Collegiate a cappella
Collegiate a cappella (or college a cappella) ensembles are college-affiliated singing groups that perform entirely without musical instruments. The groups are composed of students and are typically operated and directed by students. The term a cappella may also refer to the music genre performed by pop-centric student singing groups. As a result, an ensemble that sings unaccompanied classical music is performing a cappella in the adjective sense of the term, but it may not be considered to be an a cappella group. A cappella groups can be found at many colleges and universities in the United States, and increasingly worldwide.
It is not known exactly when or where collegiate a cappella began. The Rensselyrics of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (formerly known as the RPI Glee Club), established in 1873, is perhaps the oldest known collegiate a cappella group. The longest continuously-operating group is thought to be The Whiffenpoofs of Yale University, which was formed in 1909. The first a cappella groups at other American Ivy League Universities include the Princeton Nassoons (c.1941), the Dartmouth Aires (1946), the Harvard Krokodiloes (1946), the Jabberwocks of Brown University (1949), and Cornell's Cayuga's Waiters (1949).
College a cappella has grown rapidly since 1980. This growth was fueled in part by stylistic changes that had widespread appeal, and in part by the founding in 1990 of the The Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA) by Deke Sharon and Rex Solomon, which enabled interaction and collaboration of a cappella groups across the United States for the first time.
The new style used voices to emulate modern rock instruments, marking a shift away from the more traditional sounds of jazz or classical ensembles and glee clubs to contemporary a cappella, with groups focusing on modern pop music, complete with complex textures and a driving beat (see vocal percussion). Today, even some glee clubs have a largely pop-music repertoire supplemented only in small part by the traditional genres.
Collegiate a cappella spans many music genres and styles including alternative and hard rock, comedy, Jewish (including mostly Yiddish or Hebrew songs), Christian (including Christian pop and rearranged hymns), South Asian fusion (mainly composed of youth of South Asian origin or heritage), jazz-influenced pop, fusion, barbershop, Rhythm and Blues, madrigals, and jazz. Differences in musical styles and individual group preferences result in a great diversity of music arrangements and performances.
Live performances of collegiate a cappella may incorporate choreographed movements.
An "arch sing" is a casual, public performance, often held in an archway for reasons of acoustics and shelter from the weather. Typically, one or more a cappella groups will perform for a small audience, either as a concert or to promote upcoming concerts. The term is also sometimes used to describe similar casual, outdoor performances not held under arches.
Group structure and culture
Most collegiate a cappella groups, whether all-male, all-female, or mixed, share similar traits. The groups often benefit from the talent of non-music majors who have significant experience with music, choral singing, or both. Participation in such groups provides both a social and creative outlet for students who are pursuing other academic fields. Groups are generally self-sustaining and often entirely run by students. Some groups receive financial support from their educational institution while others are entirely self-supporting.
Unlike professional groups, which typically have four to seven members, collegiate groups typically perform with eight to sixteen members, with full group rosters measuring up to 30 members in some cases. This large roster size is often driven by necessity, as college groups tend to see high turnover due to graduation and changing student commitments. A large member count enables a group to maintain continuity over time and it also affects the group's aural aesthetic. For example, a large group may be able to perform arrangements that have more than a dozen separate parts, an impossible feat for smaller groups.
Some groups record albums of their music, typically at intervals of two or three years. The quality of such albums has recently improved markedly due to an increased focus on multi-track recording and the emergence of professional a cappella production specialists. Achievements in collegiate a cappella recording are recognized by awards programs (e.g., the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, awarded by CASA) and compilation albums, such as the long-running Best of College A Cappella series.
Many college groups compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), an annual nationwide competition. The first three-time ICCA champion was a vocal ensemble from the University of Southern California, known as the SoCal VoCals, which won the prize in 2008, 2010, and 2012.
- List of collegiate a cappella groups
- List of collegiate a cappella groups in the UK
- List of alumni of collegiate a cappella groups
- Pitch Perfect, an American comedy film which revolves around collegiate a cappella groups
- "The Glee Club: A Musical Legacy at Rensselaer". Rensselaer Magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- "The Yale Whiffenpoofs". United Singers International. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- Rapkin, Mickey. "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory"- Gotham Books, 2008
- Anderman, Joan (2009-12-15). "Taking their shot". The Boston Globe.
- Directory of Collegiate A Cappella Groups, by university.
- The Contemporary A Cappella Society (of America), a repository of resources regarding contemporary a cappella. Deke Sharon, founder of CASA, has co-produced every Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) CD since 1995.
- Voices Only College A Cappella, Annual compilation CD of collegiate a cappella.
- Varsity Vocals, an organization dedicated to the growth and development of contemporary a cappella at the secondary school and collegiate level. Varsity Vocals produces the Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) compilation, as well as the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) and the International Championship of High School A Cappella (ICHSA).
- Recorded A Cappella Review Board, RARB is an a cappella album review service. RARB features over 650 album reviews, many of which are collegiate groups.