Author: jgravely

The Highs and Lows of Collegiate A Cappella


Preparation and performance in collegiate a cappella goes well beyond what audiences see on stage. What used to be known as just an interesting and fun extra curricular activity is now becoming extremely competitive and growing in popularity all over the country.

While television shows, such as Glee, provide exciting and dramatic entertainment dealing with a cappella and the musical world, they don’t portray a cappella groups in a realistic manner. Indeed they are entertaining to watch and people can become deeply involved with songs and storylines, a cappella groups put a lot of effort and dedication into their performances and the process leading up to them. In order to pull a group together it takes auditions, arranging, song selection, learning, and so much more.

Being in an a cappella group is like being in a family. You spend so much time together and all have a passion for singing and performing. In some cases, if more than one group appears on a campus they can become extremely competitive with each other. This competitiveness can amplify when groups decide to compete. Competition is a way to reach out to other groups and see what is going on across the country.

One of the biggest competitions in the a cappella world is SoJam. This specific competition chooses seven groups to compete against each other over the course of a weekend. Along with the concerts there is a professional concert, workshops, and acabombs. It is really helpful to hear different opinions through the workshops and get to know different groups to learn from them.

This year’s SoJam competition was taken over by the Nor’easters from Northeastern University. They did a phenomenal job in the concerts and won over the crowd by a landslide. One of their biggest strengths was their arrangements. They were composed by one of their own members and fit the dynamics of the group well. The emotion they poured into each song also made them really stand out among the other groups.

Most audiences while watching a competition or a performance, doesn’t really understand the effort put behind each song. All they see is the final product. Songs don’t just magically come together into perfect blends of harmonies and sounds. Choreography doesn’t just come naturally and flow all the time. Sounds aren’t produced out of thin air to come together and sound like instruments. All of this takes practice and dedication.

Being in an a cappella group myself I get to see first hand the work that is put into the songs and the focus everyone has to have to pull them off. The first time I heard about a cappella was when my stepdad played a CD of my stepbrother’s a cappella group. My first impression was that it was kind of funny and didn’t really sound like a great way to spend time. My stepdad then encouraged me to go see one of my brother’s concerts in Chapel Hill. I was truly amazed by the performance! It was completely not what I had expected. The way a group of sixteen people could work together to form sounds the imitated instrument noises was incredible.

Soon after this concert, a new show called Glee aired on Fox Network. Glee was a show about a group of high school misfits who came together in a glee club and shared in a world of singing. This really jumpstarted everyone’s new obsession with a cappella and arrangements. The Glee cast was dominating ITunes and YouTube and the show’s arrangements were even available in sheet music so groups could perform them. In the show, the characters can just suddenly burst into musical perfection and sing their worries away through fantastic arrangements. Realistically this is not how songs are created and arranged for groups.

Some a cappella groups across the country use a tool called Finale. Instead of plucking away notes on a keyboard, you can just plug them into Finale and play it back to hear how everything sounds. This is also how some groups learn and teach the finished products. By playing the arrangement back, each voice part can hear what it sounds like separately and learn to sing their notes.

While the world of a cappella is a wonderful place to live throughout college, it seems a bit unrealistic to continue on with it as a career. Shows like The Sing Off, however, have created wonderful opportunities for people to come together and compete in a professional setting. They are designed to entertain as well as give groups the opportunity to show that they can handle the pressures of being professional. One of the biggest groups to come off and win the show is Pentatonix. Made up of only five vocalists, they ended up winning the third season of The Sing Off and continue to perform today.

The world of a cappella can be confusing and competitive, but that is what keeps it interesting and entertaining. There is more to performances than what audiences see. They look at it and see a group of people making instrument noises and blending well together. The time and effort put into each song and set can also be projected depending on how the group performs. From a somewhat nerdy way to spend free time, a cappella has certainly become a popular thing to be involved in. There are hundreds of collegiate a cappella groups across the country and they all demonstrate a passion for what they do and are proud to be in an a cappella family.


 “Give Me Love”-Nor’easters (Northeastern University)-SoJam 2012 Competition. 2012. Web. 11 Dec 2012. “Give Me Love”

“Competition.” SoJam A Cappella Festival. Living Fiction Media, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. SoJam

“Pentatonix Official Website.” Pentatonix. Section 101, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. Pentatonix

“From the Finale Blog.” Finale Music Composing & Notation Software. MakeMusic, Inc., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. Finale


 Nor’easters SoJam Win. Digital image. CASA. The Contemporary A Cappella Society, n.d. Web. Nor’easters SoJam Win

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Crazy For You!


This picture is from the Gershwin musical Crazy For You. In this picture the first thing that draws the observer’s attention is the colors. The bright pinks grab your attention right up front and then we start to notice the blues and other colors in the background. Because the colors are so bright, one might notice the contrast of the black suit on the man in front. There is also a marquis in the upper right-hand corner with lights all around it and bold letters spelling out “ZANGLER.” On the left side of the picture there is a simple streetlamp. All of the girls in the picture appear to be striking a pose and have interesting facial expressions as they are leaning into the center. The man in the picture almost has a look of concern on his face. His hands are out in front of him as well.

The costumes and bright colors being worn by the girls in the picture might indicate that they are showgirls or performers. Since they are all leaning in towards the man in the center, we can assume that he is the focal point of this picture and this performance going on. They all seem very intent on listening to what he has to say and are reacting to it in different ways. The marquis in the background might indicate that they are in some kind of city and that there is a show going on. This would make sense since there are what appear to be showgirls in the picture. The light on the left side of the picture suggests that they are probably outside. Since the man is wearing a suit, we can assume that he is not a part of this show that is happening and that he probably works for a company or some kind. Since he has a look of concern on his face that might mean that he is in a state of conflict.  Having his hands out in front of him is probably just his way of conveying some point or something he wants to say.

This picture happens to be from the musical Crazy For You and is in the middle of the song Can’t Be Bothered now. The story behind this musical is that a New York banker by the name of Bobby Child, who has to go to Deadrock, Nevada to find out about a theater that hasn’t been paying their mortgage.  When he gets there, he meets a girl named Polly and falls in love. Bobby would do anything for Polly; including help her put on a show to save the theater. However, she becomes frustrated with Bobby because he is from the bank trying to take her theater away and he has to become Bela Zangler in order to be around her and impress her. While under the disguise, Polly starts to fall for Zangler. It is a wild comedy, which is easily portrayed through the wild costume, and fun colors in the picture.

The Uniformity of an A Cappella Group

This image of Elon’s all female a cappella group, Sweet Signatures, captures the uniformity and level of performance collegiate a cappella groups give at performances.

The image above happens to be of a group I am currently involved in called Sweet Signatures. Looking at the picture we see the girls in the picture all have white dresses on and appear to be in the middle of choreography, indicated by the right leg sticking out. The color of the dresses really stands out against the organs in the background of the picture. They also stand out against the dark shadows of the audience members in the front of the picture. Everyone in the audience seems to be listening intently to what is going on in front of them on the stage. Looking at the stage, there is one girl out front singing into a mic. This would lead the observer to believe she is singing a solo and the others in the background are providing the beat behind the song. The lighting is also something in the image that stands out. The audience appears to not have any light overhead of them but the girls on stage have lights shining on them. The soloist’s hand being raised while she is singing demonstrates the emotion she is putting behind the song in order to pull in her audience. Finally, there are two mics behind and on either side of the soloist leading us to believe that the background needs help in order to balance with the soloist’s voice.

Having the girl’s all wear white dresses shows a sign of uniformity that they want to achieve to all feel equal to each other. It is neat and also very clean- looking to look similar for a performance. It gives the girls a professionalism that wouldn’t be acquired if they were all wearing sweats or t-shirts. The location is perfect too because they really stand out in the setting with the light and the organs behind them.  This would intrigue the audience to pay attention, which is what they appear to be doing in the image. The choreography provided also gives a sense of togetherness and interests whoever is watching. It would be boring to just watch a group of girls stand there and sing a song. The soloist adds an extra flair by getting into the song by raising her hand. It creates individuality in the song since it is probably a song people have heard since a cappella groups mainly re-create popular songs. The mics in front of the group places a balance between them and the soloist, which creates a better, sound for their audience. There are so many parts going on at once in an a cappella performance that it is important to be able to hear all of the clearly to get the full effect of the song.

            Collegiate a cappella is more intense than a lot of people would believe it to be. It takes planning and practice in order to put on the performances and do well and this image does a great job at pointing out everything that is worked on to put on a show.

Curation #2 Ms. Fegi

Ms. Fegi, Rachelle Dyer, acrylic on canvas, 16” by 20”

This painting conveys passion and feeling by capturing the singer in one single moment of a song. The artist, Rachelle Dyer, creates a very strong atmosphere around the subject, Anna Fegi. The first thing that might draw in the observer would be the use of color. Ms. Fegi is draped in a light blue shirt and it appears that a light is hitting her. The background of the picture remains dark and colored a deep red. Another red that appears in this picture is the lipstick on the subject’s mouth. This makes the mouth pop and draws attention to it. We, as observers, also notice that her head isn’t staring straight into the audience. She is tilted and her eyes appear to be closed while she is singing. Looking right in front of the singer is an old fashioned mic that is casting a shadow upon Ms. Fegi.

Dyer did a wonderful job illustrating the passion the singer feels by adding a head tilt. It creates an emotion that intrigues the observer and makes you wonder what the singer is feeling right then. The closed eyes also help to emphasize the power behind the song. The light colors and dark background colors create great contrast and allow Ms. Fegi to really stand out in the picture. The fact that the painting only shows the upper half of the body and is cropped to be closer up, leads us to wonder where she is singing her song and who is listening. The fact that Fegi appears to be dressed up also helps create an air of mystery in what is going on while the song is happening. The lipstick on the singer’s mouth leads us straight to her face and allows the audience to experience the passion that is being conveyed in this one instance of the song. This painting could also be interpreted as a sense of female empowerment seeing as though the subject is a female as apposed to a male.

The music industry has created a business where people can express themselves through their work and create an emotion that is easy to follow. The artists put feeling and heart into the songs in order to capture their audience and share their experiences with them. Lately the talent seems to be based mainly upon appearances rather than the raw material is used to contain. That is exactly why this painting is so refreshing for people to look at. It brings back a sense of empowerment and passion that still allows observers to question and enjoy.

The Singing Butler

Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano (1992)

Jack Vettriano’s The Singing Butler gives a fantasy appearance of certain social classes of the early 20th century.

In this painting we have the figures of four characters from two different social classes. There is a butler, maid, and two formally dressed dancers. The posture of the characters really captures the observer’s attention when you glance at the painting. The maid and the butler seem to be crouching over with the umbrellas while the two dancers are elegantly standing up to dance. The colors also jump out at the viewers. Everyone is wearing white and black except the woman who is dressed in a long red evening gown and barefoot on the beach. The colors of the sand are also interesting since they appear to be a sunset but there are dark grey clouds approaching in the background. It looks like it has already rained since the sand that they are dancing on is wet. Along with the colors, the observer should notice that none of the characters in the painting have faces. They are all looking away from the audience and the maid and butler appear to almost be hiding their faces or shielding them from wind from the approaching storm. Next we look at the size of the umbrellas. The one the butler is holding appears to be much larger than the one the maid is holding. This could be due to the fact that the butler is closer in the painting than the maid. Lastly an observer should notice that the dancing pose that the characters are in is opposite from a normal dance position. The man should have his other arm on the woman’s back and the woman should be holding the man’s shoulder with her left hand instead of her right.

We could interpret this painting as a mix between the feelings of the wealthier class and the lower class people back in the early 20th century. The author has been quoted saying that he thinks of his painting as an “uplifting fantasy.” The colors of the sand and the elegant clothing represent the fantasy party of his statement. The people dancing seem to be oblivious to the storm approaching in the background and don’t really seem to be affected by the wind that appears to be in the picture. The maid and the butler seem to be struggling to stand up and hold the umbrellas. This could represent the struggles they endured and no one seemed to really appreciate their efforts; such as how they are holding the umbrellas.

The fact that the butler is also dressed in nice clothing indicates that he is not poor. The butler in the early 20th century was in charge of a lot of the household. They were the head of all of the male servants. He was in charge of everything in household and oversaw everything as well. The size of the umbrellas in the picture could be interpreted as being symbols of their status in the household. The butler runs the show and makes sure everything is going smoothly so his umbrella would be large to represent his position while the maid is in charge of certain chores around the house so hers would be smaller.