Recently, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to be one of the three judges for the AusAca (Australian A cappella put on by Vocal Australia) national finals. Along side Naomi Crellin from the Idea of North, and Chris Blain from Suade, we all have different things we notice about the groups coming through. We still have Sydney and Adelaide to go, but there are some themes that could be helpful to all performers.
What’s your story?
What is the story of the song you are singing, and what is your story as a group? First- the story of the song. (Your story as a group, and how you present that visually is below, under ‘What you wear speaks before you do.’) When we sing, we work on a lot of elements. Musicality, dynamics, blend and intonation are vitally important to how we tell the story of the song. Unfortunately, that takes up so much brain-space, we forget to communicate they way we normally do when we talk. What that means for singers, is that we need to be conscious of putting that back into our performance.
At the very least, nod your head for an affirmative (yes) and shake it for a negative (no)
Believe it or not, this is one of the main casualties of performing lyrics. The tricky part is to make decisions for beatboxers and bass parts. Choices range from supporting the lead lyric, even though you are not singing the words, to showing the audience the rhythm with your body. One of the big challenges for acapella performers is to make choices that will work as a group. Video your rehearsal from a distance, and you will see what your audience sees.
Show us the content of your lyric
Lyrics go by fast for an audience. If you want to help us understand that you are singing about the sky, it might be worth looking in that direction. Of course, we need switch our ‘weird-o-meter’ on, and check that we look natural doing so. It will help an audience understand the content of the story of your song. Another option is to show us with your spacing, or your body, how that lyric affects you. Does it make you feel strong, or does it make you crumble in defeat?
What you wear speaks before you do. What is your group’s identity?
As soon as you walk onstage, we are looking for information about who you are. One of the most interesting thing about watching a performer, is seeing who they are, and how they express themselves that is unique. There are so many different ways we can express our identity through how we move, how we use stage space, and what we wear. To narrow this down, we can focus on one element, colour. But do become a detective, and look for all the different ways the groups you love express their identity through what they wear and how they move.
A lot of groups go for black. There are some good and bad reasons for this. In one acapella group I sang in, black and silver where the only choices that we all had something of in the group- so that’s what we went for. One reason for choosing black is that orchestras wear black, and there is a ‘serious-musician’ cred that seems to go with this. A publicist I worked with suggested that performers wear a deep shade of a colour if they want a mood/strong impact. Why? The publicist put it best when she said:
‘Watch the stage-hands. What colour do they wear so they will disappear on stage? Black. Notice the black floor, and the black backdrop? If you are wearing black, you will disappear against that back-drop.’
Of course, we can wear black on stage; it just takes a little more thought about texture and surface, light reflecting qualities, contrasting colour, and anything else that might add to that colour-choice.
What is your group’s identity?
The following suggestions come from questions that stylists and publicists might ask. They are questions that can direct individual musicians, a group as a whole, or even the style for a project. The easiest way to go about this is to ask people you know. Brainstorming as a group can be helpful to this process.
- If you were a work of art, what would you be?
- If you were an actor, who would you be?
- If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?
- What colour/s best represents you?
- If you were an era, what would you identify most with? (1960s, 2015, etc.)
Question for your group:
What is one new way you can think about how you present your visual identity on stage? Are there any other questions you have found helpful in expressing your group’s identity?
Here’s some Naturally 7 to get you in the a cappella mood. Yes, they are wearing black, so check out how they are communicating their identity as a group and as individuals with what they wear and how they move. This is also helpful for groups who have the question, ‘What do we do in a ballad? Isn’t it better to stand in the one spot for the whole performance?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsSCs3g8J7M