Brody McDonald's presentation broke down the different aspects about a cappella and how music educators can bring a cappella groups into their own programs. He began with a basic question: what is a cappella? His answer included:
- the creation of a vocal band with generally 5-16 members
- it can be all male, all female, or mixed
McDonald continued by addressed a couple of the general questions most people have when it comes to a cappella in our schools. Some of these questions include:
- Where do I find music?
- How do I choose the music once I've found a source?
- What about the bass do I need to know?
- What do I do about vocal percussion?
Have no fear, Mr. McDonald is here with the answers! McDonald explained that forming an a cappella group is similar to how a general choral ensemble is created. Students go through an audition process and are eventually selected for the ensemble. McDonald emphasized that the students chosen for the ensemble should be those who are excelling in school, are hard-workers, and are willing to step up to the plate to take on leadership roles if need be. Everyone holds their own part in a cappella so confidence and teamwork are essential for a successful group. McDonald continued his presentation by breaking down the process of choosing music:
- pick your soloist, section solos, or if it will be pass-around solos
- allow your students to have input in what they're performing, what are they interested in singing and how are they going to help make it possible
- as the director, check to see if the song will work or if you need to go back to the drawing board
Once all of this is completed and your playlist is made, listen to it a lot! If it flows well and you don't have to press the stop button halfway through, you are on your way! From there, it's all about experimenting to see what does/does not work and trying new approaches. Then, you could have your students notate their own part after they've played around with some sounds (improvisation). The bass part in particular could be a little tricky, especially if you are using music that is already arranged. Playing around with the different syllables is key to get the sound that's stylistically appropriate for the song(s) of you choosing. Another part that could be quite a challenge would be the vocal percussion aspect of the song. A student needs to be able to keep time and know when to use sounds that are appropriate for the song (they go hand-in-hand with the bass). Having a concept for each section of the song will help all of your singers, especially the vocal percussionist (VP), know what to do and for how long.
This is just a taste of what Brody McDonald had to say. I thoroughly enjoyed his workshop and the outstanding performances by "Eleventh Hour!" For more information about a cappella music and how to get a group started, check out these websites:
-Caitlin Walton, Junior, IC ACDA Special Events Coordinator
To learn more about how their group is run, I went to their interest session this morning. Brody McDonald, their director, talked to us about what a cappella music actually is and then gave us resources to choose repertoire. What intrigued me was the fact that the song choices usually start with a soloist; either students bring pieces to their director and tell him they'd like to solo, or the director chooses a song and then picks or auditions a soloist. I have always worked with groups that work on a song for weeks and then audition a soloist- but for this kind of ensemble, choosing a soloist first makes perfect sense. You need someone who can nail the solo, and the group is capable of doing any arrangement to back up the soloist. Also, since they can arrange the charts themselves and they likely know many of the pieces from the radio, it is less important that they learn the ensemble parts before the solo part.
Next, Mr. McDonald told us about the "walk-the-dog" test for new pieces: he puts the song that the students want to sing on repeat for about 20 minutes as he walks his dog around the block. If he can stand it that long, it's in- if he can't, it's out! He also expects the students to put their repertoire on a playlist and listen to the original versions many times in order to determine the stylistic qualities of the pieces. Once they fully understand a piece, they determine the character of each section. They make a chart that details each section in terms of volume, vocal percussion, vibe/style, and "cherries," which are like musical "cherries on top" that add an extra fun aspect to a section.
We worked with the bass singer for a while, learning about what syllables he sings and about a cool Boss OC3 pedal that drops the vocal input an octave or two. Then the vocal percussionist demonstrated basic kick, snare, and cymbal beats as well as the difference between good rhythm and good sound. Mr. McDonald suggested that when choosing a VP, you should choose the student who has good rhythm and maybe needs help with the percussion sounds over the student who has cool sounds but can't keep a beat or sounds too busy vocally.
I loved the sound and vibe from this group and I look forward to working with an a cappella group of my own some day!
-Laura White, Sophomore