A Cappella

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

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