For those of you who don’t know, an article entitled “Perfect Tone, a Key That’s Mostly Minor“ appeared in the New York Times on Sunday. The author, Mickey Rapkin, is also writing a book on “the history and traditions of collegiate a cappella singing” called Pitch Perfect.
It’s an interesting read, and has also sparked some discussion over at RARB. At first glance the author seems to assert that a cappella can’t break through to the “major league”, but after reading the author’s responses on RARB, I don’t think that’s how he really feels. Hopefully the book will pay some tribute to groups like Naturally 7 who are certainly not what you expect from an “a cappella group”.
What’s so funny to me is that in the discussion everyone refers to collegiate a cappella as “our world” or “sub-culture”. There is definitely a certain community that participates in or appreciates a cappella, but is it really that rigid? Granted, a lot of barbershop stereotypes come along with the term “a cappella” that I myself have had to dispel with some of my friends. And lately I’ve noticed a lot of semi-pro groups departing from the term “a cappella group” and marketing themselves as a “vocal band”, including my own. Honestly, it probably is in an attempt to distance themselves from the doo-wop stereotype. Does it really sound that much “cooler”?
I do think that the general public has come a long way, and I think that the more quality music that gets put out there by collegiate groups (and original music by professional groups), the more accepted it will be. But I don’t think covers will ever be mainstream. I mean, let’s face it, my collegiate group singing an almost exact replica of a pop song that already gets a lot of airplay is not going to get on the radio. But I think that original music could.
I say this as a person who has never written an original song I am yet to be proud of, or shared with many people. And it’s been so long since I’ve tried I don’t even remember all the words to the songs I did write. But I see a lot more professional and semi-professional groups springing up and moving that direction.