Why High School A Cappella Is The Future

Origin From: Total Vocal
Author: Deke Sharon
Date: 2013-04-19

People have now seen Eleventh Hour, watched the OSA Vocal Rush video and they've heard Forte's all-original album. People are beginning to get it. High school a cappella is the future. Not convinced? Here's why:

TRAINED DIRECTORS: Remember your college group, where the director was learning how to lead and how to direct and how to arrange all at the same time? Imagine if she'd majored in music, learned pedagogy and done an internship THEN directed your group. Yup, you'd have been much much better. Imagine if every single high school group had trained music directors... oh wait, they do.

COMPELLING REPERTOIRE: Let's be honest. You enjoyed singing from the Oxford Book of English Madrigals, but you didn't LOVE it. You got to sing "Blue Moon" once in a small group and that was really fun. Imagine if you got to sing your favorite song in the world in choir practice. Every day. You'd have cared more about your choir than any other class. You'd have worked your very hardest to be your very best, because it mattered so very much to you. That's what fuels excellence.

UNLIMITED TALENT POOL: What if there were one place through which all young singers travelled? There is: it's called high school. Not everyone goes to college, but just about everyone goes to high school, and even the ones who wouldn't have joined chorus are going to join now that the vocal program is singing Bruno Mars and Chris Brown. It took a long time, but popular music now has legitimacy in educational circles, so it's here for good, and it's bringing with it significantly increased enrollment.

SHEER NUMBERS: 2000 college a cappella groups sounds like a lot, huh? Try 35,000+ high schools... and some schools have several singing groups. Yup, some are gonna be terrible, but the good ones? Do you realize that the top 3% of Chinese and Indian students outnumber the grand total of all US students? It's like that. College groups are going to have to step up their game, which they will inadvertently, because...

TRAINING GROUNDS: Imagine how good you'd be now if you sang in an amazing high school a cappella program. That's what's going to happen, as last year's college music director becomes next year's high school choral teacher, who will turn out next decade's college a cappella singers. They will be much, much better than you or I were at rhythm, at phrasing, at delivering solos.

...and this is all good for the a cappella community because it means...

MORE PRO GROUPS: You think the best of the best is just going to throw in the towel after dominating in high school then in college? I sure hope not, especially with a wake of videos, albums and awards pushing them forward.

MORE FANS: Mom and Dad will always love everything that their little binkybear does, but at some point, if it's really good, they actually become fans. As a cappella spreads and the quality quickly rises at the high school level, as it has, we'll start to see parents and friends becoming life-long devotees. Just like sports.

MORE PROFESSIONAL SERVICES: Albums need tracking and editing and mixing and mastering. Videos need shooting and editing and posting. Groups need coaching and hosting and live sound engineering and... well, you get the idea. The collegiate market is supporting dozens of pros right now. Throw in school budgets, including prep schools? We're looking at hundreds of a cappella professionals over the next decade.

...and now for a few things that will really leave a mark...

DIVERSITY: You know it and I know it. A cappella is currently dominated by a very college-prep, ivy-league ethos, at least in the inner-most circles. But this is not the way it has always been, as barbershop was originally an African-American tradition, doo-wop was sung most by urban minorities, and so on. Nothing wrong with what we have, but the net could be cast a lot farther, a lot wider. By permeating high school vocal programs, a cappella will eventually reach just about everyone. Which is how it should be.

SCOPE: What happens in American high schools is seen as cool by the entire world. "Pitch Perfect" is showing the world what American collegiate a cappella looks and sounds like, and the result is a spike in collegiate group formation and auditions. And "Glee" has given the world a taste of popular music as a cornerstone of a high school music program. It's easy for us to take for granted our own culture, but the fact is that it's far and away the most pervasive, most seductive, most admired youth culture in the world. And coupled with American music, our biggest export (alongside American movies), you have a fantastic ongoing infomercial for vocal music in schools around the world. 

CHANGE: Different styles of a cappella (barbershop, doo wop, madrigals, close harmony jazz) were at one point popular music, and then the style stuck while popular music passed them by. I'll let y'all in on a little secret: my big plan, my hope for the next 50 years of my life, is to help a cappella keep pace with popular music, always changing, growing, adapting, inviting. There's no reason a cappella should rise and fall in such broad arcs. This time, let's find a way to keep people singing constantly. And what's our best bet? Youth. If contemporary a cappella is to remain contemporary, it will remain so at the hands of and in the voices of singers from 16-26. A strong, deep current of modern popular a cappella in high schools is probably the best way to make sure what we're doing now doesn't become history and remains present.

Yeah, I said it. Not only is high school a cappella the future in terms of growth, it's also the future in terms of vitality and direction. So many important rock bands and popular musicians met in high school... including Pentatonix...

[photo: Salem (MA) HS WitchPitch?]



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