A Cappella? Is That How You Spell It?

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  • Topic: A cappella, Singing, Barbershop music
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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A Cappella? Is That How You Spell It?

The phrase a cappella is among the most butchered and misunderstood musical terms. The predominant, and most "correct" spelling, is ...

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's."

A Cappella, A Picky Definition

Musicologists have fun debating the extent to which a cappella, 'in the style of the chapel,' can include instrumental accompaniment. Some argue that early sacred a cappella performances would sometimes include instruments that double a human voice part. So, the correct definition of a cappella should be something like 'singing without independent instrumental accompaniment.'

At Primarily A Cappella, we are trying to popularize this style of music, so we like to keep it simple.

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's." singing without instruments

A Capella?

Some musical dictionaries indicate that the Italian a cappella is preferred over the Latin a capella (one "p") yet both are technically correct. Why do those dictionaries muddy the waters with two spellings?

The phrase was first used in Italian Catholic churches, where Latin was the language for sacred text. Thus, the Latin spelling for 'in the style of the chapel' - a capella - has some historical basis. However, most other musical terms - forte, accelerando, and many others - are Italian in origin. Since the Italian spelling is more consistent with other musical terms, it has been used more frequently.

Given the difficulty of spelling our favorite style of music, we'd like to endorse the simplicity of a single spelling:

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's." singing without instruments

Acappella

Joining the two Italian words together to make Acappella is a popular variation in the U.S. For many streetcorner singing fans, Acappella means unaccompanied singing of 'fifties (and early 'sixties) songs. There were a series of recordings released in the early 1960's of Mid-Atlantic unaccompanied doo-wop groups called "The Best of Acappella." The liner notes on the first LP noted that Acappella means "singing without music." In this matter we do tend towards being picky - instruments do not alone music make! A cappella (or Acappella) singers make music while they are ...

singing without instruments

A more recent, second meaning of Acappella has emerged. The Contemporary Christian group Acappella is the first formed by prolific songwriter Keith Lancaster. In the early 1990's he added Acappella Vocal Band (now mostly known as AVB) and "Acappella: The Series" which uses studio singers (plus LOTS of electronic help) to perform songs around specific themes. All of these efforts are now combined in The Acappella Company. The good news is they have sold millions of recordings and have contributed greatly to the awareness of a cappella. The bad news is they have popularized a spelling variation, and through the heavy use of electronically manipulated voice (which can sound like any other synthesized instrument) have chipped away at the idea of ...

singing without instruments.

A Capela

This spelling is totally wrong, and yet has been used by those who should know better. The most prominent occurrence is on the re-release of first album by the Singers Unlimited. Originally titled "Try to Remember," this very popular collection of vocal jazz arrangements by Gene Puerling has no doubt led some to misspell, or at least question the correct spelling of ...

a cappella - two words, two "p's", two "l's." singing without instruments

Occapella

The Manhattan Transfer sang a song with this title on their debut, eponymous album. Ironically, the whole song is accompanied, as are most of their songs by this group, so one can only guess at the intended meaning. The...
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