Letters: More Than A Capella

We open listener e-mails and answer the burning question: Is it still a capella if the singing sounds like instruments?

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for your letters.

(Soundbite of typewriter)

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Last week, we spoke with Mickey Rapkin about "Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory." It's his new book that profiles three a cappella groups and takes readers behind the competitive, sexy and hard-working world of college a cappella. To some listeners like Eric Saynden(ph) of Carson City, Nevada, it brought joy. "I'm a recent college graduate. Your interview with author Mickey Rapkin brought a smile to my face. Throughout high school and college, I participated in the a cappella scene and had a great time, making great friends and creating memories I will never forget."

But to others, it created confusion. Especially after we played selections from the group's albums. Joan Schwimmer(ph) of Los Gatos, California asks, "How on earth can these singing groups, all of which used instrumental accompaniment, be termed a cappella?"

P.J. Jucoy(ph) of Tampa, Florida suggested maybe we need this definition. "A cappella, function, adverb or adjective. Etymology, Italian a cappella in chapel style, date circa 1864, without instrumental accompaniment."

Well, you're not alone. As Mickey Rapkin writes in the book, The Bobs did receive hate mail. Some called the album computerized. People said it was over-produced. Ed Boyer(ph) says, "Code Red opened with the Styx song 'Mr. Roboto.' Here, one might point out the inherent irony of the song's lyrics, 'the problem's plain to see, too much technology. Machines to save our lives, machines to humanize.'"

Perhaps anticipating these complaints, The Bobs included a statement in the album's liner note saying, "Every sound on this recording was created solely by our 15 mouths."

(Soundbite of "Code Red" by The Bobs)

THE BOBS: (singing) My heart is human. My blood is boiling. My brain IBM.

SIMON: Whether in song or email, we'd like to hear from your mouth. Give us your comments, corrections and definitions. Come to our web site, npr.org, and just click on the link that says "contact us."

(Soundbite of "Code Red" by The Bobs)

THE BOBS: (singing) Needed someone and somewhere to hide to keep me alive. Just keep me alive. Somewhere to hide to keep me alive. I'm not a robot without emotions. I'm not what you see. I've come to help you with your problems So we can be free. I'm not a hero. I'm not a savior. Forget what you know.

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