A musical genre with a long history on the margins has finally reached mainstream popularity, including gaining increased popularity on college campuses across the nation.
A cappella music is devoid of instruments, as performers in each group mix their voices to create unique covers of instrumental songs. But how did the genre gain such popularity, and how will it evolve now that it has reached a wider audience?
According to Jason Williams, the business manager of the Tufts Beelzebubs, the genre started to gain mass appeal “in the early 1990s. This was probably because of a change in attitude towards a cappella.” Before then, most groups sung in a barbershop style unlike the trendy rock of the era. Slowly but surely, said Williams, arrangements “became more contemporary, more modern and the popularity was bigger.”
This contemporary trend has continued to this day, as the Beelzebubs have performed arrangements of popular songs such as We Are Young and One Day.
The genre is always changing, constantly adapting to trends each year has to offer. Technology can modify vocal sounds to mimic electronic and acoustic instruments. Larger concerts require a different performance to attract the attention of the crowd. Marketing shifts focus from music connoisseurs to partying teens.
At their most recent goals discussion, the Beelzebubs deliberated the possibility of a new wardrobe.
Because people attend shows not just to hear, but also to watch the Beelzebubs, freshman Ethan Wise proposed that the Beelzebubs wear a specific color scheme during performances.
“One of the things that allows us to be as successful as we are is that we see each other as much as we do, and discuss these sort of things regularly,” Ethan said. “This is one of those things that feeds our culture. Over the years if we adapt it and like it, it will become natural. If we do this and take pride in what we do, it will have staying power.”
The culture of a cappella is not set in stone.
The source of sound – the voice – will not change, but its usage and image are bound to transform with the ebb and flow of society’s tastes. Just how those tastes will change, of course, is anybody’s guess.
The adjustments made by groups are largely reactionary, as many attempt to fill musical niches rather than proactively create them.
At the moment, most a cappella groups do covers of existing songs, but if a cappella is to truly expand groups must be able to shake off their reliance on more established artists and begin to write original music. This music would be deliberately fit for the individual’s voices, and encourage music browsers to look to a cappella groups for new hit songs.
Nobody truly knows what the future holds in store for a cappella.
Jason admits “it depends on so many different factors that I couldn’t fathom it.” Perhaps some groups have taken the reins and are deliberately steering the course of a cappella, or perhaps nobody is in control.
Only time will tell how this popular and exciting genre will fare in the years to come.
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