This summer was a busy one for me. I was the assistant musical director for the Broadway festival production of “A cappella The Musical.” (www.acappellathemusical.com) We had just four weeks to learn almost thirty (THIRTY) a cappella tunes, from scratch, including blocking, choreography, memorizing lines, etc. It was a fast-paced, chaotic process that left us in disarray for the majority of the process, but ultimately, a show was born…a show that got magnificent reviews and even won some awards!
But I digress. What does this have to do with your a cappella group? One thing I learned from this process was the concept I call “Guerilla A cappella.” Guerilla a cappella is a process where your group learns a large amount of material in a very short amount of time, with an important deadline fast approaching.
Let’s try an exercise. Pretend you say this to your a cappella group:
“Okay guys. We have five new tunes to learn and our concert is in four days.”
I’ll wait for your heart attack to subside…..Done? Good. You’re probably thinking there’s NO WAY you will ever say this sentence to your a cappella group, because the aca-pocalypse would be epic.
But…just think about this for a moment. Here are some positive things that could come out of this fast-paced, do-it-or-die experience, if you actually took it seriously:
1) Darwin’s Natural Selection
Want to know who is really committed and who is coasting by on everyone else’s coattails? If you persuade your group to go for guerilla a cappella, you will see very quickly who is a team player, who has this group on the bottom of their priority list, who can learn music fast, and who needs A LOT of help. It’s a great way to assess your group’s strengths and weaknesses in a short amount of time.
2) Improve Your Improv
You just don’t have time to learn five new arrangements from scratch and make them perfect. To achieve success with guerilla a cappella, you need to cut some corners and fudge a few notes. This is a great chance to get your group thinking musically about the song: what parts can go in, what parts can come out, and what chords can they make up on their own. Chances are, most of the songs you picked have repetitive chords, and your group can probably improvise the progression. This can save you loads of time now and in the future.
3) Team Building
Nothing says team bonding like a ticking clock. Your group will definitely fight, storm out of the room, invent new ways of cursing you out, but they will emerge stronger having achieved an almost impossible task. We fought for four weeks, and now I miss every person in the cast and crew.
4) Save Time
With the techniques you learn in guerilla a cappella, you will master time-saving techniques that will speed up your rehearsal process for the entire year. Chances are, you are probably wasting a lot of time because you think you have the time to waste. With guerilla a cappella, every second counts and you can use that to your advantage in the future.
5) Increase Your Output
When you learn arrangements in a speedy fashion, you can book more gigs at a faster rate. My a cappella group typically learns a new arrangement for a wedding proposal at the last minute, and it has given us a great sense of what we can accomplish quickly and how many new arrangements we can handle.
6) Individual Responsibility
To really master guerilla a cappella, every member of your group is going to have to put in some time, on their own, to learn notes. This personal responsibility is essential not just to guerilla a cappella, but for the entire year of rehearsals. Each person quickly finds the best way to learn and memorize his/her notes in a timely fashion. And if someone is not pulling their weight, you will know almost immediately.