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Penn Glee Club – The Star Spangled Banner

When one asks someone about ‘a capella’ music, the response typically relates back to either Ivy League glee clubs or the Folders commercials from the early 1990’s. And while many scoff at the boundless number of collegiate singers doing renditions of top 40 hits, the discourse around the world of a capella has changed radically.

A capella, at its inception could very much be defined as a folk music. Think about the Penn Glee Club. The group was founded 145 years ago, and still has songs in its repertoire from that day and age. More importantly though, songs such as ‘The Red and The Blue’ and ‘Drink a Highball’ are shared by a broader Penn community and have cultural significance to members of that community, which are typical aspects of folk music.

University of Pennsylvania’s Off the Beat – The Crowing

But the genre has grown far beyond the bounds of college campuses. In the early 1990’s, organizations such as the Recorded A Capella Review Board began writing elaborate criticism of penned arrangements and recorded a capella music, pulling it closer to the realm of art music. Further, as recorded a capella is increasingly able to mimic commercial music thanks to technoglogical advancements, the genre has begun receiving mass acceptance.

Glee – Don’t Stop Believing

This fall, NBC is launching “The Great American Sing-Off”, a primetime competition where a capella groups will perform pop hits weekly. In sum, the discourse around a capella is in flux. As the genre changes, it will be interesting to see where the discourse about a capella moves towards.

Lawrence Crane-Moscowitz