November 15th 2011
Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” became a hit in 1988, when it set a record as the first a cappella song to reach number 1 on the music charts. When it did, you could argue that this song sparked a mainstream interest in covering songs a cappella. This made Bobby McFerrin one of the leaders in transforming the meaning of a cappella from one referring to the reverberant space used to perform the music, into our modern use of the term that refers to using voice in place of instruments, or unaccompanied music.
Currently, the television show Glee features a group called the warblers, a singing group at an all – boys school who do all their numbers a cappella. This modern adaptation of a very old technique is an example of how the term a cappella has now broadened to include vocalists who literally imitate instruments – repeating a series of sounds to provide a background beat to the main lyrics / melody of the piece.
I chose one of my favorite covers of theirs to show you. The original song “Bills, Bills, Bills” Is by Destiny’s Child. This may be a piece by an imaginary singing group, but the singers are incredibly talented. If I hadn’t already told you that the piece was a cappella, it might have taken you a moment to figure it out. Each back-up singer is assigned a beat or series of notes, which they then repeat throughout the song. The Warblers are certainly reminiscent of the a cappella groups that are developing on college campuses these days. Many choose to cover pop songs, which is very interesting to me because it seems to breathe new life into, and uncover the meaning behind the lyrics in these songs.
Being very into visual art most of my life, I have never really been one to talk about music with such technicality. Even at my high school, in which students chose a major such as music, art, performing arts, etc., I would zone out any time a Music major tried to give details on a piece they were assigned. As a child I suffered through piano lessons, and then for a little while as an angsty pre-teen tricked myself into thinking I could handle learning the electric bass while trying to get through school. This series of posts has been a period of time for me to turn my ears toward unaccompanied music, and be able to immerse myself in something very different than my usual oil paints and rock and roll. I have gained an appreciation for simply listening close to live music, and a bit of the confidence necessary to re-introduce myself to my knock-off Rickenbacker bass.