I’ve been listening to the A Cappella U podcast lately. There are so far about 13 episodes produced since fall 2005. The podcast focuses exclusively on the current collegiate a cappella scene, which had its roots in the ivy league glee club tradition, but clearly went in some new directions in recent decades.
Episode 13 features part 1 of an interview with arranger Deke Sharon. Sharon founded the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA), and he arranged the first two CASA songbooks back in the early 90’s. [ Much of Makeshift’s contemporary repertoire is drawn from the CASA songbook series.]
Sharon was active in collegiate a cappella in the late 80’s, and he described it as monotonous, mostly based on rich vocal arrangements from the 50’s-70’s like doowop and CSN&Y. In the 90’s Sharon was influential in moving toward what collegiate a cappella is today, which is to have lots of percusion. mulit-layered instrument emulation, plus microphone enhancment with the unashamed objective being to wholly imitate popular top 40 or alternative radio hits. And if you listen to the current contemporary AC scene, both collegiate and pro, it is pretty amazing, and hard to believe its all human voice. There’s a group that has simulated from start to finish Pink Floyd’s entire album Dark Side of the Moon, a cappella.
My opinion is that its a nice parlor trick, but if you want to sound like a drum kit, electric guitar and a synthesizer, then hire a band. I prefer a cappella vocal arrangments that emphasize the unadorned voice in song and musical blend. Like with Barbershop, doo-wop, madrigals, or rich choral arrangements. And when we do tackle contemporary popular songs,I think its more interesting to interpret them in purely vocal style, without electronic embellishments.
Then again, I don’t have vocal percusion talents, arranging skills, a large singing group, or even the technology needed to produce this modern stuff. So I’ll stick with what I like.
pshaw. Kids today!