Notes and References


An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the 2004 Columbia University Graduate Student Conference on Music Scholarship. I am indebted to Professors Judith Becker and Mark Clague, as well as my colleagues John Behling, Kate Brucher, Stephanie Heriger, and Joe Weber, for their insightful feedback concerning its earlier drafts. I must also thank the members, past and present, of the University of Michigan Amazin’ Blue and the University of Pennsylvania Counterparts, with whom I conducted fieldwork between 1999-2004, as well as the Bubs Foundation and the groups with which I am currently conducting fieldwork (and whose members continue to influence my thinking on this topic): the Boston University Dear Abbeys, the Boston University Treblemakers, the Bowdoin College Ursus Verses, the Brandeis University Company B, the Brandeis University Starving Artists, the Brandeis University VoiceMale, the Harvard University Fallen Angels, the Michigan State University Capital Green, the Northeastern University DownBeats, and the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Finally, I should acknowledge the generous grant support of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan.

1. Kurt Eichewald, “‘Doo-Wop-a-Doo’ Will No Longer Do,” New York Times 22 June 1997, sec. 2, p. 32; Karen W. Arenson, “Songsters Off on a Spree: Campuses Echo With the Sound of Enthusiastic a cappella Groups,” New York Times 25 April 2002, E1, 4; “Profile: Yale’s a cappella groups rush current crop of freshmen,” NPR Radio Morning Edition 9 September 2002; “A cappella Frenzy,” CBS News Sunday Morning 11 January 2004; The Jane Pauley Show (NBC) 23 December 2004. The estimate of a thousand groups comes from the CBS News story.

2. Mark Slobin, Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1993), 56. To my knowledge, no scholarly works on collegiate a cappella have been published, though I am aware of a few student papers on the topic: Ben Jackson, “Vocal Percussion: A Phonetic Description,” unpublished student paper, linguistics department, Harvard University, 2001; Mark Manley, “Room Zero: The Dialectical Worlds of Live Performance and the Recording Studio in Collegiate A cappella,” BA Thesis, University of Virginia, 2002; and Jane Alexander McIntosh, “In Harmony: A Look at the Growth of Collegiate A cappella Groups and the Future of the Movement,” MA Thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1999 [available online from the Contemporary A cappella Society of America,]. The first academic symposium on collegiate a cappella music, “Yours In Song: Academic Approaches to A cappella Music,” co-chaired by Joshua S. Duchan and Professor Benjamin Stevens (of Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York), was held at Bard College on 11 March 2005.

3. Gage Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

4. See

5. Groups like the Whiffenpoofs still maintain traditional barbershop songs as an important component of their active repertoire. In contrast, though they may occasionally draw on older material, most collegiate a cappella groups focus on contemporary pop songs. The exception would be specialized groups, such as explicitly jazz-oriented groups, religiously affiliated groups, or those with a particular theme such as multiculturalism, feminism, or a particular ethnic or geographic constituency (cf 7).

6. The University of Michigan Amazin’ Blue, for example, has drawn the ire of the University of Michigan School of Music’s Music Theatre department, to the extent that some students have been told that the department forbids freshmen to participate in an a cappella group during their first semester.

7. The proactive pursuit of social causes can be seen, for example, in Yale’s Whim n’ Rhythm, an historically feminist, all-female group (see Stacy Street, “Voices of Womanhood: Gender Ideology and Musical Practice in American Women’s Vocal Groups,” BA Thesis, Harvard University, 1990); Michigan’s 58 Green, which promotes cultural diversity and actively strives for diversity in its membership (see; or groups with particular religious or ethnic affiliations, from Penn Masala at the University of Pennsylvania ( to Shir Appeal at Tufts University (

8. The term “vocables” refers to syllables carrying no direct semantic meaning (nonsense), often used in the place of lyrics by singers articulating a melody. In the vocal jazz practice of scat singing, for example. The individual sounds would be considered vocables, as would ‘fa la la’ in the traditional setting of the Christmas carol “Deck the Halls.”

9. Joshua S. Duchan, “Doo-Wop-a-Jitty-Jun: Stylistic Observations of Collegiate A cappella,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music, 17 February 2005.

10. Michell Kisliuk, “(Un)Doing Fieldwork: Sharing Songs, Sharing Lives,” Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, ed. Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Cooley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 23.

11. Some arranging techniques such as bell chords, cascades, echo effects and pyramids, are similar in execution to their use in barbershop. See Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting.

12. Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance (Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press, 1977), 42.

13. Raymond Firth, Elements of Social Organization, 3rd ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 40, cited in Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance, 42.

14. Edmund Leach, Dialectic in Practical Religion (London: Cambridge University Press, 1968).

15. Deborah A. Kapchan, “Performance,” Eight Words For the Study of Expressive Culture, ed. Burt Feintuch (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 134–135.

16. Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1973 [1959]), 15.

17. I will use the initials “RP” in order to protect the identities of my research participants.

18. Anonymous interview, 28 September 2004.

19. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977 [1972]), 82–83. Italics in the original.

20. Jen Webb, Tony Schirato and Geoff Danaher, Understanding Bourdieu (London: Sage, 2002), 93, 38.

21. Cited in Swartz, Culture and Power: the Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 117.

22. Webb, et. al., Understanding Bourdieu, 174–175.

23. Judith Becker, Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion and Trancing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 71. Italics in the original.

24. For musicological perspectives on singing, see for example, Allan F. Moore, Rock: The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock, 2nd ed. (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2001), 44–49; Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 183–202; and John Potter, Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

25. Vibrato is also shunned in the barbershop tradition. See Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting, 165.

26. Anonymous interview, 8 January 2004.

27. Anna Callahan, The Collegiate A cappella Arranging Manual: Anna’s Amazing A cappella Arranging Advice (Southwest Harbor, ME: Contemporary A cappella Publishing, 1995).

28. We must acknowledge that institutional memory within collegiate a cappella groups is somewhat limited, usually by the experience of the group’s present members. That is, though an examination of Amazin’ Blue recordings over the previous fifteen years may reveal earlier uses of “dum,” this vocable was unknown to the members at that time. So while it may not have been new to Amazin’ Blue, the transient nature of the group’s membership caused it to be new to the group’s habitus at the time.

29. The Amazin’ Blue recordings in question are Raising the Bar (recorded 1998-2000, released 2000), South U. and State (recorded 2000-2002, released 2002) and Self Titled (recorded 2002-2004, released 2004). See Note that most collegiate a cappella recordings are not released on or distributed by record labels, but must be purchased from the groups directly. Some groups make a habit of swapping albums with other groups they meet. A limited number of websites specialize in selling a cappella recordings, e.g.

30. Today, both the ICCA competition and the BOCA compilation are administered by Varsity Vocals and Mainely A cappella, see

31. Anonymous interview, 10 October 2004.

32. See

33. Amazin’ Blue and Off the Beat are, in fact, tied for the most appearances on the BOCA albums (including the “Wasting Our Parents’ Money: The Best of College A cappella Humor” compilation), with ten appearances each.

34. McIntosh, “In Harmony.”

35. Deke Sharon, personal communication, 15 October 2004. Mr. Sharon is also the founder of the Contemporary A cappella Society of America (see Using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the syllable “dzj” can be described as [dZ], the combination of a voiced alveolar plosive [d] with a voiced postalveolar fricative [Z]. It would commonly be followed by a vowel sound, such as “eh” [E] (as in “pet” or “bed”). The syllables “jung,” “jen,” “jing,” and “jow,” would all be articulated with a “hard /j/” (a voiced postalveolar affricative [dZ], though not as loudly pronounced as in “dzj”), or a “soft /j/” (a voiced postalveolar fricative [Z]). In both cases, the /j/ would be followed by the vowel sound.

36. Sangho Byun, personal communication, 13 January 2005. “Single bow” refers to the half-circle or crescent shape in which the performers stand while on stage.

37. Anonymous interview, 12 November 2004.

38. For discussions of Code Red, see the album’s review (and the discussion forum archives) on the Recorded A cappella Review Board ( See also

39. Anonymous interview, 12 March 2005.

40. One recent example of Internet-based music scholarship is René T.A. Lysloff, “Musical Community on the Internet: An On-Line Ethnography,” Cultural Anthropology 18/2 (2003): 233-263.