Reflections on J333 and a cappella

By Nick Pothetes

When we all started this course, and discovered the types of projects that we would be pursuing, I must admit that I wasn’t thrilled to be doing interviews, photo-shoots, and all that stuff that comes with a good journalistic story. You see, I didn’t exactly believe in my ability to produce a coherent story that maintained journalistic standard and a sense of professionalism. Everything I do is hap-hazard, yet I manage to make it work somehow. I’ve had my style described as forced and battered together, but somehow managing to pull off something organic and interesting. I thought for sure that the same would go for my journalistic story telling. I imagined a broken piece that wasn’t fluid, wasn’t interesting, and  wasn’t appealing to the eyes of true journalists. While I can’t say that it was interesting to others, I can say that my story telling process was interesting to myself and developed a fluidity to it that I never expected. My greatest decision was picking a topic that I was personally passionate for: music.

Music, at first, seemed like a daunting topic to approach. There are scholars, and my peers alike, that could speak to the topic of music much more professionally than myself. I also knew that a challenge would arise around capturing audio from multiple sources and finding sources within performance groups to interview without disturbing their busy schedules and carefully planned out sets. Strangely enough, this still wasn’t my biggest worry. You see, my topic wasn’t just music. It was a cappella music. With all of the media’s hype about shows like Glee and movies like Pitch Perfect, I knew that in general my audience base would immediately reference these pop-culture depictions of a small and passionate culture.  Nonetheless, the anxiety about my topic accidentally brought forth an underlying story that I had never thought to approach. I was going to show everyone what it meant to perform, what it meant to sing a cappella, and what it meant to truly love music.

With my first multi-media piece “The Reality of A Cappella” I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. I created a great audio-slide show, and I was proud of that, but the over arching theme of the video became exactly what I was trying to disprove. My coverage of Divisi was incredibly similar to watching a low budget version of Pitch Perfect. It showed a group of people singing perfectly as on-lookers gazed on with admiration for their talent. It showed how good they could be, but it didn’t show how hard it had been to get their. This is one of the major problems with pop-culture a cappella. It’s not realistic, and it makes fans think that they could do the same without any devotion or time lost.

By the time my second project rolled around I was a little lost within my story. I had no sources a couple of days before the deadline, and I didn’t know what to expect. Finally, Kate Taylor, the music director of Divisi, pulled through and let me interview her. It was such an enlightening experience to focus on one member of the group rather than the bunch. After meeting at a local bar and having a few beers, the true story started to slip from her mouth. While my video was about vocal health, there was an underlying disdain for what popular culture had done to the world of a cappella. Kate even mentioned that because Pitch Perfect was based on Divisi they had been invited to a screening of the movie. She went on to described that most of the members were appalled at the depiction of Divisi, and found it all to be very unrealistic. This discomfort with the “popular” image of a cappella was just what I was looking for.

Finally, when my last  story rolled around I was unexpectedly comfortable with my story. My previous anxiety about where the story was going was gone, and I was comfortable in assuming that when I interviewed “The Peacoat Gang” about musical performance that the story would come together naturally, and it it did. While Caspar and Trevor (The Peacoat Gang) are not a cappella singers, their musical careers started within a cappella in high school, and it definitely  brought a lot to the table for their current performances. I was incredibly pleased with their take on a cappella and the insight they provided.

All in all, I was surprised and delighted to discover that sometimes a story will come together all on it’s own. I began with extreme anxiety about “not being a true journalist” and left with a new found confidence and insight. Journalism isn’t a restrictive medium, and you don’t have to be a “journalist” to find a good story. Sometimes all a topic needs is someone to shed a little light on it.

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