High School/College A Capella: The Best Musical Style You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Nearly a decade ago, in January 1999, I went to visit a friend from my childhood (Brock Harris) in Los Angeles. Brock was teaching a group of high school students something called “A Capella”. I knew that A Capella meant voices only, but it never occurred to me that someone could take modern pop songs and perform them purely with vocals (at age 24 my musical horizons were more limited then they are now). What I saw blew me away – a bunch of young adults, not that much younger than me (most were 18 or so), blending their voices into amazing sounds. The group was called No Strings Attached, and I still listen to their album to this day. Sadly, that seemed to be the only CD the group put out.

Fast forward nine years later, and I enjoy A Capella more than ever. I think it’s partially because it’s nothing but the human voice – no technology beyond a microphone, no vocal auto-tuning (listen to the before and after) for sloppy vocalists, no layering of the same vocalist over and over so they sound fuller…it’s pure vocals, pure music. I tend to gravitate toward college and high school A Capella because they pick cool songs, and have great energy. I recently stumbled across A Capella videos on YouTube, and not surprisingly, there are a lot of them (especially from this guy). This video caught my eye today, and spurred me to finally post about this topic. Check it out:

I tend to prefer all-female, or mixed groups (great female vocals = heaven), but that all-male group video was just too good to ignore – when the rather short, and somewhat rotund fellow steps up to the microphone, you expect a certain type of voice – not the powerful bass-heavy vocals that comes out of his mouth. And it gets even better when he kicks it up to his higher range…simply awesome! If you want to check out more college A Capella, the BOCA albums are a good place to start.

  • our highschool (well not my highschool) but the highschohol here in my town has a really good A Capella group. i like listening to like boys A Capella choirs, if theyre good..

  • Neil

    Have you ever heard the song Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap? Not quite a capella, but kinda sorta, and damn catchy.

    Of course, who can forget the classic a capella song by Rockapella! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vPywpcyUQg And here’s a live version of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuzc4jgwlT8

  • what does A capella mean? is it latin?

  • From Wikipedia:

    Italian: “at the chapel” or Latin: “From the chapel/choir”

  • Neil,
    Haha…I hadn’t heard the Carmen song in a long, long time. I remember playing that game on my Laser 128, an Apple IIe clone. 😉

    This is more the kind of stuff I like:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDWFC4zCZos
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pq40SX0Mks

    It’s funny, this stuff is definitely better (IMO) when it’s audio only – I like seeing the people who sing, but the audio isn’t great on these YouTube clips, and some of the “musical theatre” performances take away from the music…

  • WERS has a show called “All A Capella” every Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 to 5:00 (eastern time). It’s available on their website (wers.org) as well as over the air – check it out, it’s lots of fun.

  • Neil

    Jason, I played it on an actual Apple IIe. I think I was in grade 2 🙂

  • Neil

    Oh, I almost forgot. The baudboys (http://www.baudboys.com/), our company’s a capella group, recently won a northwest competition and are going to nationals. Go boys!

  • Ah, the Apple IIe. I have so many fond memories of playing games. Ultima I and II, Autoduel, Gemstone Warrior, Root Beer Tapper…so many games!

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  • lindsaywriter

    I totally agree about the appeal of the ‘pure voice.’ There’s something special about being supported by another live voice. I wrote an a capella musical for high school students – the response is either ‘that’s so cool’ or ‘my students could never do that!’

    http://www.shoutthemusical.com