Saturday, May 31, 2008

I was on NPR.

Are the Tufts Beelzebubs the Yankees of collegiate a cappella? How did a performance of Usher's "Yeah" change the face of the ICCAs? Can a collegiate a cappella group really spend $30,000 recording an album?

It's all here in this interview about "Pitch Perfect" from NPR's Weekend Edition. Give it a listen.

Friday, May 30, 2008

American Idle

So the American Idol kids were on Larry King the other night. Here's their so-so a cappella rendition of "Freedom 90." Or as Larry says, "a cappella o."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Library of Congress 1 A Cappella O

A few weeks ago, the Library of Congress (reading room pictured here) announced the 25 recordings that would be added to the national archive. This year, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" made the cut. So did Harry S. Truman's speech from the 1948 Democratic National Convention. To qualify, recordings must be "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," according to the law (enacted in 2000). Oh, and the recordings must be 10 years old.

It got me thinking: Is there any collegiate a cappella music in the archive?

So I wrote to the Library of Congress.

And today the Library Staff kindly replied, writing:

"Thanks very much for your interest in the National Recording Registry. I handle all of the nominations that come in through the public as well as from the National Recording Preservation Board. There are no recordings like this currently on the Registry, nor are there any specific nominations of the kind up for consideration. Collegiate a cappella recordings have certainly been discussed at Board meetings, but no formal nominations have been submitted to date. If you'd like to make any nominations to the Registry, please do so by filling out the form on our website at The public plays a vital role in suggesting recordings to be selected by the Librarian of Congress and have generated some of the most interesting nominations so far. We certainly look forward to hearing from you."

This sounds like a call to arms! I'm throwing down the gauntlet. What album/track would you make the case for? And can we get some momentum? Do it, a cappella!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pitch Perfect: The Trailer

The book is in stores now. Here's a trailer we cut together—featuring footage of the Tufts Beelzebubs on Letterman. (Yes, Letterman.)

Forward on to friends!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Friday Night Lights" vs. A Cappella

So, Pitch Perfect is in stores this week. And some a cappella alumni out there are wondering whether the book will simply mock them for 250 pages.

Perhaps this will set their minds at ease. A short excerpt!

Friday Night Lights may be coming back to NBC this fall, but one actor might not be thrilled. Scott Porter, who plays Jason Street, quit his gig singing with Mosaic, a professional a cappella group, a few years back to go Hollywood—only to see Mosaic snag a slot opening up for Prince (Prince!) on New Year's Eve. "That's a rock star moment," Porter reveals in Pitch Perfect. "I am on this massive, amazing TV show that everyone loves, but I devoted eight years of my life to taking the next step with a cappella music. There is a huge part of me that regrets leaving Mosaic." Uh, you're on Friday Night Lights! "I would regret it more if I was on the WB and wasn't doing groundbreaking television. There's no rehearsal on our set, no marks to hit. It's gorilla-style for primetime network television. Other shows want to look like us. At the same time, I wanted to make people go, Holy crap—a cappella. That's something new. I want to imitate that."

Friday, May 23, 2008

'Rolling Stone' digs 'Pitch Perfect'

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Pitch Perfect gets a nice shout out.

RS writes: "Is a capella secretly awesome? Author Mickey Rapkin makes a pretty good case for it with his new book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for A Capella Glory, a compelling read about what drives people to band together to sing nine-party harmonies on Toto’s “Africa” and call themselves names like “Whiffenpoofs.”

Read more of what RS had to say here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This is a first.

This is way meta. An a cappella group from Cornell did their own take on the viral video, "Shoes." You know that video, right? From the comedian Liam Sullivan? (For more on "Shoes" and Liam click here.) There are so many layers of insanity here that we must salute Cornell's Class Notes for giving this a shot.

In case you haven't seen it, the original viral video is here...

...and the Class Notes version is here.

A Cappella High.

On Monday night I went to Long Island to check out an unlikely a cappella enclave at (it's a mouthful) Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School. In short: Since 2001, six a cappella groups have popped up at POB/JFK. These are student-run a cappella groups that rehearse on Sundays, often arrange their own music, and operate in largely the same manner as their collegiate brethren. Which is to say they sing Guster tunes and have pun-y names!

Here's a look at the high school's mixed group, the very impressive Chock Full of Notes, singing Guster's "Demons." (Fun fact: As an undergraduate at Tufts, Adam Gardner of Guster sang with the Beelzebubs. More on that in Pitch Perfect, out on May 29th.)

And here is a look at the all-male B Sharps.

The definition of irony.

(Thank you to reader TED for suggesting.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Regrettable Moments in A Cappella Fashion History

I examined some unfortunate (but lovable!) a cappella sartorial trends for the fashion website Bjorn Borg headgear? Check. Ironic mustaches? Check. Robes? Check. Click here to find out which groups (and which looks) made the cut. Defend yourselves in the comments section!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Who is Petra Haden?

Petra Haden is a beloved indie rock figure and sometime violinist. (Fun fact: Her sister is married to Jack Black!) In 2005, Petra covered the entire "The Who Sell Out" album—in a cappella. She also covered Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in 2007. It's really well done, but not all that different from what college groups are doing every day. (There are a dozen versions of that Journey tune on YouTube.) So why all the press? Let's compare Petra's version with that from the University of Rochester's all-male Yellow Jackets. Who takes it? You decide.


The Yellow Jackets:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What would Biggie say?

The California Golden Overtones performing "Gangasta's Paradise." You have to ask, WWBS?

Why would someone dress as a flamingo?

That question—and many more—will be answered in Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, in bookstores on May 29th (just two weeks away!)

Until then, you'll have to settle for the flamingo and other assorted be-costumed members of the Tufts Beelzebubs performing here:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tony Romo needs Auto-Tune.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (apparently free from Jessica Simpson) sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at a Cubs game this week. And, well, wow. It was so awesomely bad that you have to admire the guy's commitment.

Give it a listen here:

And for fun, here it is in barbershop:

'Gossip Girl' does a cappella.

Sort of.

First, here's the real thing:

And then the Stanford version:

Monday, May 12, 2008

American Idle: Part 3

OK. So, last week, Syesha Mercado sang Sam Cooke's "Change is Gonna Come" on what has been, arguably, the weakest season of American Idol. (See our previous American Idle posts here and here.) I'm pretty sure that Syesha compared the Civil Rights Movement to her journey on Idol. (Am I the crazy? That's what she said, right?) But let's stick to the music, shall we?

Her vocals were flat. And the performance was uninspired. Period. I'd take this version from the NYU N'Harmonics any day. Because it's ballsy. And because it's in tune. But I'll let you be the judge.

Here's Syesha:

Here's the N'Harmonics:

Just when you thought it couldn't get more bizarre.

Meet The Aristocrats. Or, the A'Cats for short. They're Washington University's all-Disney a cappella group. Yup. All Disney. All the time. (Check out their site here.)

The A'Cats were founded in 2005. And according to their website, they are the "newest and one of the sexiest a cappella groups ever." Disney and sexy. Two words you just don't see together often enough.

No luck tracking them down on YouTube. Anyone got a video?

'Office Space'... A Cappella?

Confirm or deny: Ron Livingston from Office Space (or, for the ladies, Jack Berger on Sex and the City), was a Whiffenpoof. That's what I'm hearing. Anyone?

Until we can verify, here's Livingston in the cult comedy:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saying goodbye to the Baggot Inn.

So, the Baggot Inn—a Greenwich Village staple—is closing its doors today. This is sad for two reasons. First, the Baggot Inn hosted comedy nights where Dave Chappelle, Dennis Miller and others used to drop in. More importantly (for this site's purposes, anyway), a cappella groups like Manhattan's all-female Treble held semi-regular performances at the Baggot Inn. An a cappella venue falls!

New York magazine paid tribute to the Baggot Inn this week, asking some big comedians to weigh in on some of their favorite memories of the Village spot. Here's an excerpt:

Colin Quinn: "It used to be this lesbian bar called Bonnie & Clyde’s. It became Paper Moon, and Eddie Brill, who now books comics for Letterman, started doing a comedy night. I remember there was this snotty NYU kid, 17 years old, who came in one night, and they put him on because he had 30 other kids with him and they needed an audience. He sang some funny songs. That was Adam Sandler’s first time onstage."

Read more from New York magazine here. Sadly no one mentions the Baggot Inn's a cappella legacy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Cappella Merchandise: A Contest.

I found this t-shirt on Cafe Press. The joke's funny. But the execution is off.

Does the a cappella community need better self-mocking merch? Where's the a cappella equivalent of, say, the Che Guevara t-shirt? Where's the Urban Outfitters a cappella tee?

Send me your designs. I'll post the best ones. Until then, life's a pitch!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Early Adopter Award.

It ain't great. But it's certainly timely!

Super Mario. Without Instruments.

There is one area of collegiate a cappella that I don't quite understand. And it's the reproduction of classic video game music in concert. Sure, there's a kitsch factor. (And who doesn't love kitsch?) But five minutes of 'Super Mario Brothers?' On stage? Really?

Please use the comments section below to explain!

Herein, a selection from YouTube.

A Nintendo medley:

'Super Mario Brothers'


'The Legend of Zelda'

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Baudboys of Pro A Cappella

The other day, I blogged about an a cappella group made up of Microsoft employees. (That post here.) They call themselves the Baudboys, and for a bunch of self-described geeks, they talk a lot of smack! Herein, a Pitch Perfect exclusive interview with Baudboy bass Dave McEwen. (Note: He’s the one all the way on the right.)

So, what do you do at Microsoft?
I’m a marketing guy. I work for the Developer & Platform Evangelism group.

Uh, what’s that?
The group that thinks far out into the future and tries to secure the future of the platforms. So, when Vista came out, there were programs ready to run on Vista. That’s Evangelism.

When did you start singing?
I grew up in Alaska in the middle of nowhere. The first time I heard something that moved me was Glad, and their album the A Cappella Project. Then I found Take 6. I’ve been an a cappella freak since then. I was a teenager. And once I found Take 6 I thought, I’ve got to do this. For a guy with pedestrian music talent like myself, I couldn’t lead a group. I was a tuba player at the time. I’m a band geek. You see all these glee clubs on TV. I couldn’t wait to go to college to join one. And then I went to a college without an a cappella scene, Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho. So I created a couple. One was called Noise. None of them lasted longer than one performance. We had fun. I figured that was the end. Until I came to Microsoft in 2000. There were a bunch of guys from Yale and Princeton still singing. I thought, I’ve got another chance. Take two! I said, I don’t care if you let me in or not, but I’m going to be a Baudboy.

What were the auditions like?
Grueling. But not as bad as some of the auditions could have been. One of our members was the former pitch of the Whiffenpoofs. We have a guy who was with the Harvard Krokodiloes. Another guy was the Princeton Nassoons' director. They know what hardcore auditions are like. These guys could reduce you to nothing if they chose to. But the talent out here in Redmond is harder to come by than at Yale.

What do you remember about your Baudboys audition?
I think I had two rounds of call backs. There were maybe eight people trying out for bass that year. It went from eight to four to two. I’ll be honest: When it got down to two, I realized the other guy had more talent. So I focused on making them laugh by quoting The Matrix.

We’re all Microsoft employees. We’re geeks first and singers second.

How often are auditions held?
We only bring people into the group when someone cashes out their stock options and leaves Microsoft. That’s when we put the word out to the other singing groups.

Wait. There are other a cappella groups at Microsoft?
Yes. The Microtones have been around since the late 80s, at least. I don’t want to speak ill of them, but they used to be the primary group at Microsoft. I don’t want to toot my own horn but I am in marketing. When people at Microsoft think of music, they think of the theater troupe and the Baudboys.

There’s a theater troupe, too?
The Microsoft Theater Troupe. They do a Christmas show. They did Grease.

Please tell me there are on-campus rivalries...
Not really. We have a rule: If you're in the Baudboys, you can't be in the Microtones. We encourage a cappella here. But in return, when we have an opening we occasionally take their best singers.

Where does the name Baudboys come from?
All of the original members are gone, and nobody kept records back then. But it was something like this. Around the fall of 1990 four guys from the Microtones (who wanted to sing their old collegiate barbershop music) split off. They’d sing as part of the Microtones concerts. Someone yelled, What’s your name? In true geek fashion, they hadn’t thought that far ahead. Someone said, Let’s call them the Bad Boys—because they left the Microtones. Then someone said, What about the Baudboys. Baud is the speed rating of an old-style modem. We’ve talked about changing the name, but we have just enough brand recognition now.

So you have a sense of humor about yourselves.
We mock ourselves. We’re geeks. We know it. We’d rather get a laugh than a tear.

The Baudboys won the Northwest region of the Harmony Sweepstakes this year. Why compete?
Up until 2003, we were a bunch of guys singing in conference rooms for fun. We’d hold on campus concerts once a year. If there was an open mic, we’d polish up “Coney Island Baby” and that was pretty much it. Then we heard about the Harmony Sweepstakes and we thought, How hard could it be? So we went. And we got our asses kicked. We saw what people could do. We had our eyes opened. In true Microsoft fashion we said, We’re going to remake ourselves. We’re going to add vocal percussion. We’re going to drop the four part harmony and become a pop group. And we’ll determine our success by how we do at the Sweepstakes. That’s what we call Cyclical Iteration for Improvement. It’s a planning phase. We modify, build and then we perform at sweeps.

How did you do at the finals this year?
A group from Germany won. Vocaldente. They were insane. I don’t have bitter feelings. The right team won. We practice one day a week. In a conference room. From five-to-six on Tuesdays. And we’re going up against groups that practice eight hours every day. It was all pro groups—and then one group of geeks with day jobs. We’re not gonna harmonize these guys to death. Our whole thing was, Let’s go after audience favorite vote. We came close. I will say, We had the longest standing ovation of the night.

What was the set list?
We sang Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Aeroplane.” We sang “Gonna Make You Happy Tonight,” a comedy song from an Australian a cappella group, Tripod. It’s about a guy telling his wife he’s going to make her happy, and do all the things she wants him to do—just as soon as he’s done with the video game he’s playing. The crowd got it. The applause was deafening.

Hilarious. Are the Baudboys celebrities on the Microsoft campus?
Good heavens, no. Though I have been recognized as a Baudboy before. In the cafeteria, someone said, Dude, you’re a Baudboy! I got up to do a presentation on Application Lifestyle Management. There were 100 people in the room. Someone said, Go, Baudboys! from the back.

Any paying gigs?
There are now! Because people know who we are. The word is out.

What’s the word?
Microsoft has this geeky singing group. And they’re good now.

Do you perform on campus?
We’ve always been big on campus. We’ll sing in Building 16 at lunchtime. It’s an office building with this real nice atrium. We routinely have crowds of 200 or 300 people. And if you’re walking by, it’s hard to ignore us. If there’s a group holiday party, we’ll show up at that.

Any chance there’s an a cappella group at Google? Yahoo!?
We sang the national anthem for the Microsoft Hockey Challenge—where they play the teams from Sun Microsystems or Google. Someone from Sun said, We have an a cappella group that would kick your ass! But then they disbanded. Groups come and go at Google. We think they’re running from us. (laughing) I’d love for someone from Google to hear that and challenge us.

When is the Baudboys album dropping?
We hope to have one for the fall. That’s our goal. Making a CD costs money. We’ve been a non-profit group. We’d rather sing at a nursing home and spread the love. But I want to get us more paying gigs. It’s not greed. We just want to give fans a CD. We have a demo CD. We recorded it in a small studio down in Renton. I’m a Seahawks fan. I’ve missed one game in the last decade. That was the day we were recording our demo. We could self-record, but we want to do it right.

Who decided on the group’s jeans-and-blazers look?
Funny story. We kept getting asked for pictures. Being a PR guy myself, I said, We gotta spend some money here. So we went to Sears.

Like, the Sears Portrait Studio? At the mall?
Yeah. I gave Sears $80 bucks and said, Take as many photos as you can. We didn’t have matching clothes. So we ran down to the clothing depart and grabbed jackets off the rack. The guy in the back, with his hands in the air? You can see the tags on his jacket. After the photos, we went and put the jackets back on the racks. That photo has been in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, some London paper... That was the best $80 bucks we ever spent.

For more on the Baudboys, click here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kennedy Center honors a cappella.

This building here on the left? That's the Kennedy Center. And starting May 28th, it'll be all a cappella all the time in D.C. with the launch of the big institution's 10-day event, "A Cappella: Singing Solo." The line-up has been announced and the Virginia Sil'hooettes from UVA and James Madison University's Exit 245 will be representing the collegiate realm alongside big acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Look for these two groups at the Millenium Stage on June 3rd at 6:00 PM. Click here for more info.

And here's Exit 245 singing Foreigner's "Cold as Ice."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Microsoft does harmony? Yahoo!

This weekend, Yahoo! spurned Microsoft's advances, turning down the Redmond giant's offer of close to $54 billion dollars. Whether Yahoo! was shortsighted or not remains to be seen.

There is one thing Microsoft has that Yahoo! doesn't. And that's an in-house a cappella group. Yup, Microsoft has an octet, the Baudboys (computer puns!).

The TechCrunch blog goes long on the Baudboys history here. (Thanks to Dave Trendler for the tip.)

In the meantime, check out the 'Boys in this clip from YouTube. It's your move now, Yahoo!.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Prince likes a cappella. Seriously.

An episode from Pitch Perfect—featuring none other than the Purple One himself—is excerpted in the June issue of Elle magazine (on stands now). The item recounts how Prince invited the a cappella group Mosaic to jam with him on New Year's Eve. Click on Rihanna's face to check it out.

And, for Prince's listening pleasure, here's Mosaic performing "Thank You."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

American Idle: Part 2.

In our continuing coverage of this less-than-stellar season of American Idol, we want to introduce you to Donna Budica. She's the president of UPENN's Off the Beat. She's graduating in a few weeks. And her voice (to say nothing of her looks) would embarrass the remaining contestants on American Idol.

The proof is here:

Biel: The rebuttal!

About a month ago we blogged about the lovely and talented Jessica Biel, and her rejection from the Tufts Amalgamates. Well, the Mates have responded! At least we think so.

In the comments, Anonymous writes:

"the Mates focus on blending in our auditions. she wasn't very good at it. lots of great singers can't blend with other people, though. we are kicking ourselves, in case you're wondering."

We bet!

UPDATE: A second Anonymous wrote in (or the original anonymous is having an existential crisis?) with their own thoughts. Read it and weep here.

Anonymous, unmask yourself! Or selves!

Love Me Dhue.

This is Laurie Dhue. She has a regular segment on The O'Reilly Factor called, yup, the Dhue Point. But years ago she performed on a different stage—as a member of the UNC Loreleis.

There's no video footage of her undergraduate years. But you can imagine how she moved thanks to the magic of this clip, and some very pushy questioning from one Geraldo Rivera:

Brendan James was a Clef Hanger.

There's a trend in radio. And it's a cappella. Or a cappella alums, anyway.

Check it out: As an undergraduate, Sara Bareilles (newly-minted pop star) sang with UCLA's Awaken A Cappella. Ingrid Michaelson, whose song "The Way I Am" was featured in an Old Navy ad (and again on Grey's Anatomy), sang with the Binghamtonics at SUNY Binghamton.

Next to pop: Brendan James, who'd been a member of the UNC Clef Hangers in 2002 (back when he was called Brendan Ernst). For a clip of Brendan singing "I Can't Make You Love Me" with the Clefs, click here.

Brendan recently had some iTunes success with his EP; his full-length album, The Day is Brave, is out June 3rd from Decca. Here's a promo video on Mr. James. Sadly, there's no mention of the Clefs.

Can a cappella be overproduced?

There was an interesting item in The Ethicist column in Sunday's New York Times magazine. A producer in Connecticut wrote in to ask:

"I produced a recording for a singing student’s application to a college’s professional music program. Her singing was passable but not great. Her mother asked, 'Is there anything you can do with your equipment to make her voice better?' Computer technology enables me to make even the worst singer sound professional, but if I employ it, do I defraud the college? — S.H., CONNECTICUT"

Randy Cohen begins his answer with this: "You may help the student put her best foot (best throat?) forward; you may not abet deception." The a cappella community (in love with Auto-Tune) might disagree...

Judge for yourself. Read the question (and answer) here.