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A cappella is that how you spell it

A Cappella? Is That How You Spell It?

The phrase a cappella is among the most butchered and misunderstood musical terms. The

predominant, and most "correct" spelling, is ...

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

A Cappella, A Picky Definition

Musicologists have fun debating the extent to which a cappella, 'in the style of the chapel,' can

include instrumental accompaniment. Some argue that early sacred a cappella performances would

sometimes include instruments that double a human voice part. So, the correct definition of a

cappella should be something like 'singing without independent instrumental accompaniment.'

At Primarily A Cappella, we are trying to popularize this style of music, so we like to keep it simple.

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

singing without instruments

A Capella?

Some musical dictionaries indicate that the Italian a cappella is preferred over the Latin a capella

(one "p") yet both are technically correct. Why do those dictionaries muddy the waters with two

spellings?

The phrase was first used in Italian Catholic churches, where Latin was the language for sacred text.

Thus, the Latin spelling for 'in the style of the chapel' - a capella - has some historical basis.

However, most other musical terms - forte, accelerando, and many others - are Italian in origin.

Since the Italian spelling is more consistent with other musical terms, it has been used more

frequently.

Given the difficulty of spelling our favorite style of music, we'd like to endorse the simplicity of a

single spelling:

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

singing without instruments

Acappella

Joining the two Italian words together to make Acappella is a popular variation in the U.S. For many

streetcorner singing fans, Acappella means unaccompanied singing of 'fifties (and early 'sixties)

songs. There were a series of recordings released in the early 1960's of Mid-Atlantic

unaccompanied doo-wop groups called "The Best of Acappella." The liner notes on the first LP

noted that Acappella means "singing without music." In this matter we do tend towards being picky -

instruments do not alone music make! A cappella (or Acappella) singers make music while they are

...

singing without instruments

A more recent, second meaning of Acappella has emerged. The Contemporary Christian group

Acappella is the first formed by prolific songwriter Keith Lancaster. In the early 1990's he added

Acappella Vocal Band (now mostly known as AVB) and "Acappella: The Series" which uses studio

singers (plus LOTS of electronic help) to perform songs around specific themes. All of these efforts

are now combined in The Acappella Company. The good news is they have sold millions of

recordings and have contributed greatly to the awareness of a cappella. The bad news is they have

popularized a spelling variation, and through the heavy use of electronically manipulated voice (which

can sound like any other synthesized instrument) have chipped away at the idea of ...

singing without instruments.

A Capela

This spelling is totally wrong, and yet has been used by those who should know better. The most

prominent occurrence is on the re-release of first album by the Singers Unlimited. Originally titled

"Try to Remember," this very popular collection of vocal jazz arrangements by Gene Puerling has no

doubt led some to misspell, or at least question the correct spelling of ...

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

singing without instruments

Occapella

The Manhattan Transfer sang a song with this title on their debut, eponymous album. Ironically, the

whole song is accompanied, as are most of their songs by this group, so one can only guess at the

intended meaning. The lyrics "Everything's gonna be mellow, Listen while we sing it occapella"

precede a refrain of scat-like harmony (with the band receding into the background but still audible).

Also ironically, The Manhattan Transfer are often the group music lovers think of when they hear the

phrase "a cappella." Many people associate "close harmony" with "a cappella," which certainly

makes a great deal of sense. Popular twentieth century a cappella is characterized by extensive use

of close harmony - when voices separated by small intervals (seconds, thirds, fourths) sing the same

rhythm and words. The Manhattan Transfer sing great close harmony, but most of it includes

instrumental accompaniment. Only a handful of their dozens of songs are performed a cappella.

Oxapello? (yech!)

The Blenders open their second album "From the Mouth" with a schtick by this title. On this brief

cut, the group is trying to discuss their new recording with an unenlightened agent, who keeps

referring to the style of 'Oxapello.' Hopefully the next time you run into someone similarly confused,

you'll remember to politely tell them:

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

singing without instruments

A Cappello

On the Trenchcoats' second album, "Your Joy," one of the fun originals is "A Cappello Blues." The

phrase is sung straight (that is, pronounced incorrectly) until the final chorus, when a hesitating

voice-over says "uh, isn't it, a cappella, with an "a"?" By now, hopefully, you've got the correct

spelling emblazed in your brain.

Why "Primarily" A Cappella?

Singing without instruments comes in many shapes and sizes. One of the attractions for artists is the

nearly unlimited pallet the voice provides. The same singer can sound sultry and sexy one minute,

cold and machine-like the next, then change to a trumpet, and morph again to a soft harmonic

background "ooooh."

In short, a cappella enables "out of the box" music - art that defies singular categorization.

It's not surprising, then, that the artists who create breathtaking, out of the box a cappella

performances sometimes want to add instruments. The vocal pallet does have some limitations, after

all. We endorse artistic creativity, and so we include recordings that include accompanied songs

along with a cappella performances.

Another issue debated among purists is whether a cappella allows for percussion accompaniment.

While we think the Nylons, Acappella and others should be allowed to describe themselves as

"singing without instruments" without saying 'but with a drum track,' our 'primarily' moniker allows us

to step aside and let customers decide.

Of course, it's not always the artists that choose to add instruments. Recording industry executives

by and large don't appreciate the marketing potential of a cappella beyond the token ballad cover.

So, many groups performing luscious close harmony capable of standing on its own are told by their

record labels in no uncertain terms that the recordings will include instruments. Still, the music is

appreciated by the same fans who love pure a cappella ... and those fans are our customers, so we

want to alert you to great harmony wherever it's found!

Finally, some of the best close harmony in vocal jazz and doo-wop is found on 100% accompanied

recordings. Many a cappella aficionados are also fans of the Hi-Lo's, The Four Freshmen and

similar groups. We want to be your one-stop shop!

In most of our recording reviews, we mention how many of the songs are unaccompanied by

instruments so that you won't be shocked.



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