Competition season is over. While a few groups are celebrating their win, many more are mourning their loss. I have competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes multiple times now, and every single time, my group has yet to win. The constant disappointment of losing can make you so angry that you want to just quit a cappella all together.
Let me give you a list of my failures: Runner-up for a CARA, 4th place at Harmony Sweeps (multiple times), rejected on every major a cappella compilation multiple times, and denied entrance to multiple a cappella competitions.
After so much failure, you’d think I would have learned my lesson and just given up.
There is a wonderful motto from a Broadway show called [Title Of Show]. No, I didn’t forget the name…that’s the actual name of the show. To make a long plot short, it’s a show that gets written as it is being performed. It’s like a very meta “Charlie Kaufman” film. The penultimate number is a song called “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”
The premise of this number is that the writers of the show, having been driven to madness by their desire for success, take a step back and realizes that the reason they even started writing this unique and quirky show was because they would rather be “nine people’s favorite thing, than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”
At our last Harmony Sweepstakes performance, my group Satellite Lane wrote a similar ten-minute musical in the same style as [Title Of Show]. In this musical, we played fictitious versions of ourselves, me being the crazy director who strives only for the gold medal and the rest rebelling against me because they just want to sing for fun.
This musical sums up my a cappella philosophy perfectly. I realize that I will never win the gold medal. I will never be the Harmony Sweepstakes national champion. I will probably never win a CARA. We will go through hundreds of rejections before we are entered in another competition. I will sing a crowd-pleasing jazz set that the audience loves but the judges despise because our chords are “too complex.”
But I will continue to make creative, interesting music, breaking the barriers and making myself and my friends laugh. We will have a handful of fans, never sell out a concert, but we will have fun doing it.
If you are that group that constantly arrives in second place; or puts out multiple albums that are never recognized by the CARAs; or wonder why you never appear on BOCA, despite arranging your album EXACTLY like you think the judges want; then this motto is for you.
I would rather be different and underappreciated. I would rather make the music that I like to make, than bow down to the squeaky-clean sounds of a cappella today. I would rather explore new musical ideas, think outside the box, and shock the listener than compromise my values.
I would rather be nine people’s favorite thing, than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.