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A Cappella Choir

There are some students in my school who are interested in starting an A Cappella group.  I've had very little experience with A Cappella music and I would love some guidance.  Are there any books I can look at, arrangements people would recommend?  These kids are in 7th and 8th grade.  Any Jewish A Cappella music would really be great.
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on May 16, 2010 2:39am
Hello Naomi,
Where to begin?
Firstly, although there were books on the market when I started out almost 40 years ago - and they were useful and helpful - I rather doubt they would be available now.  That said, a quick glance at under choral, produced a wealth of material to choose from.
You do not say which kind of choir is envisaged: Mixed voice(SATB) or Male (TTB/TTBB), or Female (SSA/SSAA).  It has been my experience that SATB repetoire is much more plentiful than the other categories.  Living in a pre-internet era, and on a small Island off western Europe, that may just have been a local condition.  Nowadays the internet is a wonderful resource.  Apart from direct access to publishing houses, you also have composers/arrangers publising they work on line, and much of this is free.  But you have to search.
Check out
- the composer browser on - some free material, some at a price
- Choral Public Domain Library on Wiki - all free!!!  They have some Israeli music/composers
- Do a Google search for other similar sites.
- Try being creative yourself, and do some composition and arranging, with due regard to copyright law in the case of the latter.
It is not clear what experience you have in choirmastery, so just in case, Amazon also seem to have books geared for those starting out in this field.
You may also need to get material on conducting technique.  It's not just a case of waving one's arms about.
Learn about the human voice.  It's probably a good idea to take a course yourself.  That way you will be in a better position to deal with vocal problems that frequently arise in choirs.
A capella, in my view, is the apex of choral singing, but it is quite challenging when working with those of none, or limited experience, so you will need perseverance and a lot of patience, most likely.  I would also hold that it is the most rewarding.
I hope this helps.  Good luck to you and every success!
on May 17, 2010 5:50pm
HI David -
I am already a choral director, so I am very aware that choir directing, even in this case, is not just waving your hands.
I will definitely take your advice to do some arranging - I've just been very hesitant because of time restraints.  I have an 11-month old and time has been at a premium this year.
And I am also a professional singer, so I am very aware of how the voice works.
I guess the bottom line for me is that I am a choir director, singer and classroom music teacher (Kodaly philosophy) but I've been very resistant to put together an A Cappella group.  I just want the kids to join the choir but they are so interested in A Cappella.  It's a big part of the Orthodox Jewish culture .
Thanks for your advice
on May 16, 2010 9:26am
You may want to check out Linda Hirschorn and Vocolot...a Jesish women's acappella group in San Francisco.  She published a songbook at some point,years back.
on May 16, 2010 12:16pm
Naomi:  Others have hinted at this, but please allow me to ask it straight out:  exactly what do you mean by "a cappella"?  There are at least 3 different definitions currently in use, and they are pretty well mutually exclusive.  And each responder so far seems to have concentrated on only one of those styles.
The traditional meaning is choral (i.e. more than one singer on a part) without instrumental accompaniment, and the defining description (incorrect, but widely accepted) is the choral music of the 16th century by composers like Palestrina, Lasso, Byrd, Victoria, and many others.  (Incorrect because in many cases instruments WERE used to double or replace voices, but that doesn't show up in the manuscripts or prints of the time.)  This music was almost always written for men or men and boys, since women were forbidden to sing in church.  You might want to look for the music of Salomoni Rossi, although he may not have written in that particular a cappella style.
The second refers to the harmony and the singing style from the 1890s through the present day that has been preserved as "Barbershop Hamony" by both men's and women's organizations, originally and still primarily sung by quartets with one on a part, and almost never by mixed genders, and there are today a great many very active choruses singing in this style.
And finally, what I would term the "doo-wop" style using solo voice with vocal accompaniment including monolyllabic bass lines and vocal and body percussion, dating (in my experience at least) from about the mid-1950s.
Crossover styles include a cappella jazz using very tight harmonies, vocal performances of instrumental music, Gospel quartets combining aspects of barbershop and glee club styles, and many other passing fancies.
So I would suggest that you pin down what YOUR students mean by "a cappella" and take it from there.
All the best,
on May 16, 2010 5:04pm
I believe that Indiana University in Bloomington's  Hillel Foundation has an acappella Jewish music organization.  Perhaps they could give you some ideas about repertoire.  Good luck with what youare doing!
Cheryl Frazes Hill
on May 16, 2010 9:43pm
 Hi, Naomi.
Check out  They have a huge list of resources including some Jewish a capella.  Also, Primarily A Cappella,, is a great site.  I notice they have some listings for children's choirs as well as some instructional materials.  
If the singers are just starting, I like to get some rounds going first.  My favourites right now are from Joanne Hammil,, who has a couple of books out with rounds that are extremely enjoyable to perform and also interesting for the audience. Her CD's that go along with the book, give you presentation ideas that go beyond what you might do if you were just using a round for a warm-up. I have done some of them with adults, so they are sophisticated enough for young teens.
I can't believe how much I use youtube to see what's out there.  Just out of curiosity, I did a search for "a cappella kids" & got an amazing amount of leads.  Often, song titles and arrangers are posted along with the videos if a group is performing a published arrangement.
If you have a small group of kids and are doing pop music, it might be interesting to find a recording of an a cappella song they like (doo-wop tunes are easy to start with) and have them just listen to it and try to pick out their own parts.  That's the way the kids in my dorm used figure out stuff just for fun.  It's great ear training. 
If your kids already know some music that you may have done in choir, it is actually amazing how much of that might work a cappella. This is another great way to just get a sound going for them.  My choir's all time favourite piece is "Wild Mountain Thyme" arranged by Kirby Shaw and they will sing it at the drop of a hat ANYWHERE - street corners, airports, etc.  It's very effective without the piano. 
Lastly, I thought I'd just mention choice of key.  If you decide on piece that is written for a different age group (much of what you find might be for older singers) raising or lowering the key, even by half a step, can make a huge difference in how it sits in their voices. I experiment with that a lot, and it has fixed many a tuning or tone problem for my groups.  I recently worked with an adult trio that went from sounding like girls to sounding like women by dropping the tune down a tone.
A cappella in any style is incredibly fun!
Paula Roberts
Edmonton, AB
on May 17, 2010 12:55pm
Interesting thread and, as usual, educational. I like the opening line at The phrase a cappella is among the most butchered and misunderstood musical terms. The predominant, and most "correct" spelling, is ...a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."
They left out the spelling with a "K" which I've seen.  I'm not sure which is greater, the number of spellings or the number of definitions. Thank you John for your May 17 post. It's the definition I give my students, although I use the term generically, simply "without accompaniment."
Keith Haan
St. Ambrose University
Davenport, IA
on May 17, 2010 5:45pm
I am so sorry to not be more specific.  I don't mean just music without instrumental accompaniment.  I'm thinking more along the lines of either barbershop or doo-wop, sort of close harmonies (when they are ready) for 7th and 8th grade students.  At this point I don't know exactly who is interested, so it might be mixed, might not.
If it is mixed, I don't know which boys' voices have changed and which have not.   So right now all is very up in the air.
Thanks all for your help. 
on May 17, 2010 6:50pm
Hi again, Naomi.  In terms of barbershop, I know the women (Sweet Adelines, Inc.) have arrangements specifically aimed at young singers, although I don't know about the men.
It isn't impossible to have a mixed voice barbershop group, in spite of what I said, but it does present interesting problems.  The voicing is NOT the typical top-to-bottom voicing of glee club music.  Rather, the Lead voice, carrying the melody, and the Baritone voice, filling in the missing chord notes, cover almost exactly the same range, with the Tenor voice always on a high harmony above the Lead and the Bass voice always on a low harmony OR bass note below the Lead.  That means that for a mixed group you can transpose the entire arrangement to a middle key, but you have to be careful about who is singing the Lead and Bari parts.
Doo-wop tends to stay within the same range for each voice part, and might be a better starting point if you do go with a mixed group.  When I started my own barbershop quartet (9th grade, not quite as young, and in imitation of my dad's quartet), our tenor still had an unchanged voice, and kept that head voice as his voice changed.  Everyone in my quartet was already an instrumental musician, so we weren't beginning musicians, and we were able to learn the 4-part harmony just fine, and so should your students.  We learned one song--"Goodby My Coney Island Baby"--won our 9th grade talent contest, and were strongly lobbied by our fellow students to keep singing, which in fact we did for the next 20 years!!!!
All the best,
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