Schrödinger's A cappella
Imagine a cat in a box.
The cat cannot see you and you cannot see the cat. You are told that inside the box, along with the still-alive cat, is a rock, a Geiger counter, and a vial of poison.
Now the rock is slightly radioactive, with an exactly fifty-fifty chance of emitting a subatomic particle in the course of an hour. If the rock emits a particle, the Geiger counter will flip a switch, which will break the vial of poison and kill the cat.
(Quick note for all you cat lovers: This is a thought-experiment. Not a real experiment.)
This is the scenario Edwin Schrödinger proposed to Albert Einstein one day, perhaps when the two smartest men on the planet got bored. Together, they were able to concoct a scenario where, at this exact moment, since no one was sure if the cat was alive or dead, that in reality, the cat could be BOTH alive and dead at the same time.
Does your brain hurt? That’s okay. So does mine.
With the ICHSA and ICCA competitions winding down, and having just competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes myself, I began to wonder…
“Is it possible for an a cappella group to be BOTH good and bad at the same time?”
I suppose the circumstances for this to be true would have to be two opposing view points, arguing over the quality of an a cappella group. I recently had this discussion with a friend of mine. While listening to “I want you back” by Sonos, I proclaimed it was a magnificent arrangement. He agreed with what Ben Folds said to Sonos on the Sing-Off: That it didn’t sound anything like the original and that’s why he didn’t like it.
Two opposing arguments, two perfectly valid opinions. In this typical argument (which I’m sure many of you have had), a group can be considered good by one person and bad by another.
But what I want to know is, can a group be considered both good and bad by the same person within the same performance? Is there ever an instance where you form an opinion of a group and then change that opinion midway through a song, or a show, and still feel like, even though you didn’t come to a finite conclusion, you somehow sort of did…
While I certainly cannot speak for anyone else, my opinion is that a cappella fans are fickle. We hold opinions about our music that the rest of the world may not fully understand.
Picture this scenario: You go to an a cappella concert that features several groups. One group comes onstage and they are so bad that you just want to throw tomatoes at them and boo them right off the stage. And yet, right after their song ends, they get a standing ovation.
“Wait! What?” A standing ovation? For being able to sing in two parts? Why?
The rest of the audience may not have shared the same experiences with you. You could probably sing, from memory, the entire discography of M-pact, when everyone else in the crowd thinks the Barton Bellas are the best a cappella group they’ve ever seen, even though they don’t really exist.
Are you wrong for thinking the way you do? No. Are they wrong for thinking the way they do? No. Is it possible that both sides are not seeing the whole picture? Yes.
But the next time this instance comes along, try to imagine why the rest of the crowd would love this group, whereas you would rather be locked in a box with a cat and vial of poison than have to listen to another note.
If you can see things from both sides of the table, then you can perceive even the worst group ever as being both good and bad. And this is the key to a cappella education.
Unless you’re a dog person. Then this experiment is invalid.