HomeBlogsacappellau's blogJoey Campagna's Blog: Reasons to Love College A Cappella, #1

acappellau's picture

For those of you who don't know me, I host Acappella U, The Collegiate A Cappella Podcast. I started the show in 2005, and something that many of my listeners don't know is that I was never actually in a collegiate a cappella group. For some reason people are incredibly surprised when they hear that, and I can feel them wanting to ask me the obvious follow up: what business do I have yapping about college a cappella on a podcast when, truthfully, I have no idea what I'm doing? I guess the answer is that I am, as noted a cappella scribe Mickey Rapkin describes me, an a cappella 'Super Fan'. Not so much in that I know who the soloist, arranger and percussionist are for every collegiate a cappella record made in the last 20 years -- I just REALLY enjoy the essence of collegiate a cappella. I tried to start a group in college but, fortunately for everyone at Marquette in the late 90's, it flopped, so I started a podcast instead.

When I asked myself why I like collegiate a cappella so much, I came up with a few separate, discrete reasons. I thought the best way to contribute to CASA would be to do a set of articles about these reasons, and write them as “broad appeal” pieces - understandable to anyone who likes music even a little bit, but doesn't necessarily care about a cappella.  The idea is that you could forward these to your Dad to get him to care that you're in an a cappella group at school. (By the way, I understand that the 'Top x list' is a cheap and banal excuse for a column, let alone a SERIES of columns, but I've decided to not care.) So here we go, Yahoo! featured-article style:

Reason to Love College A Cappella #1:

College kids are more interesting than you.

So many of the musically smart (read: not me) people in the world of a cappella become focused on The Music almost to the exclusion of everything else, including the people making it. This approach misses what is obviously the best feature of college a cappella - the fact that it's made by college kids!

If you're reading this article and you're 15 or so, just imagine how much better your life will be in a few short years when you're not living at home with the folks, you go to school half as many hours out of the week as you do now, and you have hot single girls (or boys) living down the hall. Yes, it'll be THAT great. . . no, actually, it'll be better. Just don't play too many video games -- they'll be around when you're 31. The girls won't.

If you're an adult reading this, remember that, while you may be wealthier, better adjusted and even better looking now than you were then, in college your life was more EXCITING to an Einstein-esque outside observer because we knew less about what was going to happen and who you were going to be. It's the difference between being 25 minutes into a movie and being halfway through - there's just less time for interesting new stuff to happen. There's this gut-wrenching line Neal McDonough spits out on an episode of “Desperate Housewives,”\

“A man gets to a certain age, and he realizes - he's gonna die someday. Really die. And what's worse is that, he's everything he's ever gonna be. He's never gonna be rich. He's never gonna climb a mountain.”

What does this have to do with college a cappella? Everything! College kids don't have this problem. That makes them easier to watch and listen to. Neal continues:

“Now, some guys do bad things when they get those thoughts in their heads. By comparison, playing in a garage band seems pretty harmless.”

You see, unless they're big-time famous or in a church choir, the act of adults singing in our society, especially men, has a sort of pseudo-depressing, trying-to-recapture-lost-youth connotation, much more so if they're regular people with kids and a mortgage and everything. Those reading this post while knee deep in the NYC pro a cappella scene might not see it, but as your ambassador from the Real World I'm here to tell you this is how middle America thinks. College kids on the other hand: no problem. They've got their whole lives ahead of them, and everybody did some crazy stuff in college, right?! And who knows, maybe this will turn into something big! She is very talented at this stuff (this is what your Mom thinks).

This subconscious ageism is the real reason why the American Idol age cutoff is 28 or so. It's just easier for us to process a 26 year-old gal ripping out a Beyonce cover than a 56 year-old doing the same thing.  On stage, you get young, nice-looking people who tend to sound good, are almost always energetic, and make you feel sort of . . . refreshed. Watching a bunch of seemingly happy 20 year-olds sing their guts out makes most of us feel good, if not just a little jealous. It's why we have kids and why movies not about personal relationships are rarely centered on characters over the age of 35. That quiet jubilation you feel when you watch a collegiate group live isn't just from the musical activity; it's from the LIFE that's busting out of them, a rocket with titanic plumes of exhaust shooting out as it's slowly lifting itself off its moorings and into the sky.

The intrinsic benefits of that time in one's life manifest themselves in other aspects of college a cappella. First of all, the structure of collegiate groups is, like the beak of Galapagos finches, uniquely adapted to their environment. These groups can grow much larger than traditional four to six member pro groups, mostly because there are often tons of kids living together on a fairly small campus, a lot of them can sing, and they have little better to do than practice constantly, study and drink, not necessarily in that order. Plus, the arrangements coming out of these groups are sometimes, well, just stunning - a function of having Ivy League-caliber minds obsessed with very niche music that in real life few (so far) would pay them to spend time on. If they're pro musicians, there’s a good chance that 10 years from now they'll be doing something boring like conducting a revival of Les Huguenots in summer stock, but as undergrads there's nothing they'd rather do than spend 28 hours arranging “Poker Face” for 10 vocal parts all while getting paid nothing to do it. 

Check out some of the work done by Charlie Forkish of the Stanford Harmonics; this guy doesn't look old enough to buy smokes, but last year he wrote the winner of the Best Collegiate Mixed Arrangement CARA (a cappella Grammy). The Harmonics' website unabashedly calls Charlie a genius, and they're not far off, but don't take my word for it. Go there and have a listen. He took Sound of Silence and re-invented it six ways from Sunday, all while music-directing the band, percussing almost every song and majoring in Music, Science and Technology at Stanford Freaking University. Oh, and in his spare time he started his own recording studio, Forkish Productions, where he laid down the entirety of the new Harmonics album, Escape Velocity.

You don't get Charlie Forkish doing this stuff at 32. Unless he is wholly assumed into grown-up A Cappelladom in mind, body and soul a la The Deke Sharon, Charlie will probably move on to something more conventional like academia or tax law. Just enjoy the fact that in our little universe, brilliant minds like his occasionally get sidetracked into producing modernist Simon and Garfunkel covers for a few years.

And let's not even get into the behind the scenes. . . errr. . . rock-star stuff.

Tune in next time for Reason #2!

About the author:
Joey Campagna is best known to the contemporary a cappella community as the creator and host of Acappella U: The Collegiate A Cappella Podcast  and Acappella U: HD, a high-definition a cappella videocast. Along with founding an a cappella group at his high school, Joey appeared in dozens of musicals and sang in several choirs, but once in college his focus shifted toward training to be an officer in the US Army. during his time in the service, Joey sang in a Seattle-area a cappella group that he's sure no one's heard of, and produced two self-made multi-track albums. Joey started Acappella U in 2005 as an alternative to being an old (27) grad student in the U of R Midnight Ramblers. Well, that and he didn't make the cut. He resides in Rochester, NY with his wife and two boys (6 and 3) and sells capital laboratory equipment in the veterinary market.

photo: Stanford Harmonics



so I just saw your post

I just saw your post about the A Cappella Party today about asking for a soundtrack. I was one of the cast members and I wanted to tell you that, we will hopefully be making a cast recording but I do not know when. Also Jonathen Minkhoff came to one of our shows so if you would like to know about it you could ask him. He looked like he enjoyed the show immensely expecially when his girlfriend was serenaded to Teddy Bear by Elvis.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.