The world's first college a cappella group was the Yale Whiffenpoofs, founded in 1909. The Princeton Nassoons (c.1939-41) and the Harvard Krokodiloes (1946) were the first a cappella groups at the other of the "Big Three" American Ivy League Universities. The first all women's ensemble, the Smiffenpoofs, was founded in 1936 at Smith College. The first co-ed group was the Princeton Katzenjammers, founded at Princeton in 1973 by a member of the Princeton Nassoons and a member of the Princeton Tigerlilies.
College a cappella singing has grown immensely since 1980, quadrupling from roughly 300 groups primarily in New England, to over 1,200 groups around the US, with a few in other countries. This growth can be partly traced back from a shift away from a sound more fitting of jazz or classical ensembles and glee clubs to a contemporary a cappella style in the early 1990s, with groups focusing on current pop music, complete with complex textures and a driving beat (see vocal percussion). Today, even some glee club a cappella subsets have a largely pop-music repertoire, supplemented only in small part by the older style of a cappella.
Today, collegiate a cappella spans multiple genres and styles: alternative and hard rock; comedy; Jewish, including mostly Yiddish or Hebrew songs; Christian, including Christian pop and rearranged hymns; jazz-influenced pop; fusion groups; barbershop; Rhythm & Blues; madrigals; and jazz. Music style and individual group preference mandate a great variety in both in how groups arrange and perform the music.
Whether a group is all-male, all-female, or mixed/coed, most share similar traits. Collegiate groups usually consist of 10-15 members, unlike professional groups that usually consist of four to seven members. Their larger relative size is driven by necessity, as college groups tend to see high turnover year after year, due to graduation and other student commitments. The relatively large number of members allows groups to maintain continuity year after year. The larger size of these groups has an obvious effect on the aural aesthetic created: depending on levels of talent and cross-section blend, collegiate groups are able to perform arrangements with sometimes more than a dozen separate parts.
Collegiate groups are generally self-sustaining, often entirely run by students. Groups may or may not receive financial support from their institution. Many groups record albums of their music, usually every two or three years. The quality of such albums has recently improved markedly, due to an increased focus on elaborate multi-track recording and the emergence of professional a cappella production specialists, such as Gabe Mann in Los Angeles, Bill Hare and Deke Sharon in San Francisco, Jeff Thacher in New York, Freddie Feldman in Chicago, Dave Sperandio in the southeast, and John Clark in Boston. Achievements in collegiate a cappella recording are recognized by awards programs (most notably the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards, awarded by CASA) and compilation albums, such as the long-running Best of College A Cappella series.
Many college groups compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), an annual nationwide competition in which groups compete to advance through several stages of competition.
The term a cappella is often treated within the college world as a noun, rather than an adjective, and generally refers to the music of pop-driven student groups. Thus, an ensemble singing unaccompanied classical music might be said to be performing a cappella (in the adjectival sense), but would not be considered an "a cappella group."
Live performances of collegiate a cappella would occasionally incorporate comedy for some songs by using choreographed movements.
Yale Whiffenpoofs Celebrate 100th Birthday - America's Oldest and Most Famous Collegiate a Cappella Singing Group Holds Massive Reunion.
Oct 14, 2009; To celebrate their milestone, all living Whiffenpoofs, from the 1930's to the present, will gather together back in the...