Teaching Old Art New Tricks

Posted By Derek Nance on Oct 30, 2012 |


I’ll just come out and say it; usually I’m not a big fan of reality television.  However, one show that aired last fall completely fascinated me.  NBC’s “The Sing-Off” brought talented a cappella groups from across the country together and gave them a stage to strut their stuff.  The ingenuity and creativity each group brought to the competition made each episode intriguing.  Each group knew their strengths and looked at all styles of music through their distinctive musical lens. No group showed more talent for this than Afro Blue, a vocal jazz ensemble from Howard University.  They took modern day tunes and applied a heavy dose of jazz to create truly unique performances.  This performance of “American Boy” was by far the most memorable piece from any group on Season 3:

I don’t think the true brilliance of this performance can be fully appreciated unless you compare it to the original:

As a musician, the thing that impressed me the most from this performance was the skill this group applied to their craft.  They were so comfortable with vocal jazz that the application of jazz to this pop song seemed natural.  As bell ringers, we need to learn to be this comfortable with our instrument.  There are always classes at festivals showing off new and interesting techniques, but rarely if ever do I see those techniques seriously written into music or used in concerts.  Bell music has progressed leaps and bounds over the years, and composers have become proficient at finding new ways to combine bells, chimes, marts, swings, mallets, ect. to create intriguing music.  But, as Afro Blue makes apparently clear, you can always teach an old art form new tricks.

(Photo Credit: NBC http://www.nbc.com/sing-off/contestants/afro-blue/)