The Sing-off — an a Cappella Musical Enjoyment Extravaganza

Monday nights are ringing with A Cappella music on NBC’s The Sing-Off. The show is now enjoying it’s 3rd season featuring groups that bring one instrument to the stage: their voices. You’ll find singing groups in both small (5) and large numbers (up in the 20’s). It’s billed as a competition, and admittedly the winner does end up with a Sony recording contract, but as the talent takes their places on stage, microphones move to lips, the music begins — these groups take me to places that I’ve never been. Why, there have even been moments where my musician ear could have sworn that it was picking up actual instruments and not just voices. What diversity God has created in these displayed vocal timbres!

The Fun Factor

I’ve tried to analyze why this show is so much fun. It shares a similar setup to shows such as American Idol but there’s something else here. The show starts with each group treated to a short background documentary. Then the singing performance takes place followed by three judges critiquing each group. Nick Lachey acts as the moderator. Simple formula, right? Somehow it just jells beautifully, and emotionally.

Perhaps it’s the togetherness that helps. After all, each group has to totally rely on each other. When one misses a note, beat or sings momentarily off-key (which isn’t very often), it can throw things off. This is very different from the “solo” aspects of Idol. And when they all come together, when everything blends, there is magic. There is love.

The Talent Factor

These singers are good. Some groups might be made up of members from one family, a group of friends or perhaps a college. Some are fairly new, others might have been performing for years. Still other groups, such as the 3rd season’s all female group, Delilah, are sporting members from past A Capella groups from The Sing-off’s 1st and 2nd seasons. A sort of “distillation of talent” seems to be going on. And when the season premier exploded with Delilah singing, “Grenade” – oh, my word! Distillation is a super cool thing.

How about those instruments!

There’s more going on here than just singing a note or word. If you’re expecting some kind of non-moving choral sing – uh – you’re in for some surprises. From dynamic response to choreographed dance moves and formations there is plenty to watch. Some of these groups are pulling off what sounds like the entire instrumentation of a band or orchestra. Beat boxing, drum rolls, trombones and trumpets, driving bass, cymbals, snares, rim shots, kick drums, echo effects – all in various styles and rhythms. Just take a listen to “The Dartmouth Aires” perform Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”. Wowza!

My listening recommendation: pipe the sound through a quality sound system… and then turn it up! Got a subwoofer? Make sure it’s in the mix. You’ll be astounded at the different bass responses from the different groups. Unlike a bass guitar where the low-end tends to be consistent and similar, the bass changes from group to group because the people are different from group to group. (Pentatonix’s bass singer is off the charts!) There are nuances to the music that deserves a careful listen… so listen up!

The Fun Judges

I have learned so much from the three judges of Season 3. The three judges, Singer/songwriter Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), and Grammy award winner Sara Bareilles don’t just say, “I like it.” Or “I hated it.” They don’t make sad, over-dramatic faces that draw unnecessary attention to themselves. No, they take the time to point out individuals within a group. They call them by name. They encourage and honestly complement. They honor the people on the stage and never tear them down like you might find in an American Idol setting.

These judges understand and seem to feel the music being created. And in the process, I believe them. I feel part of this. I’ve seen some moved to tears and I totally believe it. (The Deltone’s version of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” really got me.) They felt it… and truth be told, so did I. I like the realness of that.

There is a magic here with NBC’s The Sing-off. Give it a listen. Catch some of the fun.

Mondays on NBC 8/7c

The Sing-off’s official Site

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