A cappella (Italian for In The Manner of The Church) music is solo or group vocal or singing without instrumentalsound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissancepolyphony and Baroqueconcertato style. In the 19th century a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music. In modern usage, a cappella often refers to an all-vocal group performance of any style, including barbershop, doo wop, and modern pop/rock. Today, a cappella also includes sample/loop "vocal only" productions by producers like Jimmy Spice Curry, Teddy Riley, Wyclef Jean, and other producers.
A cappella music originally was, and still often is, used in religious music, especially church music as well as anasheed and zemirot, and in Latin music. Gregorian chant is an example of a cappella singing, as is the majority of sacred vocal music from the Renaissance. The madrigal, up until its development in the early Baroque into an instrumentally-accompanied form, is also usually in a cappella form. The original music in Judaism and then in early Christianity was a cappella and has continuously existed in both of these related religious communities as well as in Islam.
The polyphony of Christian a cappella music began to develop in Europe around the late 15th century. The early a cappella polyphonies may have had an accompanying instrument, although this instrument would merely double the singers' parts and was not independent. By the 16th century, a cappella polyphony had further developed, but gradually, the cantata began to take a cappella's place. 16th century a cappella polyphony, nonetheless, continued to influence church composers throughout this period and to the present day. Such is seen in the life of Palestrina becoming a major influence on Bach, most notably in the aforementioned Mass in B Minor.
Opponents of musical instruments in the Christian worship believe that they are supported by the New Testament and Church history. The New Testament verses typically referenced are Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12, 13:15; James 5:13, which reveal a command for all Christians to sing. Further study reveals that in the New Testament, when God was worshiped in song, it was performed “a cappella” regardless of the day or setting. Paul singing praises to God in jail (Acts 16:25) and Christians singing when they are happy (James 5:13) are two examples. 1 Cor. 14:15, 26 discusses the worship service of Corinth and textually uses the words speak and sing in ways that cannot include instruments.
There is no reference to instrumental music in the worship of the New Testament or the worship of the church for the first six centuries. That being said, the reason for such absence is highly debated, though several reasons have been put forth throughout church history.[nb 1] The absence of instrumental music in New Testament worship is significant given the abundance of Old Testament references and commands. After several hundred years of Tabernacle worship without instrumental music, King David introduced musical instruments into Temple worship based upon a commandment from God. God commanded who was to sing, who was to play, and what instruments were to be used, as seen in 2 Chronicles 29:25–29.
Unlike the Israelite worship assembly, which was only able to look on during Temple worship as the Levitical Priest sang, played, and offered animal sacrifices, in the New Testament, all Christians are commanded to sing praises to God. This leaves those opposed to instrumental music in worship with the understanding that if God wanted instrumental music in New Testament worship, he would have commanded not just singing, but singing and playing like he did in the Old Testament. Though God commanded instruments to be used in Temple worship, and the daily life of Israel, the first recorded example of a musical instrument in Christian worship was an organ introduced by Pope Vitalian into a cathedral in Rome around 670.[nb 2] Thus, over time, the expression a cappella (Latin for "from/like the chapel") came to mean exclusively vocal music in contradistinction to the spreading use of the organ in cathedrals.
Unfortunately, instruments have divided Christendom since their introduction into worship. They were considered a Catholic innovation, not widely practiced until the 18th century, and were opposed vigorously in worship by the majority of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther (1483–1546),John Calvin (1509–1564),John Wesley (1703–1791), and Alexander Campbell (1788–1866). The fact that Christendom has periodically grafted instrumental music into the worship service probably obscures, for contemporary adherents, the long, general and conscientious teaching of a cappella. In Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian, for example, the heroine, Jeanie Deans, a Scottish Presbyterian, writes to her father about the church situation she has found in England (bold added):
The folk here are civil, and, like the barbarians unto the holy apostle, have shown me much kindness; and there are a sort of chosen people in the land, for they have some kirks without organs that are like ours, and are called meeting-houses, where the minister preaches without a gown.
Acceptance of instruments in worship
An alternate viewpoint is that limiting praise to the unaccompanied chant of the early church is not commanded in scripture, and that the church in any age has been free to offer its songs with or without musical instruments:
New Testament vocabulary of Christian praise is inclusive of instruments.
New Testament translators “fully intended to include and not exclude musical accompaniment” in rendering English translations.
The Greek word “psallo” (typically translated “sing” or “make music”) was used in the 1st century for (1) sing with or without instruments or (2) play an instrument. Ferguson notes that a pattern had evolved leading into the 1st century where Greek-speaking Jews writing to Gentiles always used the word for playing an instrument. He gives the Jewish historian Josephus as first-century instrumental example. Since the primary meaning of psallo in the 1st century was to “sing with or without instruments,” it is often abbreviated in English translations as “sing,” though some (e.g.: Amplified Bible, Moffatt's Translation) make the acceptance of instruments clearer.
Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 invite Christians to sing “psalms,” a noun defined by numerous 1st century lexicons as a song sung with musical accompaniment.
Since the New Testament never counters this instrumental language with any negative judgment on instruments, opposition to instruments instead comes from an interpretation of history. It is striking that there is no written opposition to musical instruments in any setting in the 1st century and a half of the church (including scripture). Toward the end of the 2nd century, however, Christians began condemning the actual instruments themselves. Those who oppose instruments today believe that emerging opposition of these Church Fathers demonstrates a better understanding of God's desire, but there are significant differences between the teachings of the Church Fathers and Christian opposition to instruments today.
Modern Christians typically believe it is acceptable to play instruments or to attend weddings, funerals, banquets, etc., where instruments are heard. The Church Fathers made no exceptions. Since the New Testament never condemns instruments themselves, much less in any of these settings, it is conceded that “the church Fathers go beyond the New Testament in pronouncing a negative judgment on musical instruments.”
Written opposition to instruments in worship began near the turn of the 5th century. Modern opponents of instruments do not make the same assessment of instruments as these writers, who argued that God had allowed David the “evil” of using musical instruments in praise. Contrary to their teaching, the Old Testament scripture shows that God specifically asked for instruments rather than merely tolerating an evil.
Since “a cappella” singing brought a new polyphony with instrumental accompaniment, it is not surprising that Protestant reformers who opposed the instruments (such as Calvin and Zwingli) also opposed the polyphony. While Zwingli was burning organs in Switzerland – Luther called him a fanatic – the Church of England was burning books of polyphony.
While services in the Temple in Jerusalem included musical instruments (2 Chronicles 29:25-27), traditional Jewish religious services in the Synagogue, both before and after the destruction of the Temple, did not include musical instruments  given the practice of scriptural cantillation. The use of musical instruments is traditionally forbidden on the Sabbath out of concern that players would be tempted to repair their instruments, which is forbidden on those days. (This prohibition has been relaxed in many Reform and some Conservative congregations.) Similarly, when Jewish families and larger groups sing traditional Sabbath songs known as zemerot outside the context of formal religious services, they usually do so a cappella, and Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations on the Sabbath sometimes feature entertainment by a cappella ensembles. During the Three Weeks use of musical instruments is traditionally prohibited. Many Jews consider a portion of the 49-day period of the counting of the omer between Passover and Shavuot to be a time of semi-mourning and instrumental music is not allowed during that time. This has led to a tradition of a cappella singing sometimes known as sefirah music.
The popularization of the Jewish chant may be found in the writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo, born 20 BCE. Weaving together Jewish and Greek thought, Philo promoted praise without instruments, and taught that "silent singing" (without even vocal chords) was better still. So strong was his influence that the Jewish sect of the Pharisees even came to oppose the temple instruments. This view parted with the Jewish scriptures, where Israel offered praise with instruments by God's own command (e.g.: 2 Chronicles 29:25). The shofar or keren (horn) is the only temple instrument still being used today in the synagogue, and it is only used from Rosh ChodeshElul through the end of Yom Kippur. The shofar is used by itself, without any vocal accompaniment, and is limited to a very strictly defined set of sounds and specific places in the synagogue service.
Many Muslim musicians also perform a form of a cappella music called nasheed.
In the United States
Peter Christian Lutkin, Dean of the Northwestern University School of Music, helped popularize a cappella music in the United States by founding the Northwestern A Cappella Choir in 1906. The A Cappella Choir was "the first permanent organization of its kind in America."
A strong and prominent a cappella tradition was begun in the midwest part of the United States in 1911 by F. Melius Christiansen, a music faculty member at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The St. Olaf College Choir was established as an outgrowth of the local St. John's Lutheran Church, where Christiansen was organist and the choir was composed at least partially of students from the nearby St. Olaf campus. The success of the ensemble was emulated by other regional conductors, and a rich tradition of a cappella choral music was born in the region at colleges like Concordia College (Moorhead, Minnesota), Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois), Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa), Luther College (Decorah, Iowa), Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minnesota), Augustana College (Sioux Falls, South Dakota), and Augsburg College (Minneapolis, Minnesota). The choirs typically range from 40 to 80 singers and are recognized for their efforts to perfect blend, intonation, phrasing and pitch in a large choral setting.
In 2005, Bo Bice performed an a cappella version of "In A Dream" by Badlands when he was one of three contestants remaining on season 4 of American Idol. The show's producers warned him that it was a risky move, but his performance got great reviews from the judges and Bice advanced to the finals.
Contemporary a cappella includes many vocal groups and bands who add vocal percussion or beatboxing to create a pop/rock sound, in some cases very similar to bands with instruments. One such group is Rockapella. There also remains a strong a cappella presence within Christian music, as some denominations purposefully do not use instruments during worship. Examples of such groups are Take 6, Glad and Acappella. Arrangements of popular music for small a cappella ensembles typically include one voice singing the lead melody, one singing a rhythmic bass line, and the remaining voices contributing chordal or polyphonic accompaniment.
A cappella can also describe the practice of using just the vocal track(s) from a multitrack, instrumental recording to be remixed or put onto vinyl records for DJs. Artists sometimes release the vocal tracks of their popular songs so that fans can remix them. One such example is the a cappella release of Jay-Z's Black Album, which Danger Mouse mixed with The Beatles' White Album to create The Grey Album.
A cappella's growth is not limited to live performance, with hundreds of recorded a cappella albums produced over the past decade. As of December 2006, the Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) had reviewed over 660 a cappella albums since 1994, and its popular discussion forum had over 900 users and 19,000 articles.
A cappella exists in Japan, with groups such as the Gospellers performing. In USA in July 1943, as a result of the American Federation of Musicians boycott of US recording studios, the a cappella vocal group The Song Spinners had a best-seller with "Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer". A group named Dong Bang Shin Ki (DBSK) or Tong Vfang Xien Qi (TVXQ) was formed in 2006 in Korea.
Recording artist Brandy Norwood included a song on her 2008 album Human titled "A Capella (Something's Missing)". Brandy uses her voice for background music in this song, showing her capabilities of using her voice as an instrument. No instruments are used, except for maybe an electric guitar, though fans are claiming it to be her synthesized voice.
In 2010, American dance recording artist Kelis released a song called "Acapella" as the first single from her album Flesh Tone. The song is not actually performed a cappella, but rather, explains that before her son was born, her life was without music.
Barbershop music is one of the few uniquely American art forms. The earliest reports of this style of a cappella music involved African Americans. The earliest documented quartets all began in barbershops. In 1938, the first formal men's barbershop organization was formed, known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A), and in 2004 rebranded itself and officially changed its public name to the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS). Today the BHS has over 30,000 members in 800 chapters across the United States, and the barbershop style has spread around the world with organizations in many other countries. The Barbershop Harmony Society provides a highly organized competition structure for a cappella quartets and choruses singing in the barbershop style.
In 1945, the first formal women's barbershop organization, Sweet Adelines, was formed. In 1953 Sweet Adelines became an international organization, although it didn't change its name to Sweet Adelines International until 1991. The membership of nearly 25,000 women, all singing in English, includes choruses in most of the fifty United States as well as in Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the Netherlands. Headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the organization encompasses more than 1,200 registered quartets and 600 choruses.
In 1959, a second women's barbershop organization started as a break off from Sweet Adelines due to ideological differences. Based on democratic principles which continue to this day, Harmony, Inc. is smaller than its counterpart, but has an atmosphere of friendship and competition. With about 2,500 members in the United States and Canada, Harmony, Inc. uses the same rules in contest that the Barbershop Harmony Society uses. Harmony, Inc. is registered in Providence, Rhode Island.
A cappella is gaining popularity among South Asian youth with the emergence of primarily Hindi-English College groups. Examples of prominent groups include Penn Masala in the University of Pennsylvania, Chai-Town from the University of Illinois, Dil Se from UC Berkeley, Suno from Boston University, Swaram from Texas A&M University, and Raagapella in Stanford. All-female groups are less common, but still exist. Examples of all-female groups are Illini Chandani, from the University of Illinois, Awaaz, from Wellesley College and Kal Ki Awaaz from UC Berkeley. Ektaal, founded in 1999 within the University of Virginia, recently went co-ed in 2006, but prior to that, was an all-female group. While up and coming all-male groups are becoming a rarity among Desi a cappella groups, Carnegie Mellon University's Deewane (started in 2007) and Dartmouth College's Taal are hoping to reverse that trend. Co-ed South Asian a cappella groups are also gaining popularity like Northwestern University's Brown Sugar, Georgia Institute of Technology's Taal Tadka, Case Western's Dhamakapella, Johns Hopkins Kranti, University of Maryland Anokha, Drexel Shor, UCSD Sur Taal, GWU Geet, UCLA Naya Zamaana, Michigan's Maize Mirchi, Rutgers R.A.A.G., Columbia Sur, and USC Asli Baat.
These groups have attained significant critical acclaim with their distinct style of mixing songs and applying a cappella to styles of different cultures. Penn Masala has songs in Hindi, Arabic, English, Punjabi and Gujarati, with lyrics from different languages in the same song. Currently there are few South Asian a cappella competitions in the nation. Gathe Raho, the largest South Asian a cappella competition in the midwest, as well as the nation, takes place annually at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Gathe Raho has featured many top level teams throughout the nation, with UC Berkeley Dil Se and Maize Mirchi from Michigan placing 1st and 2nd, respectively in 2009. Gathe Raho 2010 was held on April 10, 2010, where Brown Sugar from Northwestern, Maize Mirchi from Michigan, and Chai-Town from the University of Illinois placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively. Another competition takes place annually at the University of California, Berkeley, known as "Anahat". Anahat 2009 was won by Asli Baat from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. In 2009, Johns Hopkins Kranti plans to break tradition and host a Hindi A Cappella Charity Showcase with the Association for India's Development on the East Coast for all Hindi A Cappella groups on the other side of the country.[dated info]
In addition to singing words, some a cappella singers also emulate instrumentation by reproducing the melody with their vocal cords. One of the first 20th century practitioners of this method was the Russian-Jewish composer Joseph Achron in his 1925 choral work, "Dance of Salome", Op. 61. Another was The Mills Brothers whose early recordings of the 1930s clearly stated on the label that all instrumentation was done vocally. More recently, "Twilight Zone" by 2 Unlimited was sung a cappella to the instrumentation on the comedy television seriesTompkins Square. Another famous example of emulating instrumentation instead of singing the words is the theme song for The New Addams Family series on Fox Family Channel (now ABC Family). Groups such as Vocal Sampling and (Undivided) emulate Latin rhythms a cappella. In the 1960s, the Swingle Singers used their voices to emulate musical instruments to Baroque and Classical music. Vocal artist Bobby McFerrin is famous for his instrumental emulation.
Christian rock group Relient K recorded the song "Plead the Fifth" a cappella on its album Five Score and Seven Years Ago. The group recorded lead singer Matt Thiessen making drum noises and played them with electronic drums to make the song. Even synthesizer sounds imitate the a cappella sound, which is demonstrated by the Swedish vocal ensemble Visa Röster and its computer music, hymns and jazz.
The German metal band van Canto uses vocal noises to imitate guitars on covers of well-known rock and metal songs (such as "Master of Puppets" by Metallica) as well as original compositions. Although they are generally classified as a cappella metal, the band also includes a drummer, and use amplifiers on some songs to distort the voice to sound more like a real guitar.
^ The absence of instrumental music is rooted in various hermeneutic principles restricting the appropriateness of worship. Such views are the regulative principle of worship, Sola scriptura, the history of hymn in Christianity. The Hebrew writer spent a great deal of time contrasting Old Testament and New Testament worship, which brings forth a theological understanding. In short, all of the Old Testament and its practices have been replaced by New Testament and teachings of Jesus.
^ McKinnon maintained that the organ was the first instrument to be introduced into worship service and the next was the trumpet. He noted accounts of an organ being sent from Byzantium to Pippin in 757, and another to Charlemagne in 812. See McKinnon (1965), The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University) p265
^"a cappella". (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 2, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
^ See, e.g., Marshall C. Kurfees, Instrumental music in the worship or the Greek verb psallo philologically and historically examined together with a full discussion of kindred matters relating to music in Christian worship (Nashville: McQuiddy, 1911).
^ Dr. John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (PuritanReprints, 2006),p91 or see another edition of the same book Dr. John LaFayette. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Church Worship (Crown Rights Book Company, 2005), p118.
^ McKinnon (1965), The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University). p. 263, 265. See also, James D. Bales, Instrumental Music & New Testament Worship (Searcy, AR: Truth for Today World Mision School, 1973)p.351.
^ Adam Clarke, Clark's Commentary vol. IV, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, n.d.), p. 684
^ Campbell referred to the use of an instrument in Christian worship "a cow bell in a concert" (p. 414 in Everett Ferguson, "Instrumental Music", in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, & D. Newell Williams [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004], ISBN 0-8028-3898-7; Ferguson's entire article is on pp. 414–417).
^ Luther Weigle, chairman of the committee that gave us the Revised Standard Version, in a letter dated May 7, 1962, as found in Tom Burgess, Documents on Instrumental Music (College Press, 1966), p. 91, but see the consistent responses from scholars of numerous translations.
^ Frederick William Danker, editor, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, third edition (based on Walter Bauer's sixth edition), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 1096.
^ Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (Revised Edition), Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press, 1972, p. 11
^ e.g.: James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (London: Hodder and Stroughton, Linited, 1930), p.697.
^ Frederick William Danker, editor, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, third edition (based on Walter Bauer's sixth edition), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 1096.
^ James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 2.
^ James McKinnon, The Temple, the Church Fathers, and Early Western Chant (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1988), IV, p.72.
^ Rather than calling the use of instruments “evil,” modern opposition uses terms like “unspiritual” (Ferguson, p 88.) or an Old Testament “shadow” (Jack Lewis, Everett Ferguson and Earl West, The Instrumental Music Issue, Nashville, TN: The Gospel Advocate Co., 1987, p. 109).
^ Leonard Van Camp, The Formation of A Cappella Choirs at Northwestern University, St. Olaf College, and Westminster College, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1965), pp. 227-238.