Odd comment in the Up the Octave review

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Odd comment in the Up the Octave review

Postby gcampbell » Sat Oct 09, 2004 12:13 pm

If the group can expand its repertoire and stabilize its membership (the group currently has a scant eleven members) this group could really go places.


Is eleven really a "scant" membership? I've seen plenty of collegiate groups around that size.
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Postby jpchip » Sat Oct 09, 2004 12:19 pm

This is true, I've always considered eleven to be the perfect number: on a 'simple' four-part song, you've enough for two on each part + soloist + harmony to the solo + percussion.

But there are eleven people, so if your guys are good enough, you can still do a very complex eleven-part piece.
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Postby jsdiamant » Sat Oct 09, 2004 4:12 pm

11 is the smallest my group's ever been. it's too small. personally I think 16 is the perfect size for a college group, given my predilection for more-complex arrangements.

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Postby elocomotive » Sun Oct 10, 2004 2:16 am

Man, I think 10-12 is really an ideal size for a college group. It seems to me that most college a cappella groups out there are lugging some dead weight - people doubling what a strong singer can already handle on his own or easily handle with one other person.

For me, when you start getting to 15 and bigger, that just seems like a nightmare to coordinate, and I'm talking logistically as much as music. But I can see the choral/volume of sound advantages it would bring.

If anything, I wish there were more college groups out there with 7-8 people, kind of like a vocal band but with a little more flexibility. Vocal flexibility that is, not the kind that Mary Lou Retton used to dole out like Snickers bars at a camp for obese kids.
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Postby nosugrefneb » Sun Oct 10, 2004 6:39 am

jdiamant wrote:11 is the smallest my group's ever been. it's too small. personally I think 16 is the perfect size for a college group, given my predilection for more-complex arrangements.


Joshua S.,

It has been my personal opinion that any enrollment over 15 is too large. At what point does adding people simply complicate things? I don't know that I've seen any more than 4 groups total with numbers higher than 15, out of probably about 30-40.

NSA was 14 2 years ago, and I often found myself fighting with the other 4 people on my part. Last year, we were 7. It was amazing singing with so few people. This year, they are 9. Something must be attractive about small numbers, no? And why is it not possible to sing "complex arrangements?" Joshua S., I would encourage you to peruse some of NSA's arrangements before you go insinuating that small groups (be they 7 or 14) can't handle them. In my opinion, adding more parts doesn't make an arrangement complex; writing complex parts does.

Do you write 16 entirely different parts for the entirety of a song? If so, whoa, that seems a bit unnecessary. If by "complex arrangements" you mean to say that your arrangements split a few times here and there and you've got a few parallel octaves in there, then good job. I guess they must be pretty "complex," but right now I'll have to take your word for it.

In response to Tom (I LOVE your reviews by the way), why do you think they need to "stabilize its numbers?" Tom, it is entirely possible to have a "stable" group with 11, or 7, or 14, or 68. In fact, I'd argue that FEWER people is EASIER to stabilize, because you don't have to worry about coordinating where 8 million people are at one time. If you have a solid group of 7 people who all love to sing, who are all solid on their parts, who show up on time to every rehearsal and performance, and who all are the best of friends, you have the base for an entirely stable group. In this case, 11 should have plenty of stability.
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Postby bstevens » Sun Oct 10, 2004 8:34 am

Elocomotive wrote: Vocal flexibility that is, not the kind that Mary Lou Retton used to dole out like Snickers bars at a camp for obese kids.


Yikes! How many years have you been saving this quip? :)

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Postby jpchip » Sun Oct 10, 2004 3:14 pm

Ben Ferguson wrote:If you have a solid group of 7 people who all love to sing, who are all solid on their parts, who show up on time to every rehearsal and performance, and who all are the best of friends,


I would be in heaven. Dear Lord, how I wish it were possible.
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Postby Tom C » Sun Oct 10, 2004 4:12 pm

Ben Ferguson wrote: In response to Tom (I LOVE your reviews by the way), why do you think they need to "stabilize its numbers?"


Ben, thanks for the great compliment. Knowing there are people out there who listen makes it all worthwhile.

I feel the need to explain this comment a little better, which admittedly sounds suspicious.

For Up the Octave, according to the liner notes there has been great fluctuation in the number of group members in the last three years: 14 in 2001-2002, 7 in 2002-2003, and a current 11 (I think that was 2003-2004, not sure if its current).

I think it hard to find a core sound and sense of style with numbers that change so much over the course of a project. This could be an aberration, but musically it is very difficult to adjust to halving in size over the course of a year.

For the style and complexity of a cappella that the group is creating, I think a 13-15 member group would be better suited than a 7-11 member ensemble. However, they need to make the decision that is best for their group. My advice, either way, would be to make a decision and stick to it, evolving slowly over the years instead of having such a big jump.

Hope this helps, and sorry for the confusion. Everyone feel free to contact me if you want to discuss further.
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Postby nosugrefneb » Sun Oct 10, 2004 4:38 pm

Tom C wrote:For Up the Octave, according to the liner notes there has been great fluctuation in the number of group members in the last three years: 14 in 2001-2002, 7 in 2002-2003, and a current 11 (I think that was 2003-2004, not sure if its current).


Ah. This makes your assessment much less apparently baseless, Tom. Thanks.

Tom C wrote:I think it hard to find a core sound and sense of style with numbers that change so much over the course of a project. This could be an aberration, but musically it is very difficult to adjust to halving in size over the course of a year.


Yes, indeed it is difficult to halve in size over the course of a 3-month period, and indeed it does change the sound tremendously, but in some unfortunate situations it is inevitable. In our case it was a little thing we like to call "graduation of nearly all our members."

I stress this: This is not to be confused with instability. At no point - okay, there were a few brief periods of panic - did we think the group was going to fold or that we were going to have a "rebuilding year" or anything like that. We were entirely prepared to take what we could get out of auditions and run with it full speed ahead to try to gain a good core sound as soon as possible, regardless of how many people we had or what percentage was comprised of new members.

It does, however, necessitate that the remaining members, in our case 2 out of 14 previously, are tolerant of a new incoming sound, certainly, and, taking it a step further, are willing to embrace that sound and eschew that to which they were previously so accustomed. There is no sense in trying to hold onto a certain sound that left with everyone who departed. Hell, with as few 7 people, even one person missing made us sound completely different, but we became flexible to that.

Tom C wrote:My advice, either way, would be to make a decision and stick to it, evolving slowly over the years instead of having such a big jump.


Yes, that's ideal, but unfortunately it sometimes doesn't work out that way, and aside from rigging auditions to not take people who are all the same age and/or simply prohibitting people from quitting or taking leaves of absence, there's not much that can be done to consistently achieve that slow evolution, at least when dealing with college groups.
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Postby jsdiamant » Sun Oct 10, 2004 6:12 pm

Ben Ferguson wrote:
jdiamant wrote:11 is the smallest my group's ever been. it's too small. personally I think 16 is the perfect size for a college group, given my predilection for more-complex arrangements.


Joshua S.,

It has been my personal opinion that any enrollment over 15 is too large. At what point does adding people simply complicate things? I don't know that I've seen any more than 4 groups total with numbers higher than 15, out of probably about 30-40.

NSA was 14 2 years ago, and I often found myself fighting with the other 4 people on my part. Last year, we were 7. It was amazing singing with so few people. This year, they are 9. Something must be attractive about small numbers, no? And why is it not possible to sing "complex arrangements?" Joshua S., I would encourage you to peruse some of NSA's arrangements before you go insinuating that small groups (be they 7 or 14) can't handle them. In my opinion, adding more parts doesn't make an arrangement complex; writing complex parts does.

Do you write 16 entirely different parts for the entirety of a song? If so, whoa, that seems a bit unnecessary. If by "complex arrangements" you mean to say that your arrangements split a few times here and there and you've got a few parallel octaves in there, then good job. I guess they must be pretty "complex," but right now I'll have to take your word for it.

In response to Tom (I LOVE your reviews by the way), why do you think they need to "stabilize its numbers?" Tom, it is entirely possible to have a "stable" group with 11, or 7, or 14, or 68. In fact, I'd argue that FEWER people is EASIER to stabilize, because you don't have to worry about coordinating where 8 million people are at one time. If you have a solid group of 7 people who all love to sing, who are all solid on their parts, who show up on time to every rehearsal and performance, and who all are the best of friends, you have the base for an entirely stable group. In this case, 11 should have plenty of stability.


Well, obviously there is room for personal taste here. :) My arrangements are usually consistently 10 parts (s1, s2, a1, a2, t1, t2, b, solo, duet, perc) with occasional splits into three, descants, and the like. I find that to be a more effective way of creating a complex texture than writing fewer parts that are extremely difficult to sing. That said, I have been known to go overboard on occasion, and I'd love to peruse some NSA arrangements to see how another arranger might work more economically. You're certainly welcome to check out and critique, or learn from, or both, any of my work.

I also just prefer a richer, more expansive sound to the super-tight-and-clean you get with fewer voices. Again, that's just a matter of personal taste, and obviously both of those can be executed very well, very poorly, or anywhere in between.

As for logistics, I realize it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having multiple people on the same part might cause singers to feel less than essential and thus be less committed. On the other hand, if you do have a weak link, not an uncommon occurrence in college groups -- not every potential problem will necessarily reveal itself in auditions -- it's good to have someone covering their butt. Similarly, when new people learn old repertoire, it's nice to be able to pair them with someone who's already been singing the song for a year or two.

At any rate, the policy in my group is that we never set membership or part-balance goals. You never know who's going to decide to join another group instead, and there's always the risk of attrition among people who do join. (We lost one of our freshmen within a week this year!) Plus you wouldn't want to pass up an amazing singer just because she's an alto and you already have all the altos you need. We simply accept the people we think would be an asset to the group, reject the people we don't, let the chips fall where they may, and adjust arrangements and part assignments as needed. It has generally worked quite well for us over the years. We've had as few as 11 and as many as 19. OK, 19's a bit much, but in general, in my seven semesters as music director, I preferred working with the bigger groups over the smaller ones.

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Postby nosugrefneb » Sun Oct 10, 2004 6:20 pm

That all makes sense, Josh. To each his own, certainly. I personally have never arranged anything, nor am I or will I ever be capable of doing so, so I can't get into the logic behind arrangement decision-making, but I simply speak from the experience of reading our arrangements. Again, I'll have to take your word for it as far as your arrangements go. The fuller sound definitely would make sense; that is something that small groups nearly always lack relative to larger groups, and we were no exception.
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Regionalism

Postby tekay » Mon Oct 11, 2004 6:07 am

It's probably a point of regionalism that affects perspective on group size. Using UNC as a microcosm of the South, it was standard to have 14-16 members in a group (14 being small but workable, 16 optimal), with the recent proliferation of groups on that campus, I believe the average has hovered now at the 13-15, because there seems to be a smaller talent pool or people really willing to commit. As Josh said, this breaks down basically to two per part S, A, T, B.

And in my day, since we wouldn't sing a gig with less than seven people, that occasionally let us perform in multiple areas by splitting the group in half.

nifty, no?

I could bring into account the size of the groups that I've seen around the South from ICCA competitions, but that's going overboard.

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Postby Cutter » Mon Oct 11, 2004 10:37 am

And look at Brandeis Voicemale and the Berkeley Octet. Among the consistently best and tightest, and never taking on more than 8 people.

Obviously, you can take the best of the best and end up with a small group, or you can take the best and the mediocre and end up with a bigger group in which the mediocrity is equated for because parts are doubled. Seems like the trend as of late has developed into the latter.

My theory is that because so many groups have arisen as of late, all too often from the embittered few who don't make the existing groups, the audition pool is diulting. This is also due to groups starting at schools where there is no a cappella yet and therefore interest is scant since audience following is yet to be built and therefore being in said groups is not yet "cool". Because of this, groups have had no choice but to go big because they need parts doubled because of the weaker singers, tonal centers distorted by an increased number of voices, and added volume because of those who sing without balls.

That's where I think it's started, but once it does, it doesn't matter. Once you've got 15 people in a group, it becomes the standard, and you feel naked with 11 or 12 guys. And you totally see that happening today. I guess there's no turning back now.

The Binghamton Crosbys have been 15 guys since the mid-80's. Maybe it was because of the reasons I mentioned above back when they started up, but that size has been the norm since then. Ahead of the curve, I guess. ;) One difference is, though, that we work under the mentality of, "we've got 15 guys, we sure as hell had better be loud, exciting and energetic". Whereas I see groups of 18 and 19 that sound like 10.

Personally, I'd love to see more groups not afraid to go smaller and be more selective. I think any group could stand to benefit. If your impetus for a big group is that you need them for your 13-part arrangements, that's understandable, but I'd say you might want to think about honing your arranging skills a little bit.

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