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

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

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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  1. 11. Oktober 2009, 14:55 | #1

    Waw, this was awsome to learn!
    I do a lot of school performances. Solo as well as with my akkappella group ‘Witloof Bay’. We also teach some terms and techniques. On the next school performance this will be included in the program!
    Thank you CJ!

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