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GUEST BLOG: "Why Contemporary A Cappella Matters" by J.D. Frizzell

"Contemporary A Cappella."  When you hear that phrase, what pops into your mind?  Glee?  The Sing-Off?  Vocal Percussion?  The King Singers? 
Regardless of your current feelings towards contemporary a cappella, I’m here to suggest to you that it is here to stay, and that is a very good thing.
Six years ago, I started an a cappella group once a week after school. Our program had never done any popular music in the past. The injection of some “musical dessert” into the program was incredibly efficacious.  Not only did our concert attendance drastically increase, so did our participation.  The choral program has more than doubled in size in six years. 
It should come as no surprise to any of us that letting kids sing popular music would be, well…popular!  However, what you need to know is just how effective it is at building musicianship, too.  Many of the arrangements that my 12-member group OneVoice does contain eight to ten individual parts.   You do the math — this means each student is responsible for an incredible amount of independent singing . . . for three to five minutes at a time . . . a cappella . . . with intricate levels of articulation, dynamic, and style.
Listen to a brief a sample of what we do.
Now that they can do this, they bring a much stronger skill set into our traditional chamber choir (which they all have to be in concurrently, by the way).  Mozart, Handel, Brahms, and Palestrina are all met with enthusiasm and zeal.
I am the president of a new nonprofit, the A Cappella Education Association.  The AEA is committed to the creation, proliferation, and development of a cappella groups, programs, and curricula across America through pedagogical guidance, musical resources, networking opportunities, and collaborative support.  If you would like to support our cause or if we can be of assistance to you and your program, please contact us at
(Today's "Stick Time" column exlpores this choral form as a way for the conductor to both continue their professional artistic growth and to broaden their musical awareness.)
on October 15, 2013 7:09am
I could not be more pleased to read the writings of those who are performing a cappella choral music from all eras.  I am pleased that J.D. Frizzell has the time and energy to devote to establishing an a cappella association.  I am positive many are joining me in a Bravo, J.D.!  When I was still in a full-time teaching post, it was not often that we heard choirs performing a cappella outside of the renaissance with the exception of a few works.  I recall the fallout of my high school choir performing Barry Manilow's One Voice in sixteen-part harmony, in total darkness (it started with a solo of course), stretched up the four slanted aisles of the 1,000 seat auditorium in single file, a cappella.  The students had worked so very hard on the concert, but this popular tune (at the time), arranged artistically for chorus a cappella, was the one work that caused the whole school to talk, caused the principal to listen to the choral boosters and create a full-time chorus teacher position, and brought more students into the program.  No matter what the era, a cappella singing is always the style that children gravitate towards.  When my middle school choir performed Barber's Agnus Dei in SATB a cappella, the choir members were performing it in small groups in the hallways and in their various classrooms.... a cappella for nine-and-a-half minutes.  One English teacher, without the children knowing what she was doing, called me on the phone and let me listen to a group performing the Barber.  The next year, the chorus gained a substantial number of male students.  My Il Bel Canto and Il Bel Canto Scelti choirs performed only a cappella works.  My larger Die Meistersingers started every concert with an a cappella work.  This was always the highlight for the children.  If you have never had your choir perform a cappella, I suggest you do so.  It is not only excellent for the musical growth of your students, but it is also an excellent way to lift your inward being.  Enjoy!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 15, 2013 2:12pm
Yes!  Remember your audience!  People need something to grab on to.  If we want our singers and audiences to appreciate classical choral music we need to give them some of what they already know as a touchstone to great repertoire.  Music from popular culture (including video games) is a great vehicle to higher learning.
Jack Senzig
Children's Choir of teh Internet
Artistic Director
Applauded by an audience of 1