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Modern Collegiate A Cappella Essay

3586 words - 14 pages

Modern Collegiate A Cappella


A cappella is a relatively young art form that is catching the interest of many people across the nation. The popular movement is believed to have been started in 1909, when part of the Yale Glee Club broke off and formed the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the first collegiate a cappella group; the Whiffenpoofs exist to this day, and the a cappella movement has only grown in popularity.

Throughout the middle decades of the 20th century, professional a cappella groups attracted a lot of attention for their renditions of popular songs. As this new progressive style caught on, the a cappella art form evolved from its roots in harmonically complex barbershop quartets into a more modem and freely structured type of music. The trend-setting groups remained attentive to musicality, but left behind the rigidity commonly associated with barbershop performance. Songs like "Mr. Sandman," by the Chordettes, and "It Won't Be Very Long," by the Soul Stirrers, showed people that a cappella could be exciting and also that it could tackle a multitude of musical genres.

The next big developments in a cappella came on the collegiate front. While professional groups retained their popularity, their numbers did not increase much toward the end of the 20th century. On the other hand, the number of college groups skyrocketed during this same time period. According to the Mainely A Cappella website's history of a cappella, since 1989, there have been about 20 new groups formed at schools across the nation every year. 1 This paper suggests that the reason for the drastic spike in collegiate interest in a cappella is because students began to realize the wide range of creative expression that can be achieved through this art form.

In a cappella, there are three main avenues for creative expression. Within each avenue are a variety of distinct lanes, but all of them pertaining to arranging, performing, or recording vocal music. This paper will show how a cappella fosters the creativity and imagination of each member of a group through these three main avenues, and in doing so, it will show the reason that the popularity of a cappella in the collegiate spectrum has grown so vigorously.

NOTE : Unless otherwise stated, the arranging, performing, and recording experiences related in this paper come from my last three years performing with the MIT Logarhythms.
1 Historical information taken from the Mainely A Cappella website. See reference list.


For the most part, modem collegiate a cappella groups do not sing original songs. Though they may have a trademark song or two that was composed by someone in the group, the bulk of a group's repertoire comes from covered songs. This lack of original songs does not necessarily indicate a lack of imagination or creativity on the part of the group or the members thereof. In fact, the ability to take a popular song and make a purely vocal arrangement of it is an art...

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