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Home > Main > BigQ #0: The Ultimate A Cappella Life, The Universe and Everything Project

BigQ #0: The Ultimate A Cappella Life, The Universe and Everything Project

by Florian Städtler, Vocal Blog founder – inspired by Andrea Figallo (Wise Guys)

Andrea Figallo

Andrea Figallo is one of the most active, communicative, polyglot and sometimes provocative vocal music pros in Europe. His singing and beatboxing with The Flying Pickets and the German vocal supergroup Wise Guys (to name only a very few of his activities) has made him travel the world. His having Japanese in-laws even more opened up his eyes for different mindsets, habits and intercultural differences. No wonder, he reacted promptly when I tweeted about his new group’s relationship (or should I say non-relationship?) to the so-called a cappella community. It only took minutes and we were in the middle of discussing the ever-present “Big Questions” that always come up when we try to reflect on “vocal music”.

Andrea took the question of the relevance of original music to Facebook and in a few minutes again, nerds and “normal people” from Italy, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere started to add interesting points and opinions on multiple topics. I personally find the real time thread technique on Facebook fascinating, on the other hand, sometimes confusing and unefficient. So, having the luxury of a blog of my own, I decided to dig the nugget topics (“BigQs”) out of the mud of spontaneous interaction, reflect on them in order to create a starting point for a discussion and then invite both experts and the “John & Jane Doe” music listener to give their opinions on clearly defined questions.

I’ve gathered 9 basic questions as of today and would be delighted if you would add more or more specific questions to complete the debate. I hope to end up with something fascinating and priceless as “The Great A Cappella Debate” two years ago, when a Facebook post by Californian aca-fan Nate George about the wrong impression The Sing-off (season 1) gave about US vocal music caused one of most insightful discussions about a cappella I’ve yet come to see. We had people from more than 15 countries and members of Take Six, The Swingle Singers, The King’s Singers, The House Jacks as well as Deke Sharon and other people involved in The Sing-off giving their opinions and thoughts. Let’s hope this draft list will trigger something similar – it’s up to you!

How about a proper crowdsourcing project (bring on your opinions, your thoughts and theories!) combined with a serious attempt to research what has been said/blogged about these matters before and then summing it up in the first white paper/ebook? This digital summary will present the possible answers to the BigQs of a cappella and could be updated annually.So here is a first BigQ list of what from my experience most of us have discussed with different people and different outcomes more than once:

  1. What exactly is a cappella?
  2. How important are originals for vocal music?
  3. What makes (a cappella music) innovative?
  4. Does being innovative say anything about quality?
  5. Is there any connection between being innovative and being a mainstream success?
  6. What is mainstream success from the a cappella point of view?
  7. What would mainstream success mean for the a cappella community?
  8. Does the community want this kind of success (and its consequences) after all?
  9. Do vocal music nerds suffer from an a cappella reality distortion field?

Those who have read Douglas Adams’ clever, extremely funny and thoughtful book(s) “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” remember that the adventures of his heroes are closely connected to the hilarious quest for the answer to “The Ultimate Question – The Question of Life, the Universe and Everything”. The people who desperately wanted to know this answer waited 7.5 million years until a supercomputer their ancestors had programmed came up with the answer, which went like this: 42. That’s when they had to build another, even bigger computer to figure out what the actual question was.

So please, before I’m going to start the discussion with presenting the results of my research and some humble thoughts by myself, give me more, better, more precise and more inspiring questions. Questions which, once being answered, give you more certainty, energy and time to concentrate on what really counts: Doing things, implementing plans, writing music, composing originals, pushing your act, getting things done.

Good work and a better life starts with clear thinking. Let’s clarify a few things here during the next two weeks.

I’m Florian Städtler, age 42 (!) and passionate about a cappella. Being founder of my own artist booking agency SpielPlanVier, of my global vocal music conversation baby Vocal Blog and the first professional special interest online shop for all things a cappella, Acappellazone as well as Chairman of the Board of The European Voices Association (EVA), I have decided not be satisfied with my current status quo of half-knowledge. And so 2013 is the first of probably many years on the way to true mastery and insight in that peculiar music business niche we call a cappella, vocal or rhythmic choral music. Looking forward to an exciting journey, come on board!



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  1. 24. Dezember 2012, 17:27 | #1

    Is there anything that distinguishes “contemporary” from mainstream a cappella?

  2. 25. Dezember 2012, 14:44 | #2

    Hi Jean,

    Merry Christmas and thanks for taking the time to reply to the BigQ-kick-off.

    Discussing these questions with peers from all over Europe and the world shows me that what we need to come to good results in this and future discussion are definitions of the basic terminology. You mentioned two frequently used terms that I would like to explain from my point of view.

    The term “contemporary a cappella” (or: “contemporary vocal music”) was introduced by the founders of the Contemporary A Cappella Society (formerly: of America), CASA. When they started to promote “their kind of music”, they found that most people they talked to about their passion were thinking of one traditional, stylistically narrower and rather “conservative” form of vocal music: Barbershop singing.

    Distinguishing the new approach to vocal music from the old-school, often a bit corny, square and certainly harmonically and rhythmically limited way of barbershop choirs and quartets was obviously very important to the CASA founders: They included the word “contemporary” in their association’s name.

    Answering your question regarding the discinction between “contemporary” and “mainstream” a cappella, we have to define “mainstream” first. What we normally mean when we are talking of mainstream is the quality of reaching a broad, mixed audience, which is often connected with commercial success and extensive media exposure. A mainstream success is one of the core elements of popular culture: The dream of making it big motivates endless numbers of young artists to start groups or solo careers in music and art.

    Mainstream success is commonly criticized to sacrifice artistic integrity to please the average taste of the masses. The fact that we speak of a “music industry” is a clear hint that making it big automatically means to adjust your artistic career to management, planning, accounting etc. The extreme opposite to that Lady Gaga-style career would be “l’art pour l’art”, i.e. choosing your artistic persona and going for this (often idealistic) goal, no matter how difficult it is to make ends meet, no matter who takes interest, listens to your music, buys your paintings or openly shows his ignorance towards your artistic visions.

    Now what’s the connection between “contemporary” and “mainstream”?
    If “contemporary” means “current” or “future-oriented”, there is no clear causality between “contemporary” and “mainstream”.

    Contemporary vocal music, from my point of view, is vocal music, that is fueled by both the music that people listen to today and the music that innovative artists want to create in the future. These musicians/singers either just want to present music that is currently listened by the regular, the mainstream listener or (knowingly or accidentally) contribute to the development of the art form of singing without being accompanied by instruments by creating something new, something unheard of.

    Both types of approaches can end up as a mainstream success, as a niche success (e.g. alternative pop), as a happy l’art pour l’art-project or as what we tend to describe as a failure. The latter should rather be understood as the necessary step to learn and improve, especially if you made this “mistake” for the first time and because you took risks to move into unknown territory.

    In a nutshell: Contemporary describes a distinction between the rather conservative, tradition-oriented approach and the vocal music movement starting with the vocal music pioneers Bobby McFerrin, The Real Group and The House Jacks to the next generation led by Pentatonix, The Boxettes, Postyr Project, Bauchklang, Maybebop, Sonos, The Exchange, Straight No Chaser etc. as well as milestones like The Sing-off, Pitch Perfect and the new vocal music festival scene.

    Mainstream means the willingness and the ability to reach a middle-of-the-road, national or international audience, either as a one-hit-wonder or (which happens very rarely today) becoming a consistent pop music/art success.

    Jean, I hope you don’t mind, if I use parts of this answer for my next blog post.

    Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year – keep doing the great work for a cappella/vocal music in the UK.

    Best wishes,


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