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hip hop, rap and glee club

I recently attended the IU Hoosiers show, the Indiana musical review. What struck me is that the performance covered an enormous range of American music – doo-wop, commercial jingles, jazz, disco, and a whole lot more. But what struck me is that rap was completely absent in a two hour show that strives to give something to everyone. Then, I noticed that rap is absent from nearly the entire world of glee clubs/school musicals, even though it is obviously the most important pop music innovation post-1980.

Here are some hypotheses:

  • Race – I find this hard to be believe since other Black art forms get a lot of attention in these revues.
  • Pedagogy establishment – Choral instructors, for some reason, just don’t like hip hop.
  • Musical technique – a lot of glee club/choir music relies on the “American song” broadly construed. Hip hop has way different musical sources.
  • Teaching techniques – perhaps people would like to teach it, but there isn’t a common method yet.

Other thoughts?

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Written by fabiorojas

May 2, 2014 at 12:15 am

15 Responses

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  1. It could be that harmony and instrumental melody are less important in rap.

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    Chris M

    May 2, 2014 at 12:35 am

  2. I was going to point to the No Diggity a Capella scene from the movie Pitch Perfect, then I realized the entire fictional situation is that nobody expects the song because it’s rap. I’m sure there’s other examples in Glee the TV show, and definitely the show The Sing Off. I think the attention is there, at least in fictional or media representations.

    With that being said, a Capella rap done well is great, but a Capella rap done poorly is really bad. I imagine this problem is exacerbated since the groups probably need create arrangements as opposed to using existing ones. Every school in the country already has an arrangement for “For The Longest Time,” but probably not rap.

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    David Schieber

    May 2, 2014 at 2:21 am

  3. David-

    As a former member of a collegiate a capella group that occasionally performed For The Longest Time on a whim using sheet music, but never performed a single rap song in 4 years, I can confirm your hypothesis.

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    Zach Griffen

    May 2, 2014 at 4:07 am

  4. @David:That just begs the question. No one is preventing the creation of rap arrangements.

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    fabiorojas

    May 2, 2014 at 4:16 am

  5. There are arrangements readily available for “Hey Ya” — plenty of Glee Clubs have done that number. Of course, it’s a more harmonically-oriented number than most rap tunes.

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    TJ

    May 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

  6. @Fabio: The more I think about it, the more I think it’s an interesting question. Everywhere you look in popular representations or performances of a capella type music, there’s rap examples. The a capella group Pentatonix, who as far as I can tell is very popular in a capella circles, does bunches of rap songs. Assuming there is in fact a dearth of rap in school performances (which at face value seems right), it would be interesting to see why the popular representations of rap in choir haven’t diffused to actual school performances in the form of arrangements or teaching or whatever the process is. Going off the Hey Ya example, maybe there’s only certain types of rap song that diffuse.

    @Zach: I don’t think my high school a capella group ever sang anything other than For the Longest Time.

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    David Schieber

    May 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm

  7. Jonathan Coulton has done quite well with his version of “Baby Got Back” which fits right in with a glee club style. So musical technique probably isn’t it.

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    LKT

    May 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm

  8. http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/04/30/307668364/hear-four-musicians-talk-about-what-moves-them

    I recommend you skip to 22:00 if you want to hear Ndegocello’s re-working of “Friends” and then her discussion of the resistance of musicians to covering rap. And then her discussion of their lack of work transcribing rap music (at 25:00 or so).

    Like

    Jenn Lena

    May 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm

  9. Do you hear much country in glee clubs? Although I personally like both of them, the two most aversive genres are hip hop and country (how often do you hear people say “anything but country?”).

    Also, this may be a west coast bias, but (since circa 1995) the only people I have heard say “rap” are white people who don’t like hip hop.

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    bob

    May 2, 2014 at 6:15 pm

  10. I’d like to hear me some death metal glee.

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    TJ

    May 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

  11. @bob: “Rap” is actually merited here because hip hop encompasses multiple art forms (e.g., dance, MC’ing) that aren’t song. Thus, in discussing glee club repertoire, it makes sense to use rap to differentiate.

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    fabiorojas

    May 2, 2014 at 8:05 pm

  12. Taking a position in the debate over the boundary between rap and hip-hop only classifies the classifier and cannot reasonably be treated as a claim of objective truth.

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    Jenn Lena

    May 3, 2014 at 12:05 am

  13. I do not claim to be in any way an expert in hip hop, I’m just sayin’ I would love to witness you asking the kids I play ball with in Oakland about their favorite rap songs.

    But as to your question, is it possible that glee clubs simply want to perform for the largest common denominator, and avoid performing anything that a large portion off the audience might hate?

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    bobfaris

    May 3, 2014 at 1:50 am

  14. Hit post too quickly. I meant to add that, if the absence of rap is a play-it-safe strategy, then we would also expect country, even well known country, to be missing glee repertoires. That’s my conjecture.

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    bobfaris

    May 3, 2014 at 1:57 am

  15. The kids gotta learn about the four pillars of hip hop. It’s their heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

    fabiorojas

    May 3, 2014 at 2:25 am


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