A cappella

by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

A cappella: (adj. or adv.) {with regard to choral music} without instrumental accompaniment.

I was sixteen years old and had a musical group. We thought we were great, which is the necessary profile to maintaining the immaturity of being sixteen years of age. We had recently won a talent contest at our school, so we were over-pumped with our abilities and found other people’s instruction repugnant.

A gentleman asked us if we would like to record the song we had sung at the talent contest for his local radio station, to be played the following Sunday for the vast “tens of listeners” tuning in.

Of course, we agreed, fully aware of how fortunate this man was to have such a talented group of young people coming in to his little station to share their unique abilities. We arrived at the studio and found that there was no piano. We required one, so it seemed like we were stumped, with no recourse. The radio station owner ran from the room and quickly returned, holding in his hand–a pitch-pipe.

He said, “Why don’t you sing it a cappella, and I’ll give you the note to start on, and we can record it?”

Well, we had never sung our song without accompaniment, but after all, being the best singers in Delaware County, it seemed like something we could take in stride and accomplish with no difficulty whatsoever.

So he blew a C on his pitch-pipe and we began to sing, as he recorded. We struggled a bit. None of us realized how dependent we were on the strands flowing from the keyboard for our sense of self-confidence. Yet we persevered.

When we reached the end of the song, I looked over and noticed that our recording engineer had a grimace on his face. He paused and said, “Would you like to try that again?”

Fully inflated with arrogance, I replied, “Why? It sounded good to me.”

So he blew the pitch-pipe and played back the last note we sang, and explained that we had fallen a full tone in the process of singing our song. Still fueled with immaturity and impudence, I said, “What difference does it make–as long as we ended up together?”

I added, “Perhaps your pitch-pipe is broken.”

This last assertion was quickly disproven when he played back the entire recording and it became obvious where we lost our way. Yet because we were young, impetuous and just damned lazy, we refused to record it again, insisting that “it sounded fine.”

Faithful to his word, he played our a cappella version the following Sunday morning on the radio, and amazingly enough, no one commented to us about it–good or bad.

That was the day that I gained great respect for singing a cappella–and also for the value of honoring the pitch.

In all facets of life, if you don’t stay in key, you will end up with a whole lot of sour notes.

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