A cappella music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It is the opposite of cantata, which is accompanied singing. In modern usage, a cappella often refers to an all-vocal group performance of any style, including barbershop, doo wop, and modern pop/rock.
a cappella, (Italian: “in the church style”), performance of a polyphonic (multipart) musical work by unaccompanied voices. Originally referring to sacred choral music, the term now refers to secular music as well.
The a cappella style arose about the time of the composer Josquin des Prez, in the late 15th century, and reached preeminence with Palestrina in the late 16th century in the music that he wrote for the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. Because no independent instrumental parts were written, later scholars assumed that the choir sang unaccompanied, but the evidence is now that an organ or other instruments exactly “doubled” some or several of the vocal parts. By the 17th century, a cappella music was giving way to the cantata, for which parts were written specifically for instruments as well as for voices.
A cappella [alla cappella]
(It.: ‘in the style of the church [chapel]’).
Normally, choral music sung without instrumental accompaniment. Originally (c1600) the term was used to distinguish works composed in the older polyphonic style of the Renaissance from those written in the newer concertato style of the early Baroque. During the 19th century the Roman Catholic Church idealized 16th-century polyphony and the works of Palestrina in particular. Noting that no instrumental parts were included in the sources containing this music, and unaware that instruments were often used during the Renaissance to double or substitute for vocal parts, musicians came to believe that a cappella referred to unaccompanied choral singing (see Chorus (i), §4). Since that time, the term has become synonymous with ‘unaccompanied singing’, both religious and secular.
The spelling capella is occasionally found; Giovanni Gabrieli marked sections for chorus alone ‘capella’, and J.J. Fux (Gradus ad Parnassum, 1725) referred to ‘Stilus à Capella’.
1909: The Yale Whiffenpoofs are formed as an adjunct to the Yale Glee Club. Collegiate a cappella is born. "The Whiffenpoof Song" goes on to become the most covered collegiate a cappella original song in history.
Acappella singing is still very strong among conservative Mennonite and Amish churches. There are quite a number of Mennonite and Amish singing groups made up of extended families. One of the best of these family groups we've heard is the Smucker Family singers. They, too, sing primarily familiar hymns sung in traditional arrangements.
Statistically, the number of groups on college campuses have grown substantially beginning in the 1990's.
Where there were once just over 200 groups nationwide, their numbers are now well over 1,000. In fact, these groups may be found on most major college campuses today including, Georgetown, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Tufts, Penn State, University of Illinois and Northwestern University. Even on smaller college campuses you will most likely find at least one of these vocal groups. There are currently many Competitions in which the student groups participate.
A Cappella is a style of music where no instruments aside from the human voice are used. You might hear claps, snaps, stomps, and other sounds a body can make, but most (nearly all) of what you hear in an a cappella song is made by the human voice.
Modern a cappella produced in a studio may apply effects to voices (to make the voice sound like an electric guitar, for example), but when you listen to a modern college or professional a cappella album you are hearing voices.
During the 1980's and onward, A Cappella has continued to grow in stature among music industry professionals.
This has been due mainly to the fact that certain artists in the 1980's had success with this form of music and were quick to reach the top 40 music chart as a result. Among these great artists are, Bobby McFerrin, Manhattan Transfer, Huey Lewis and The News, The Nylons, and Boyz II Men. The success of these recordings and the diversity of style exhibited by the various recording artists helped to rekindle interest in singing without instrumental accompaniment.
During the 20th century it became closely associated with popular music, through the development of doo-wop, rock and pop. Barbershop, one of the most popular styles of contemporary a cappella singing, has a closely defined musical and singing style, but there are many other kinds of popular styles which are sung without musical accompaniment.
“The growth of Jewish a cappella is following the trend generally in a cappella music in America,” said Mauro Braunstein of the group Techiya at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Grounded in those musical traditions and genres, contemporary a cappella is old enough now to have traditions of its own. These include groundbreaking groups in each of those genres (for example, and respectively: Boston Common and OC Times; The Mighty Echoes and The Persuasions; Duwende and Kickshaw; mpact and Take Six; Blue Jupiter and The Flying Pickets; Naturally 7 and Schrödinger's Cat; and Fork and The House Jacks; as well as genre-defying and artform-defining groups like The Bobs, Chanticleer, and The King's Singers); producers and engineers specializing in a cappella (Bill Hare, diovoce, Liquid 5th Productions, VocalSource); annual festivals (like the Los Angeles A cappella Summit, SingStrong, SoJam, and the Vermont A cappella Summit); annual competitions (ICCA and ICHSA); national and international organizations (including BHS, CAL, CASA); recording awards (BOCA, CARAs, Voices Only); and a growing number of third-party critical and review organizations (Mouth Off, RARB).