These are my thoughts on The Big Q, as stated by Florian Städtler in his blog 6 lessons from LACF 2012. The Big Q, freely rephrased, is this:
“In a community where friendliness and camaraderie prevail, but we also seem to be living in an a cappella-bubble, separated from the mainstream, are we willing to give up on some of the friendliness in order to break through this bubble? Is it maybe even necessary to get more business-like in order to mature our way of making music, or can we break into the mainstream while keeping our warm ways of dealing with each other?
My answer to this is a resounding: The two are completely separate and do not have to influence each other at all.
Part 1: We are who we are
Camaraderie is in our DNA as a cappella singers. Deke Sharon said it well in a recent interview: “The fact is, you can’t sing a cappella with people you don’t like. It’s impossible to harmonize if there’s not harmony in the group.” This simple fact makes us an entirely different breed from other musicians.
It’s not a secret that solo singers can be quite full of themselves and be hugely successful at the same time. As they are often the face and/or leader of their band, it can even work in their advantage. Also, the tsunami of talent shows during the last decade is enforcing the idea that the lead singer is the central piece of any musical performance and the only way to be successful is to beat other people in a contest. X-factor: 100. Camaraderie-factor: zero.
A few years back I’ve had the pleasure of being in a choir-class which was compulsory for all different kinds of people, including first year drum-students. They must’ve been the most bored people I have ever seen in my life. They couldn’t care less. Which is fine, but it should be noted that people who like to bang drums for a living are different from people who like to shred guitars, are different from people who like to harmonize with each other.
By definition, a cappella groups are made up out of people who practice the same skill, and therefore get each other, and who want to do it in a way that demands a whole lot of trust from their fellow singers. We’re inherently social.
Part 2: Being big doesn’t mean being unfriendly
I get where this idea is coming from. We’re a small community, so we can know and be nice to each other. Will this remain if our community grows 10 or 100 fold? Well, it might be harder to know as large a part of the community as you do now, but that doesn’t mean the atmosphere has to change.
Let’s take a look at two communities very different from ours: Couchsurfing and Airbnb. They are both communities based on trust, letting people you didn’t know before spend the night at your place. Couchsurfing is the non-payment variety mainly meant for the backpacker-experience, while Airbnb offers more luxurious ways of staying in privately owned property, for money.
And here’s the great thing: Couchsurfing has been a huge success for many years, with millions of members, and has spawned local communities of likeminded couchsurfers all over the world. And even though Airbnb is only a couple years old, everyone who is connected to it seems to be open and friendly. One of my hosts told me: “Airbnb is very nice, we’ve had many guests and have enjoyed every one – it’s a good company that attracts nice people.”
The key here is that these are huge communities that work exactly because they are fundamentally built on principles of trust and sharing. They attract people that are attracted to these principles.
I completely agree that we need to mature and grow as a community. There’s a lot of room for us to take our craft more seriously and I think we’re on the right track having these discussions. But I think it’s a mistake to assume this will take away from our current culture.
Let’s face it. We’re a bunch of softies who like singing together, and no matter how many people join us, nothing can take that away from us. I know I personally could never survive in an environment where people are trying to be successful while not liking each other and I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are other people looking for a safe space to make great music.
So let’s not see our warmth as a weakness, but rather as a strength that can help us reach a wider audience. And learn together, write, create, share, cooperate, blog, discuss, drink, sleep, love, be and above all sing together like no other community ever could. I wonder if the mainstream is interested in any of that.
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This video appears in:The Sing-Off Season 3 Episode 9 – Highlights
A cappella to me means authenticity. You can't hide while you're singing. Your emotions will always resonate in your voice, in your body. Whether you like it or not, you're basically naked.
This, to me, makes a-cappella the most beautiful artform of them all. On this site you'll find reports of my own a-cappella endeavors, as well as blogs on what's happening in a cappella-land.
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