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Musique Nonstop: A Cappella-la-la

Elise Mills

classical and electronic music enthusiast

Psst! I’ve got a special post for you today.
Let’s talk a cappella.

So far on this column, I’ve only discussed music that consists of both instrumentation and voice, highlighting how instruments can add a powerful dynamic to music and give it dimension, fullness, and texture. When accompanied by voice, the instrumentation helps to provide a little bit more oomph of sound that one singer,  who doesn’t have the vocal capacity to give by herself, usually would. Yet, there is also strength in the absence of instrumentation. A cappella singing is simply that—voice (or voices) with no added instrumentation.

Of course, unaccompanied singing has been around ever since anyone could vocalize, bringing old Celtic and Scottish folk songs, but this musical approach seems to regain popularity every couple of decades. In the 21st century, it seems we’ve hit another resurgence in a cappella, even in pop music, like Paint’s Disney medleys and the Pitch Perfect movies. I enjoy being swept up in the pop culture a cappella craze as much as the next person, but today I want to share the choral music component of a cappella with you, as it rests very close to my heart.

Veljo Tormis
Veljo Tormis

To demonstrate choral a cappella music’s compelling nature, I’ve put together a short playlist of music by Veljo Tormis, a talented 20th-century contemporary classical composer from Estonia. (Yes, there is such a thing as modern classical music. Learn more about the genre here!) Please forgive me for straying a tad off the Scandinavian path (which began with our discussion of Björk in my last post), but the music coming from the Baltic is just way too significant to overlook. Tormis’ music is not only gorgeous, but it also echoes the rich cultural history of Estonia, as his work is modeled after the region’s traditional folk music called regilaul. His music celebrates Estonian heritage and the country’s national patriotism that was rekindled during the Soviet years, and which continues to resonate with the Estonian people and the world today. Check out some of his folkier compositions down below! (Or if you don’t have a Spotify account, I made a YouTube playlist here.)

I think many composers would agree that there’s a uniquely ethereal element in unaccompanied voice, which begs for experimentation. Classical contemporary composers have taken new liberties with this timeless style of singing, composing complex chords and dissonances that only the human voice can achieve and that conventional musical instruments cannot quite emulate in the same way. But then again, I’m a bit biased. Growing up in choirs my whole life, music like Tormis’ continues to strike an emotional chord with me in ways that most other music can’t. And its beauty blows me away. Every time.

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