Collegiate a cappella

Collegiate a cappella

Collegiate a cappella (or college a cappella) ensembles are student-run and -directed singing groups that perform entirely without instruments. Such groups can be found at many colleges and universities in the United States, and increasingly worldwide.



It is not clear exactly where collegiate a cappella began. The Rensselyrics of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (formerly known as the RPI Glee Club), established in 1873 is perhaps the oldest known collegiate a cappella group.[1] However the longest continuously-singing group is probably The Whiffenpoofs of Yale University,[2] which was formed in 1909 and once included Cole Porter as a member.[2] The Princeton Nassoons (c.1939-41), the Dartmouth Aires (1946), the Harvard Krokodiloes (1946), the Jabberwocks of Brown University (1949), and the Columbia Kingsmen (1949), of which Art Garfunkel was an alum, were the first a cappella groups at other of the American Ivy League Universities. Featuring a particularly rich history of tradition in collegiate a cappella is The Colgate Thirteen, Colgate University's all-male group founded in 1942. The first all women's ensemble, the Smiffenpoofs, was founded in 1936 at Smith College, and the oldest continuously-singing female a cappella group, the Mount Holyoke College V8s, was founded in 1942. The first co-ed group was the Trinity Pipes, founded first as an all mens group in 1938 but converted to co-ed in 1970 at the same time as the college.[3]

College a cappella has grown tremendously since 1980 quadrupling in the number of active groups from roughly 300 focused in the New England Region, to over 1,200 groups throughout the United States and around the World.[citation needed] This growth was fueled in part by the style change popularized in the early 1990s by groups like the Beelzebubs of Tufts University[4][5] and the Boston University Dear Abbeys.[6] The new style, using voices to emulate modern rock instruments, marked a shift away from the more traditional sounds of the jazz or classical ensembles and glee clubs to contemporary a cappella, with groups focusing on modern pop music, complete with complex textures and a driving beat (see vocal percussion). Today, even some glee clubs have by-and-large a pop-music repertoire supplemented only in small part by the traditional genres. The West Coast collegiate contemporary a cappella tradition is believed to have originated at UCLA in 1992, with the inception of the first a cappella group on campus, Awaken A Cappella.

Style and culture

Collegiate a cappella spans multiple genres and styles: alternative and hard rock; comedy; Jewish, including mostly Yiddish or Hebrew songs; Christian, including Christian pop and rearranged hymns; South Asian fusion (mainly composed of youth of South Asian origin or heritage); jazz-influenced pop; fusion groups; barbershop; Rhythm & Blues; madrigals; and jazz. Music style and individual group preference mandate a great variety in both in how groups arrange and perform the music.

Whether a group is all-male, all-female, or mixed/coed, most share similar traits. Collegiate groups usually perform with 8-16 members, unlike professional groups that usually consist of four to seven members; a full group roster, however, can measure up to 30 members. Their larger relative size is driven by necessity, as college groups tend to see high turnover year after year, due to graduation and other student commitments. The relatively large number of members allows groups to maintain continuity year after year. The larger size of these groups has an obvious effect on the aural aesthetic created: depending on levels of talent and cross-section blend, collegiate groups are able to perform arrangements with sometimes more than a dozen separate parts.

Collegiate groups are generally self-sustaining, often entirely run by students. Groups may or may not receive financial support from their institution. Many groups record albums of their music, usually every two or three years. The quality of such albums has recently improved markedly, due to an increased focus on elaborate multi-track recording and the emergence of professional a cappella production specialists, such as Gabe Mann in Los Angeles, Bill Hare and Deke Sharon in San Francisco, Jeff Thacher and Ed Boyer in New York, Liquid 5th Productions (based in North Carolina with branches across the country), Freddie Feldman in Chicago, Ryan Wert in the Michigan area, Dave Sperandio with Diovoce and Mark Hines along with Nick Lyons in The Vocal Company in the southeast, James Gammon in Charlottesville, Virginia, Danny Ozment with Emerald City Productions in Washington, DC, and John Clark in Boston. Achievements in collegiate a cappella recording are recognized by awards programs (most notably the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, awarded by CASA) and compilation albums, such as the long-running Best of College A Cappella series.

Many college groups compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), an annual nationwide competition in which groups compete to advance through several stages of competition.

The term a cappella is often treated within the college world as a noun, rather than an adjective, and generally refers to the music of pop-driven student groups. Thus, an ensemble singing unaccompanied classical music might be said to be performing a cappella (in the adjectival sense), but would not be considered an "a cappella group."

Live performances of collegiate a cappella would occasionally incorporate comedy for some songs by using choreographed movements.

College groups often benefit from the talent of non-music majors that have significant experience with music and/or choral singing. Participation in such groups provides both a social and creative output for students pursuing more technical fields.

Arch sing

Blair Arch, of Princeton University, is one of the earliest known locations of an arch sing.

The term "arch sing" refers to a type of performance put on by collegiate a cappella ensembles. The casual, public performances are typically held in an archway for reasons of acoustics and shelter from the weather. Typically, one or a small number of a cappella groups will perform for a small audience, often to publicize upcoming concerts, though arch sings are also frequently held simply for their own sake. The term is also sometimes used to describe similar casual, outdoor performances not held under arches.

See also


  1. ^ "The Glee Club: A Musical Legacy at Rensselaer". Rensselaer Magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  2. ^ a b "The Yale Whiffenpoofs". United Singers International. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  3. ^ "The Trinity Pipes". The Trinity Pipes. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  4. ^ Rapkin, Mickey. "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory"- Gotham Books, 2008
  5. ^ Anderman, Joan (2009-12-15). "Taking their shot". The Boston Globe. 
  6. ^

External links

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