Tuesday, February 06, 2007

there ain't no straw hats here

The hubby during college was really into a cappella, not singing, but watching a cappella groups. Just about every college has several groups. Berkeley has the ladies Golden Overtones, the Men's Octet, Artists in Resonance, and a new all male group, I forget their name.

Basically, it's like choir without the backup band, their voices are the band. Often their song picks range from popular hits to "funny" songs like when an all male group sings, "Natural Woman."

The Pinay Divas started as an a cappella group per se. But a cappella has really changed.

As beat boxing has become commonplace, each a cappella group now has a "percussionist" who handles all the beat boxing. Thank you Bobby McFerrin. In 1997, Berkeley's Men's Octet won the equivalent of the NCAA championships as they led what would be a transformation in a cappella choreography. They don't just stand there an sing anymore, they put on a show.

That was evidenced by the top two groups, Brigham Young's Vocal Point who won it all last year. Their bio reads, "we don't look diverse but 7 of our members have lived in 7 different countries and speak 7 languages." Which means that 7 of them have gone on Mormon missions outside of the country. And I know that there are often lots of jokes about Mormons regarding some of their strange practices, but for sure, they were a disciplined and focused group. With spot on vocals and amazing choreography from Thriller to a choral piece, even their stepping (yes, I saw Mormons do "steppin'") were coordinated and in sync. From the Osmonds to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, you could see how music and group singing is in essence a part of Mormon culture. They won it all last year and they're the ones to beat this year.

Second runner up was another group where music plays a culturally significant part, an all male South Asian group, Raagapella. Hell, there's even a South Asian a cappella contest there are so many South Asian a cappella groups. They were a large group of 15 men, not all South Asian. They sing a mix of traditional South Asian Indian songs, chanting, rap, and bollywood with an amazing vocal percussionist. Their leader didn't even need a pitch pipe, he just sang their tuning note. You can download their songs from iTunes.

Berkeley's Golden Overtones took 3rd with what would now be considered a "traditional" a cappella show that is heavy on vocals. The other groups came from Santa Cruz, University of Colorado, Davis, as they competed for positions in the college a cappella quarterfinals for the western region. They also had a competition with 3 high school groups, with the stand out coming from Lick in SF, the Waves, an all-male group composed of some SF Boy's choir alumni. They stuck with the classics of "In the Jungle" and a barber shop quintet song, but they did them really well.

While the judges tallied votes, an alumni all-male a cappella group performed, the Richter Scales, most of whom used to be in a cappella groups from various colleges but now well, still sing in a cappella groups. Their original songs had that post-graduation snarkiness that could only come from alumni, like a love song about Stockholm Syndrome, another about spam "I Got Mail," and what should become a classic and which they got the entire room singing, "I hate a cappella".

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