Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

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Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby tjhartwell14 » Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:14 pm

Hello everyone,
I'm currently at Kenyon College, in a group called the Kokosingers, and although they are extremely talented, they will for the most part not sing anything too "corny," meaning pop songs, refuse to try vocal percussion of any kind (because it's "gimmicky, apparently), arrange most songs with only "doos" and "bahs" and snapping, and so on and so forth. The latest argument is that I want them to try using a solo mic for our spring concert - it's in a medium sized hall with not-too-great acoustics that will be packed completely full, but many of them argue that using mics (which they never do) takes away from the group dynamic, depersonalizes the soloist, and will kill the overall blend. I've tried to argue my way around them, but I'm not getting anywhere. I'd appreciate any advice or arguments you all might have towards using microphones, or just trying more modern a cappella techniques in general. If I get enough, I could print them out and show them that it's not just me trying to mess with traditions.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby jmille22 » Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:19 am

Each group has its own personality, style, and repertoire choice and this changes over time. Every acalum and acalumna here will agree that their group was different when they left than when they joined. Your group, at this time, has decided to be a certain thing. It's not right or wrong or good or bad, it's just what it is. If they want to be old-school, good for them. If they want to modernize, also good.

Amplification, however, is necessary in my opinion. The most depersonalizing thing possible is to not properly hear the soloist or group in the first place.

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby colton » Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:13 pm

How big is the group? I agree that for a typical group size, mics are essential in a venue like that. And not just a single mic for the soloist, either--although that would be a lot better than no mics at all.

As for suggestions, how about this? Get some friends of groups members to come to a rehearsal in the venue. Have them sit in the audience and give feedback. It'll probably be pretty obvious that the group needs to be a little louder. And then remember that with bodies in the room, the sound will die out much much faster than in the rehearsal--so really, the group will need to be a LOT louder.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby Amy Malkoff » Thu Apr 28, 2011 7:39 pm

First, thank you for reaching out. I'm a Kenyon alum (I was in Owl Creeks for 3 years and was MD for two of those), and I've been trying to get the Kenyon groups into the greater a cappella community since I graduated (a while ago!) with no luck. Because the Kenyon groups have remained so insulated from what's going on the in the world, they've missed out on many of the advancements, that they're calling gimmicky. Indeed, they *can* be gimmicky, but they can also be amazing and powerful, and that's what drives the progress of art. Depends on how they're used. What I'd love to see is the Kokes checking out what's going on out there with, and trying out some of these things. In other words, taking your suggestions. Small steps. Maybe look around at some videos online. See how powerful amplified a cappella with percussion can be. Check out...any of the groups that just appeared at the Lincoln Center (SOLD OUT) finals of the ICCAs - Berklee's Pitch Slapped, Vanderbilt's Melodores, BYU's Vocal Point... [http://www.casa.org/content/icca-finals-2011-wrap]. Absolutely on the mic use. Absolutely on the VP. I know those halls and you need it. I would also suggest that you meet with someone in the area who knows how to mix sound specifically for a cappella. I'd rather you not leave it to someone who might mess it up and then the group is left with a bad impression of singing on-mic. Done well, you'll be amazed at how much it will enhance your show. Please feel free to contact me if you want help finding someone. amy@casa.org Good luck!

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby JBaunach » Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:24 am

Hey TJ,

I sang with the Vanderbilt Melodores last year, and since it was our first year we had a lot of these debates - mics vs. none, how much VP to use, is choreo worth it, what's gimmicky and what's not, etc. We've quickly evolved from a "minimum choreo, minimum mic" situation to having individual mics for each singer, extensive VP, and sometimes extensive choreography. It was a fast evolution, mostly spurred by just us wanting to mess around and sound decent.

To give you three examples, here are three videos from successive concerts. The first one is from Fall '09, where we had one solo mic and one VP mic in an acoustically-beautiful hall:
Lonely Island Medley

Notice especially that the bass soloists are lost in the mix.

The next concert, we actually had a little bit of money, and got individual mics and a live sound engineer. Here's one from Spring '10:

She Hates Me

The danger with this, of course, is that the sound does depend on your sound engineer, who can make you sound great or terrible (notice that the soloist's mic was way down at the beginning of the song). If you guys have money, you can get pros like Liquid 5th or some other great live engineers, but your school probably has someone who could run the mics. The biggest difference here (and I'm gonna underline it here) is that if you're using mics, YOU NEED A SOUND CHECK. In fact, you might want two, or on really long one. The more times the sound engineer can hear your set, the better he will make you sound. Even if you all have condenser mics, a bass mic (to pick up the low end the condenser mics leave out), a VP mic and a solo mic, it will pick things up much better.

The next concert was much better, and you can really spotlight the voice and blend you want. Here's a video from Fall '10:

A Change Is Gonna Come

For me, what especially stands out is the descant at 1:20-1:27, and the climax at 2:10-2:15, when you have a ton of sound and need a balance to really hear everything. The descant in particular is soft: and that's something that, without mics, you would probably have a hard time hearing unless he yelled it, which would lose a lot of the subtle beauty of it.

In the Spring '11 concert, we did a mix of condensers and individual mics. Here's a video where you can actually see a use of both:

Halo Theme/Animal

The biggest change to me was not the talent (although we had a increase in certain areas), but the comfort that we had with mics. They can be your enemy or your friend - and while you certainly don't HAVE to use them, I think that the group that can use them well will always put on the better show. And isn't that what it's all about - the audience?

I hope this helps! Whatever you guys decide, make sure that you all keep it entertaining. That's what really matters!

~John
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby nicodemus » Mon May 02, 2011 11:16 am

Maybe a good way to approach the pop song situation is to break them into more gently. Don't start with S&M or Only Girl in the World, start with something with a little more "pedigree", something that any good music snob would nod their head approvingly to. Some of my choral friends are really into the Beezlebubs' version of Mercy Street, for instance.

But I agree with the point that every group is different - if your group is incredibly resistant to pop rep, and VP, then that just may be the way things go. For instance, I've been in groups where choreo has been incredibly contentious. In the end, you're really doing this to have fun (unless you're looking at going to the ICCAs or sending an album to RARB to reviewed). I do find their position on mic use really baffling, though, I must say. A good group's ability to sing together will not be tempered at all by adding live sound in the mix. Sure, it complicates matters, but it really is there to enhance your song, not there to hinder it.

And is VP really considered gimmicky? Sometimes it can be just awful, but a good drum part can add so much to almost any tune.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby Christian » Tue May 10, 2011 6:09 am

Hello TJ,

I think the group will come around when their friends and family tell them "we couldn't hear your soloists" after the show. I see that the group has been around since 1965, so maybe it's time to start a whisper campaign to turn the tides. Or maybe the audience can hear everything they need to. If your group can control their dynamics and your soloists know how to sing, a PA system isn't critical. Few groups can strike that balance though, and some venues are just too large.

Hiring a sound guy isn't always feasible, so some groups at William & Mary in Virginia have used a single mic with a single speaker down"stage" center on the floor. The balance isn't always perfect, but it makes a big difference in being able to hear soloists that you wouldn't have been able to hear at all otherwise.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby billhare » Fri May 13, 2011 7:00 am

It can be frustrating wanting to be the one "forward moving" person when everyone else plants their feet, but it's also respectable that some groups might want to hold on to traditions. Of course, they most likely won't be able to compete in the modern world, but there's nothing wrong with that either. Do the Amish think cars are "gimmicky"? Probably not, but they also tend to avoid going distances where they would need such a modern conveyance. This brings us to your immediate dilemma - if your group wants to be "acoustic", they have to go "horse & buggy" and do it in a space that compliments such things. Most performance halls designed for clean sound are not such places. Your group can either move their concert to a more live space, or amplify in the space that was designed for amplification (or at least designed for louder source sounds like full choirs and brass bands).

I find that isolated groups like yours usually are simply unfamiliar with a lot of what's going on out there, but have heard 2 or 3 other groups from the outside world and get their whole world A Cappella view from these 2 or 3 random choices. Bombard them with some of the best stuff out there and they might get some ideas of a middle ground, or at least see how far they can go while keeping most of what they think is their own identity. It's all about education and familiarity - once they know what's really available to them, only then do they have the full ability to reject or accept it.

Right now, they sound like that lone soldier left in the jungle years after the war who thinks the war is still going on. Give them some better proof, then let them decide what to do.

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby billhare » Fri May 13, 2011 7:06 am

Christian wrote:I see that the group has been around since 1965


The Bubs (one of the most cutting edge groups you will find), was founded in 1963, but of course the current group is filled with 18-22 year olds, not 66 to 70 year olds. I don't think the founding year of the group matters, because ALL college groups' members are almost exactly the same age in the here and now. Unless there is some law in the group's charter that says "thou must not ever change", then each year of the group can have a new identity - you can always go back to tradition if something new doesn't work!

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby Amy Malkoff » Sat May 14, 2011 2:44 pm

billhare wrote:It can be frustrating wanting to be the one "forward moving" etc etc etc
-B


Yes, everything Bill said!

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby Christian » Sun May 15, 2011 6:46 am

Hi Bill,

My comment was in regards to the audience, not the group. If the ensemble has been performing in the same space in the same way for 35+ years and the audience hasn't complained that they can't hear the soloists, it might be unreasonable of me to expect that they would start complaining now. Hence why someone might need to stir up some discontent!

To address your concern though -- yes, a group could have a new identity every year, but that is unusual for any institution. Self-selection, auditions, and traditions attract people who WANT to continue doing the same thing with the same type of people and the same type of music. This is how colleges and a cappella groups all maintain and cultivate unique and relatively consistent identities despite having a "new" group of students every year or couple of years.

Maybe it's time to simply start your own group, TJ? Many new ensembles, organizations, churches, bands, political parties, schools, countries, and nations were created because someone wanted something new/different that was unwelcome in their original institution. C'est la vie. I bet there are a lot of singers that would love to join you.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby billhare » Mon May 30, 2011 8:55 pm

Christian wrote:yes, a group could have a new identity every year, but that is unusual for any institution.


No, it's actually not - maybe hard to see year-to-year, or even over 5 years or more, but groups do change over longer periods of time. I have been working with some Collegiate groups for well over 20 years, which means I knew the current members' group before the current members were even born. And I can guarantee the "traditions" are not as strong or embedded as people think. Things they think came from the founders I actually saw happen for the first time maybe 5 or 6 years before, but there is no institutional memory to tell the current members otherwise.

I can tell them where each curve in the road happened, and who was responsible (it's usually only one person, such as Deke Sharon and the Beelzebubs), and yes, the audience/alums might react negatively at first (the Bubs' alum were not happy with Deke in the direction he was taking them with this newfangled vocal percussion nonsense), but quickly came back on board when they showed the world that they were doing something special.

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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby tjhartwell14 » Sun May 06, 2012 7:22 pm

Well, it's a year later, and now I've got them to use a mic and some beatboxing in a well known pop song, as well as starting a new group which went to the ICCA this year! Thanks everyone for your suggestions!

the "updated" group: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odBLc_k5eUI
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby Christian » Sun May 13, 2012 1:46 pm

Thumbs up! Thanks for the update.
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Re: Help! Need opinions and well-reasoned arguments

Postby vandre » Fri Aug 17, 2018 9:14 pm

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