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Archiv für Oktober, 2009

The Kaktus-Syndrome

27. Oktober 2009 Keine Kommentare

From a German to a European perspective
by Florian Städtler, October 27, 2009

Why German vocal and a cappella music always (or at least very often) has to be more funny than innovative? I had the pleasure to talk about this with Tilo Beckmann (founder of the first German a cappella group 6-Zylinder), Volker Bauer (webmaster of and Peter Martin Jacob (Magenta – all about a cappella) at a panel lately.

We came to a first conclusion: Main reason is the “Kleiner-grüner-Kaktus” syndrome, the historic ballast of the immensely popular German uebergruppe The Comedian Harmonists, a weight which became even heavier with the blockbuster movie about the group’s career some years ago.

Without having time to discuss this in depth, we German vocal and a cappella veterans decided, that there must be more than a polka bass line and trivial lyrics in the land of Bach, Goethe and Kraftwerk.

And there is. Not very much yet, but there is.
But only a few know about these things.

The mainstream listener, if he has any awareness of a cappella at all, suffers from chronic Kaktusitis. Most probably, a cappella fans from abroad (hello US, hello Asia!) might presume German vocal music deals with beer + bretzels and is performed in Lederhosn + Dirndl (by the way, you might be surprised, how contemporary German folk fashion can try to be:

Well, it’s probably our job over here to adjust some things and spread the news that there’s something if not a lot to explore in A Cappella Germany, let alone Europe.
And the guys in the rehearsal rooms, at the arranging screen or desk, the choreographers, producers, sound engineers, they all have to do their homework to reach international standard. Remember: We are about twenty years behind when it comes to vocal and a cappella history compared to the US.

On the other hand there are millions (!) of people singing in thousands of choirs and vocal ensembles in Germany alone. And all those people who love to sing together as an expression of social interaction, have just begun to learn about the potential of contemporary vocal and a cappella music.

When talking with Peder Karlsson, singer with The Real Group from Stockholm/Sweden (check out their brandnew, fantastic album!) he surprised me with his opinion, that “Germany is still the single biggest music market in Europe”. Which is true – but we Germans tend to forget about the priceless variety of festivals, promoters, music schools, academies and of course people who love music in our home country!

These talks, which started at the 2nd Vocal Jazz Summit in Mainz Germany in the beginning of October 2009, are going on. Everybody, no matter from what European country, seems to be fascinated about the ongoing development of the young, incredibly colourful European vocal and a cappella scene.

Today the groups that really work on a unique musical profile on an international level without relying on a comedy show to distract from their Kaktus roots are very rare. If you go to the Scandinavian countries, you see how European artists can build something very individual and authentic, combining timeless international styles like jazz, world or funk with the sounds and influences of their home countries. It’s difficult to highlight one group, but listen to the Norwegian newcomer ensemble Pust ( or of course the wonderful Finnish soundscapists of Rajaton (

Hopefully, many more of these wonderful mixes of regional and international culture will develop in the upcoming years. Vocal Blog will try to be a medium and a mirror for all those who strive to become voices of their own.

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“Akerpellur”….and you thought singing it was hard

9. Oktober 2009 1 Kommentar

by Christopher Jay, The Swingle Singers

The A Cappella Conundrum

A cappella, Acapella, A capella, Acapella, Acapela….Akerpellur? A mixed salad is more consistent than the array of spellings you see for this musical form. Forget about the intonation and the ensemble, spelling it seems to be the most troublesome part. And once you have got that right, you are just left with defining it and that is where the discussions really start!

Having just been to the truly fantastic and inspirational Vocal Jazz summit in Mainz, I was not surprised in the least to notice a few variations of the a cappella conundrum!! If you are bored, really bored, or interested, read on….

A cappella – two words, two “p’s” and two “l’s” - singing without instruments

a cappella vs a capella
So is a capella wrong? Not technically, but it is Latin. In Italian Catholic Churches where the term a cappella originates from, the sacred texts were sung in Latin, so the Latin spelling was popular. However, classical music terminology is in Italian and the Italian spelling is a cappella.

Singing Without Instruments
“Singing without instruments” is a description. A cappella literally translates as “in the style of the chapel”. So what does that mean? It was first used in Italian Catholic Churches to describe their worship style where sacred texts were normally sung without independent instrumental accompaniment. Occasionally an instrument might be playing aswell, but it would be doubling a part which was also being sung. This leads to a point of discussion where some people call their voice an “instrument”, so they could technically argue that if they sang another harmony, an “instrument” could be playing an extra part to the vocal lines. So maybe a slightly modified description would be music that is sung without independent non-vocal instrumental accompaniment.

The fact was that Italian Catholic Churches didn’t need instruments. The sacred texts were the important thing and these were sung by voices. This form of music is what the term a cappella refers to. The great irony is that as a cappella singing has developed and with the use of microphones, vocal techniques such as beat boxing and instrumental imitation have become so advanced that many a cappella groups now make it a central feature of their performance to create sound effects that convince their audience there must be a backing band accompanying the group hidden behind the curtain!

So to summarise, the spelling “a capella” is not technically wrong and “a cappella” describes the sound of the music form, even though it can sound exactly like what it isn’t! Clear?

A cappella – two words, two “p’s” and two “l’s” - singing without instruments

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A Summit of Inspiration

6. Oktober 2009 5 Kommentare

By Florian Städtler, SpielPlanVier

Expectations were high: The first Vocal Jazz Summit in 2005 was a spectacular event and a pioneering work. This festival was one of the first of its kind and set an outstanding benchmark with a unique line-up: Take Six, The New York Voices and The Real Group.

Soon after that, the vocal festival virus spread around Europe. In addition to the longtime a cappella Meccas “Solevoci” (, Voice Mania (, Leipzig A Cappella ( and Vokal Total ( some fantastic new events emerged. The Real Group invited 42 international groups to The Real Festival (, Vocal Line’s Jens Johansen founded the Aarhus Vocal Festival ( and more a cappella festivals are being planned in Soesterberg/NL, London/UK, Trondheim/NO and elsewhere.

Holger Wittgen, festival organizer for the German “Kultursommer Rheinland-Pfalz”, nevertheless worked hard to make a second edition of THE Summit possible. And he and his team succeeded. They put together a festival that no one, who took part will easily forget: A three-days beatbox masterclass with mouth percussion genius Roxorloops, coachings by Steve Zegree and members of the headlining ensembles, half a dozen highly talented young groups (Pust, Vocado, Touché, Vocaloca, Witloof Bay, Vocal Journey) and – of course – the stars: The Manhattan Transfer, The Swingle Singers and The Real Group.

If you thought this line-up with two living legends would be less hip and energetic than that of four years ago, the singers easily proved you wrong: ManTran presented a show that made clear that they are still the kings (and queens) of the Vocalese, four-part harmony jungle. The Swingles surprised many a listener with a singer-songwriter repertoire mixed very cleverly with only a few of the all-time classics (you know those      “Swingles ringtones” like Bach’s “Badinerie”). The Real Group, well, they are no less than a perfect work of art. Not even the fact, that one of their members had serious problems with her vocal chords which allowed them to do a 45 minute set only, could lessen the sheer joy you feel when listening to them.

The concerts were amazing, the audience – including lots of singers and hardcore a cappella fans – was enthusiastic. But even more impressive was the general mood during the whole festival. In workshops, coachings, masterclasses, at the cafeteria, the canteen or at the first-time ever Vocal Blog Market Place (the place where online contacts become offline friends) and in two public panels, the a cappella family met, talked, networked and learnt from each other.

To sum it up: These were days of pure inspiration, exhausting but wonderful. Let’s hope that we will all meet again soon, work on common ideas, give common concerts and create great music and better opportunities for all who love vocal music.

To stay in touch, I’m going to invite all the performing ensembles, the coaches and the organizers of the Vocal Jazz Summit 2009 to guest-blog a few lines on what they loved most at this very special festival. Of course it would also be interesting to learn more about their vision of a vocal and a cappella music in general and what they want to achieve with their groups. I’m really looking forward to the input of those who made the Summit an unforgettable event and the international a cappella scene so incredibly colourful, alive and kicking.

Freiburg, October 06, 2009

Florian Städtler

P.S. Vocal Blog plans to be present with its Live Market Place at the European top a cappella events of the future. If you have any suggestions in addition to those named above, feel free to get in touch with us or post them right here.