Last night, we attended the 24th annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival national championships. From my point of view, it was a mixed bag. Harmony used to be focused on the melody — as was certainly the case with last year’s winners, Moira Smiley and VOCO, who did really lovely harmonies to old style American ballads. The trend, though, is to place the harmony in the rhythm section, complete with lots of what I call “spitting into the microphone,” but what is better known as beatboxing. As a person who prefers melody, I find beatboxing irritating beyond measure. In any event, even if I liked it, it’s not something I associate with smooth, rich harmony.
At various points during the evening, all of this year’s competing groups demonstrated that they could, in fact, do marvelous bell-like harmonies and perfect counterpoints. Most of them, however, limited themselves to background beatboxing with various harmony rhythms overlaying it, fronted by a solo singer who, usually, screeched a lot, a la Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. It was discordant, not harmonic. What was interesting was that, while the audience was very gracious, its major outbursts of enthusiasm were reserved for the classic harmony moments, something that didn’t seem to interfere at all with the performers’ perpectual beatboxing and screeching.
There were some high points, though. The first was a song that Microsoft’s own a cappella group — The Baudboys — performed, called Gonna Make You Happy Tonight. I don’t have any video of the Baudboys doing the song (and they did it really well), but there is a YouTube showing the song’s originators, an Australian group named Tripod, performing. Please pay close attention to the lyrics:
The other high point was the winning group, an absolutely delightful German quintet named Vocaldente. They had some subtle beatboxing (it seems to be required now), but mostly limited themselves to absolutely wonderful harmonic plays on a variety of jazz, pop and popular song favorites. Their music was perfect, and their choreography delightful. Not only did they win, they were the audience favorite by a foot-stomping, screaming margin — which again tells you something about where the audience was musically, as opposed to where the performers were coming from. Here’s a rather lousy YouTube video of one of the songs with which they wowed the audience last night:
Mr. Bookworm and I liked their music so much, we did something we almost never do: we bought the CD! I’m still reeling from the shock to my system from having done that.