The 3 T's of Acapella

I was listening to NPR/All Songs Considered while working out at the gym and Brian Eno was playing guest DJ. About 10 minutes into the interview, Eno started talking about acapella (or a capella) singing, and he said something obvious, but quite inspiring to me. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said that the object of acapella singing is to make the individual disappear. He also said that there were three elements that were crucial in producing harmony: tune--the singers need to be in tune and hit the correct notes, time--the singers need to match the rhythm of their cohort, and tone--the singers need to sing to the character of the piece they are performing. Individually, each singer in an acapella group is excellent and can most likely sing solo and sing beautifully, but as a member of the group, the goal of the singer is to emphasize the sound of the group.

Since I'm nearing my sabbatical, my brain's been a-buzz with thoughts of manuscript preparation and I thought these ideas applied directly to what's required of a poet when they're assembling a manuscript of poems. In the case of acapella singing groups as in the case of a manuscript of poems, there should be a level of excellence in the individual singers as there is a level of excellence in the individual poems (I use the term "excellence" with my tongue firmly in my cheek). The poem should be able to survive without the context of its group and it should be able to live within its own space and time without need for the other poems as referrents. However, in the context of a manuscript, what is required of a poem is much more--its own individual excellence as well as its ability to meet the tone, time, and tune of its constituent poems.

With regard to tone as an element in a collection of poems, I'm not trying to suggest that all poem must have the same tone, but that when there is a change in tone, the other constituent poems can account for that tonal shift. The bass, sopranos, and tenors can modulate how they sing according to the tone that must be met. And, individually, you will need to surround the poem that signifies a shift in town with a discernable transitional element. That can be a group or set of poems, or it can be something as drastic as a section break--think different sets in a muscial performance.

In terms of time as it relates to poetry, I think of rhythm. Poems have a their own metronomic structure which dictates the speed at which they're read. Sometimes that metronomic structure is lenth. Sometimes it's syntactic structure. Sometimes it's metrical structure. Sometimes it's formal structure. These things can inherently determine an individual poem's tempo. In the context of a grouping of poems, you'll obviously have poems that have great variety when it comes to this element, but because of this variety, you should decide how to structure your poetry manuscript by taking into account the individual poem's tempo as it relates to the whole manuscript's pacing. Sometimes a slower poem or a succession of slower-paced poems might be good on the heels of a few quicker-paced poems.

Finally, in terms of tune, I relate this to a near-uniformity of content. I don't mean to say that the poet should write a whole bunch of poems about horses to build a manuscript around--horses. What I mean is that there should be enough elements to suggest a consistency in the manuscript's main concern or obsession.


Had to write that out before it disappeared. I've been noodling with that idea for a week and hadn't committed it to paper. So there's a draft of it.


Sunny and spring-like in Bellingham.

Stuff's growing. I spent the past two days helping my parents by re-barking their front yard. I'm sunburned.


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Oliver de la Paz