By Amy "Bob" Engelhart
The question posed to me for this essay: "Why aren't there more women in a cappella?"
My unedited first response: Women don't need to imitate drums in order to get dates.
My official essay: At the end of my sophomore year in high school, I was extremely worried. Not about keeping my grades up, or who I'd sit with at lunch, or if Bob Currie was ever going to call me again, or even about getting into college. The facts were just too terrifying: my small school's two reliable tenors and two husky basses were GRADUATING. How dare they leave me here to cope with the utter decimation of the Madrigal Group? I knew there was no salvation to be found among the incoming freshman males... Yet there was a veritable abundance of girls in the choral room - girls willing to tenor-ize themselves if needed. Needless to say, a sad Mr. Pickens had to adjust the school's choral direction accordingly.
So when I'm told there's a hullaballoo about the lack of women in a cappella I find that extremely strange, to say the least. Sure, after high school, people back off from potential musical careers like the plague, usually opting out of the arts entirely (and wisely - oy, the heartache) for their careers. But there are still a ton of great female vocalists out there, so what's stopping them from forming bands - and bonds - with each other? We've got plenty of grrrl bands with instruments carving out a place for themselves in the music world, so why not grrrls without instruments? I think the answer is a combo platter of factors, including but not limited to:
A) A role model. A breakthrough group would be the best catalyst to spur new involvement. And there ARE groups that already exist that are positioned to take on this role.
B) A generational bias. For some reason (that I have never understood), a kick line of men, or for that matter, any group of men willing to get up in front of people and do something even slightly artistic seems to wow an audience to no end. Spontaneous ovations. You know what I'm talking about. When a group of women get up and sing, it's too normal for acclaim.
C) Longevity. Hanging in there counts for a LOT in this business.
D) Exposure. Every group, male, female or hemaphrodite has to fight for airtime in competitive fields. Maybe female groups are less likely to do this? Just a thought.
E) Crossover. There are mainstream groups like SWV and En Vogue that do some a cappella... but not enough to inspire a movement of sorts.
F) Perception. When a bunch of guys get up and sing, it's music, it's skill, it's whatever. When women sing as a group audiences easily lose focus and the act becomes about how sexy or pretty they are... this isn't the performer's doing - it's the plain truth about an audience's perception. Women have to work doubly hard to overcome these pre-conceptions and sexist expectations. I give you Lilth Fair, my friends!
G) It's a non-event. Perhaps instead of talking about this as an "issue", concerned women should just "Shut Up and Sing!" Maybe we need a prominent event devoted solely to female a cappella... like a Lilith Fair ... Trillith Fair, perhaps.
H) We're all on the same side, eh? The more a community splinters, the less effective they are in promoting their cause. Art breeds art. The more a cappella there is in general, the more opportunities exist for everyone. Perhaps if promoting organizations united to foster growth of a specific cause (say, THIS ONE), attention would be drawn to it.
So those are my thoughts. To be frank, aside from putting on makeup before a show, I personally don't think about the fact that I'm a woman singing with 3 guys in The Bobs. It's not something I play up or focus on - it just doesn't occur to me. I'm doing a job and we're having a blast. And if someone thinks my legs look great doing it, cool!
Contact Amy at email@example.com
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