - Naturally 7

VAF Gala Concert – Naturally 7

 

 

 

 

 

Mindblowing the show of the VAF’s master group Naturally 7. Next to me, there was a Chinese lady almost going nuts, almost jumping out of her seat. It seemed to be her first time in an a cappella concert and she couldn’t stop saying how good they are.

Kaichiro Kitamura’s duet with Naturally 7 bass Kelz was for sure another highlight on this show.


Fabulous gig of Kaichiro Kitamura with Naturally 7 bass Kelz at the VAF Gala Concert.

But my favorite of this evening was the encore song „Caught in the moment“. Somehow like a motto which accompanied me throughout the whole festival. Each and every moment was just so special.

 

Naturally 7: „Caught in the moment“ (which is much more intimate and touching listening to it live)

Although this was a lot to read and thanks for your interest – there was much more happening throughout the VAF 2015. Sorry that I couldn’t join and share impressions of several other interesting workshops by Ray Chu, Christine Liu, Kwok-Tung Fung, Leo Tsai and Kaichiro Kitamura. If you joined any of their workshops or want to share some of your experiences, please feel free to comment and share.

Hope to see you at the next festival whenever, wherever on this earth! Cheers!

VAF 2015 - the participants

VAF 2015 – the participants

12 deep and not so deep questions for LACF2014 visitors

by Florian Städtler, reporting from Stockholm, #VBontour

Meeting Morgen & Anders in Stockholm

Some might remember my blog post about my “A Cappella World Tour 2012″, when I was lucky to plan and direct a cappella performances at a corporate roadshow in Mainz, Hong Kong, Baltimore and Sao Paolo. Probably the closest I yet came to the thing I would call “the time of my life”, at least my professional life. These jobs are quite exciting as you get deep insight into the world of huge corporations and how they use art to communicate to their stakeholders in a more “soulful”, inspiring way. So after I introduced those guys to the art of “making-400-salespeople-learn-and-record-a-song-in-20-minutes”, they hired me for more jobs of that kind. Before I even knew it, I had turned into a scriptwriter and event director, bridging the linguistic and communicative gap between the corporate and arts world.

Working at an international corporate event as a director of a business theatre play and a staged “activist flashmob”, I’ve stayed in Stockholm for the whole of this week and when it all was over yesterday evening, I finally had  some time to meet two very good friends, The Real Group’s Anders Edenroth and Morten Vinther. We realized that we will very soon meet again, which made us even happier: At the Kulturbörse Freiburg’s “A Cappella Special”, one of Germany’s most prominent showcases on January 29th and, even before that at the London A Cappella Festival 2014, 23rd-25th of January, where they will return after their fantastic London debut two years ago.

Meeting at Urban Deli, a restaurant/deli-shop mix in the hot-spot neighborhood of Södermalm, we soon discussed all the world and his brother, starting from challenges of funeral performances to national stereotypes, the concept of individualistic education and Swedish “Knäckebröd”. Inspired by two very intelligent and witty friends, I’ve collected some questions taken right out of this conversation, that will have to be discussed further with all the other intelligent and witty people at LACF2014 after-show parties and #LACFextra events. We are happy to hear your immediate comments, too, feel free to utter them in the comments section of in Vocal Blog’s Facebook group!

1. Is Swedish “Knäckebröd” better than Finnish?

2. The world has to change, as the current system destroy the environment and the spirit of community sacrificed to economics. Who will realize AND ACT first: The Europeans? The Chinese? The Americans?

Jo Eteson, Olli Griffiths, Tiina Vihtkari at LACF 2013

Jo Eteson, Olli Griffiths, Tiina Vihtkari at LACF 2013

3. How can we get to an educational system that fits the whole variety of talent that human beings offer? Away from the “educational mass production” and around the problem of measuring learnings in a unified way?

4. Why is Stephen Fry so fascinating? Because of his wonderful language skills? Because his remarkable openness regarding his homosexuality? Because of his fantastic acting and public speaking? Because of this beautiful documentary “Stephen Fry in America”? Because of this stunning documentary of his own bipolar disorder?

5. How can you deal with a promoter who exercises his power by constantly smiling and expressing his enthusiasm while not even managing to warm a vegetable soup backstage? And should every musician be able to heat vegetable soup on a stove by himself?

6. What are the true virtues of a tour manager?

7. Is English beer better than its reputation as being “lukewarm cervisia” (“Asterix in Britain”)?

Willy "Deli" Eteson in action.

Willy “Deli” Eteson in action.

8. Did you know that Willy Eteson, former tenor and business director of The Swingle Singers and his long-time choir singing friends annually slaughter a pig to produce sausage and all kind of other British delicacies? (Keep an eye on him at King’s Place, I’m pretty sure he’ll have his doggy/piggy bag with very special treats ready in 2014, too.)

9. What percentage of national stereotypes are actually true? Is everything in Sweden based on “consensus”? Are the Danish the happiest people in the world? Are the Germany efficient and do they have that very bad sense of humour?

10. Do we tend to think that none of these stereotypes are true, because our artistic, aca-harmonic community gives us a false impression of how open-minded and polyglot people from all countries are?

11. Who was the first person to join Florian Städtler for a Vocal Jog? a) Anders Edenroth or b) Morten Vinther?

12. What are questions you would like to discuss at LACF2014?

You think this is pretty random? Of course it is – it’s what three guys at a bar in Stockholm came up with in 2 hours and with (only) six Swedish beers in total. Find better questions, if you can. And maybe even answers…

#VocalJog 2013 - are you ready for this year's Saturday morning run? #LACFextra

#VocalJog 2013 – are you ready for this year’s Saturday morning run? #LACFextra

Hi, I’m Florian Städtler, a cappella agent, blogger, event director and scriptwriter. You might want to follow Vocal Blog and I don’t want to stop you doing so. Check out the Facebook group and fan page as well as Twitter, my shop Acappellazone and the respective YouTube channel. See you in London next week, there are tickets left, but I recommend making this call now…

 

The Real Group – Win Tickets for March tour in Germany!

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog

[>> German version below <<]

From now on, Vocal Blog readers in different countries or regions will be given the opportunity to win concert tickets for a cappella concerts of international top acts. So here’s your first opportunity: Win 2 x 2 tickets for the concert of The Real Group in Limburgerhof, Germany on March 7th 2013, 20:00h. Just send the answer to this question to florian@acappellazone.com:

The Real Group’s baritone is Morten Vinther Sørensen and he comes from

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Sweden
  4. Latvia.

Easy, isn’t it? So don’t let this opportunity pass by and if you won’t be one of the lucky winners, go see The Real Group live anyway: They are one of a kind, a fascinating and inspiring live experience.

And by the way, the ticket hotline for Limburgerhof is +49 621 40 76 01.

[>> German version below, see English version above <<]

Ab sofort können Vocal Blog-Leser in verschiedenen Ländern und Regionen regelmäßig Konzertkarten für A Cappella-Top Acts gewinnen. Hier nun die erste Chance für Vocal-Music-Glückspilze: Jetzt 2 x 2 Tickets für das Real Group-Konzert in Limburgerhof (Nähe Ludwigshafen) am 7. März 2013 gewinnen. Schickt die richtige Antwort auf die unten stehende Frage an florian@acappellazone.com und bei der Verlosung dabei sein.

Der Bariton der Real Group heißt Morten Vinther Sørensen und kommt aus…

  1. Norwegen
  2. Dänemark
  3. Schweden
  4. Lettland

Einfach? Zu einfach? Wie auch immer, die Real Group live ist ein tolles Erlebnis, dass Ihr so oder so nicht verpassen solltet. Für das Konzert in Limburgerhof kann man übrigens auch noch “ganz normal” Karten kaufen, Telefon-Bestell-Hotline ist 0621/ 40 76 01. Die restliche März-Tour ist so gut wie ausverkauft.

 

BigQ #1: What exactly is a cappella?

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog founder – inspired by Andrea Figallo (Wise Guys)

Discussing the questions on the “BigQ list” with peers from all over Europe and the world has proved that we need definitions of the basic terminology to come to good results in future discussions. There are frequently used terms that I would like to explain using sources like Wikipedia and experts who wrote about these basic topics before.

 

A Cappella 

Of course, we have to look, what Wikipedia has to say about the a cappella. Here comes the short version: “A cappella (Italian for “in the manner of the church” or “in the manner of the chapel”,[1] also see gospel music and choir) music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It contrasts with cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. In the 19th century a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music.[2] Today, a cappella also includes sample/loop “vocal only” productions by producers like Teddy RileyBjörkImogen HeapWyclef Jean and others.”

Wow, that’s a surprise: The Wikipedia summary does not reflect the world of the 2012 a cappella nerd AT ALL. Let’s dig a bit deeper in that Wikipedia article: If you scroll down a bit you find the following table of contents:

  1. Religious Traditions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish)
  2. In the United States (Recording Artists, Musical Theatre, Barbershop Style)
  3. In Europe (List of links to vocal groups)
  4. Collegiate Types
  5. Emulating Instruments
  6. See also, Notes, References, External Links
The most interesting points I found about this Wikipedia article are: What we call contemporary a cappella is just a very small part of the a cappella tradition. Three quarters of  the contemporary part are about the US scene. European a cappella is a list of Wikipedia links – it seems as if nobody has taken the time to write about the European scene in general. Barbershop and Collegiate A Cappella are BIG. There is no complete, detailed and comprehensive definition of what “contemporary vocal music” is all about. Yes, there are some musical elements (beatboxing, emulating instruments, “bands without instruments”), but is that really what defines the thing we call “a cappella”? Isn’t there something more that people think when they talk and create a cappella music today?

 

Contemporary A Cappella

The term “contemporary a cappella” (or: “contemporary vocal music”) was introduced by the founders of the Contemporary A Cappella Society (formerly: of America), CASA. When they started to promote “their kind of music”, they found that most people they talked to about their passion were thinking of two traditional, stylistically narrower and rather “conservative” form of vocal music: Barbershop  singing and Doo-wop.

Distinguishing their new approach to vocal music from the old-school, often a bit corny, square and certainly harmonically and rhythmically limited way of barbershop choirs and quartets was obviously very important to the CASA founders: They included the word “contemporary” in their association’s name. In Europe, a cappella pioneers and revolutionaries faced similar problems: In many countries like England and Norway for example, a cappella singing still is mostly associated with singing sacred music. In Germany, the tradition of the first international vocal super group, the Comedian Harmonists led to the public image of a cappella being some funny guys in tuxedos singing hilarious songs for pure entertainment and as a kind of novelty. Until today, many German groups present themselves rather as singing comedians than musically advanced singers. And if groups decide to create “serious” music (classical or light), they often fail to entertain, unable to act, move or dance without making audiences cringe.

Contemporary vocal music, from my point of view, is vocal music, that is fueled by both the music that people listen to today and that kind of vocal music that innovative artists want to create now and in the future. These singers, composers and arrangers either just want to present music that is currently listened by the regular, “mainstream” listener or (knowingly or accidentally) contribute to the development of the art form of unaccompanied singing by creating something new, something unheard of.

In a nutshell: Contemporary describes a distinction between the rather conservative, look-and-listen-back-approach and the vocal music movement starting with the vocal music pioneers Bobby McFerrin, The Real Group and The House Jacks to the next generation led by Pentatonix, The Boxettes, Postyr Project, Bauchklang, Maybebop, Sonos, The Exchange, Straight No Chaser etc. as well as milestones like The Sing-off, Pitch Perfect and the emerging vocal music festival scene.

 

Genre, Style, Instrumentation?

Technically, a cappella is an instrumentation. So it is a term defined by something that it does NOT have: Instruments. That’s why open-minded festivals, competitions, schools and teachers started to use the term “vocal music” as an alternative. Or festivals and competitions with a cappella in their names just didn’t care and created more open categories, not defining microphones as instruments anymore, adding categories with choirs that are accompanied by a rhythm section or allowing groups to use loop pedals, samplers and drum machines.

If you listen to the heated discussions between purists and pragmatists about “Is this still a cappella?”, you better move up to another level of perspective: Have you ever had this kind of technical discussion in other areas of music? Yes and no.

There is that fantastic moment in music history when Bob Dylan started to go electric. When he and his band entered the stage with electric guitars and amplifiers, you clearly hear that voice from the audience, shouting “Judas!” on the live recording. However, today, most of the fans don’t care about how their band’s sound is produced – as long as the result is authentic, exciting and entertaining. Categories that are completely and utterly subjective. Pop music audiences are not interested in musicology. Niche audiences and musical niche activists are more into that kind of shop talk, that’s why you have discussions like this in classical music, jazz and a cappella.

STOP! – Here comes another outcry of the expert: “Classical music and jazz are musical styles. A Cappella is NOT.” You got a point, Professor. But you don’t need higher education to see that: There are a cappella groups and recorded music in almost any musical style on this planet. So again and again, the movers and shakers, the thinkers and community organizers are desperately looking for categories to define the common ground of a cappella. What, after all, is the smallest common denominator? What constitutes “contemporary a cappella”? What do we have in mind if we talk about this thing a cappella? Here’s a random collection of  often divergent characteristics I’ve found in earlier conversations, posts, panels and threads:

  • community thinking
  • voices as the most human, soulful instrument
  • singing in groups brings out the best in people
  • general open-mindedness
  • the will to further the development of the art form
  • importance of meeting face-to-face
  • importance of  live performance as opposed to recordings
  • not being as nerdy and square as traditional styles
  • writing original music as a critical element of being real artists
  • exchanging ideas and experiences with peers
  • a new culture of leadership by coaching and authority (role models)
  • systematic usage of the internet to widen your horizon
  • opening up to the real (music) world without losing the community spirit
  • making yourself at home in a cosy niche

This list is by no means complete, but already gives a nice impression of the diversity and the contradictions of a – well, let’s face it – a very, very small part of  world of music. If there’s one thing sociologists don’t argue about a lot it’s the fact, that the world, our society, our culture(s) and thus our musical cosmos has become significantly more complex, atomized. A hundred years ago there was folk music, classical music and popular music (jazz was the pop in the 20s) and you had to listen to it played or sung live. Today there are probably 100+ pop styles and it becomes increasingly harder for music marketing people to find the right labels for their products to make them accessible for their atomized target groups. What does that mean to us now? And for a definition of a cappella.

There will probably never be ONE A CAPPELLA. Instead, you can choose whatever you like to create your own customized version of a music that is based on the power the human voice. Some relatively successful vocal groups have deliberately chosen not to use the term a cappella or at least to not use it for their marketing, among them Naturally 7 (USA), Wise Guys (GER), Bauchklang (AUT), The Boxettes (ENG) and Postyr Project (DEN). Naturally 7 has simply renamed it “VocalPlay”, The House Jacks invented the slogan “Rock band without instruments” and have decided against using effects and pedals live. Both basically describe the fact that they use their voices like instruments.  While this “novelty concept” made The Mills Brothers an exceptional success in the 1920s, today’s groups and trendsetters (like The House Jacks, see article linked above) more and more try to avoid the novelty image of vocal music. Danish Electro-vocal group Postyr Project decline all imitations of instruments except some human beatboxing: “If we need a sound of an instrument, we use a computer sample or other digital sources”.

One of the most fascinating and eye-opening examples of there being more than one definition of contemporary vocal music is a project that is going to turn 50 in 2013: When the very first generation of The Swingle Singers became a smashing success in 1963 by giving Bach’s “Wohltemperiertes Klavier” a backbeat plus a swing, the sheer idea of doing the unthinkable (using Bach’s holy harmonies for lighthearted entertainment and with 8 singers + double bass and a mini drum set) was enough to thrill the masses.  For 5 decades the group’s generations have developed their concept: Going fully a cappella in the early 80s, making beatboxing an indispensable part of their sound musical concept with the album “Beauty and the Beatbox” in 2007 and releasing more and more original pop and jazz material since 2011.

How boring would this journey have been, if the group hadn’t changed course every decade and adapted their art to new influences and – more importantly – to the particular talents of their members. New people mean a new group. A new group means new musical ideas. New ideas that are still based on the close-mic technique called Swingle Singing mean their new definition of a cappella.

So what’s your personal or group concept of a cappella? I’m really interested to learn about the 1001 unique definitions out there. Bring them on and at the same time explore those which seem the most different from yours.

 

The A Cappella Community

If there is not one a cappella definition, there’s probably not one a cappella community. A community is a group of people who share common values, goals and visions. The larger a community gets, the more open-minded their members have to be, the more pragmatic the formerly idealistic values and visions will be treated. I personally like this idea: Sharing a common basic interest while at the same time widening each other’s horizons by exchanging ideas, concepts, opinions. And those ideas, concepts and opinions cannot be diverse enough. Open-minded people love to be confronted with other people challenging the status quo. A valuable community is not streamlined. There is no unified opinion. People look for external feedback. They even look for disconfirming evidence to what has long been accepted truth. Collective growth and mutual inspiration beat competition, intolerance, ignorance, laziness, narrow-mindedness and arrogance.

Many of us have experienced this at a regional, national and international cappella events. They found “people like me” on the internet, as the web’s social media features automatically connect fans, followers and activists of special interests like a cappella, trainspotting, vegan food etc. So the process of finding like-minded people has become much easier. The process of forming a practically and spiritually valuable community has not become easier. Remember, we live in an atomized society. What we call the a cappella community – surprise, surprise – is everything but uniform. And the more it grows, the more diverse and inhomogeneous it gets. Here are some players:

  • amateur a cappella singers, arrangers, composers
  • amateur choir directors and singers
  • professional a cappella singers, arrangers, composers
  • (semi-)professional producers, agents, managers, promoters
  • the mainstream media (“a cappella cherry pickers”)
  • amateur and professional critics, experts, judges
  • the die-hard fan and a cappella volunteer (“aca-nerds”)
  • the regular music and occasional a cappella listener
  • non-profit or semi-professional community organizers (“the aca-hubs”)
This reminds me of our first family meeting after the German Reunification. In 1991 about 100 people from all over East and West German gathered in the small town of Bad Brückenau. Those people had different professional, political and educational backgrounds, more than 50% met for the first time in their lives. A German Post-WWII special interest group, that had only one thing in common: All of these people were relatives of my grandmother and her two siblings. Can there be anything more exciting and eye-opening than this? Our “Großfamilie”, a clan as diverse as a German group can be, has since then met in different places all across the country. And of course this group includes people with very different perspectives on the world: People who vote differently, people who educate their children differently, people who support “the wrong” football team and people who simply get on your nerves sometimes. Still these family meetings have become  wonderful opportunities to learn, exchange opinions and create…yes, a community. With all its weaknesses and imperfections, but with all the inspiration and learnings that human beings need to make life good.

 

The A Cappella Community is this to me: A place of opportunity, exchange and openness. A combination of face-to-face meetings (still the best way of communication!) and a global network of people interested in taking that age-old tradition of singing together in groups into the 21st century. The diversity of the list above, the different personal interests, tastes, philosophies and goals of the a cappella community stakeholders are not obstacles. They are the indispensable ingredients if we want to make the community prosper: The pros need the amateurs and vice versa. The regular listener needs the expert and vice versa. The pioneers need the mainstream and vice versa.

 

Let’s dive into the vocal music diversity and make cross-border, cross-style, cross-ideology exchange happen. Make all community information available, make better education available and make the community’s networking more efficient and user-friendly. If we focus on making these things happen, there will be so much added value that each and everyone of us will profit from his individual version of the a cappella community.