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


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


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 lyrics
"Everything\'s gonna be mellow, Listen while we sing it occapella" precede a
refrain of scat-like harmony (with the band receding into the background but
still audible).

Also ironically, The Manhattan Transfer are often the group music lovers think
of when they hear the phrase "a cappella." Many people associate "close harmony"
with "a cappella," which certainly makes a great deal of sense. Popular
twentieth century a cappella is characterized by extensive use of close harmony
- when voices separated by small intervals (seconds, thirds, fourths) sing the
same rhythm and words. The Manhattan Transfer sing great close harmony, but most
of it includes instrumental accompaniment. Only a handful of their dozens of
songs are performed a cappella.

Oxapello? (yech!)

The Blenders open their second album "From the Mouth" with a schtick by this
title. On this brief cut, the group is trying to discuss their new recording
with an unenlightened agent, who keeps referring to the style of \'Oxapello.\'
Hopefully the next time you run into someone similarly confused, you\'ll remember
to politely tell them: