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Books, Etcetera with Lynn Carey: Pitch Perfect

An unsolicited book about a capella competitions becomes a pleasant surprise.

I love it when you start wondering about something, and then a book about the subject literally appears on your doorstep. This happened to me the other day. Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin was sent to me by the publisher, Gotham Books.

Ordinarily, I would have given it a cursory glance, because reading a nonfiction book about a cappella competitions on the college level would normally not be my cup of tea. However, a few weeks ago we went to an a cappella contest held at UC Berkeley. We went because we know a lot of singers … our daughter, who is studying opera in college, was in Campolindo High School’s chamber and concert choirs, and our son is following in her footsteps.

So, some of our favorite kids were/are in choirs. It sounds kind of geeky, but it really isn’t. These are some of the most awesome kids we’ve ever met. (Or maybe I feel that way because they are old enough to have real conversations with … I never really did very well with the kids’ friends when they were younger.)

Anyway, we went to this contest on a Saturday night because we know two of the boys in UC Santa Cruz’s Cloud Nine. Frankly, I expected to be bored with all the other a cappella groups, and also didn’t think there would be much of a crowd. I was imagining a bunch of vocal nerds.

Wrong! Wheeler Hall sold out all 900 seats. Most of the audience were college age, shrieking and woot-wooting when their favorite groups performed. Last time I was in an audience like this was for Bruce Springsteen in Oakland. (I don’t get out much.)

All the competing groups had vocal percussionists. They all had choreography. One of my favorites was from a Lutheren College in Washington, about a dozen guys who started with a religious song in Latin. My heart sank a little. But then they finished with a hysterical version of rapper T-Pain’s “Low.”

Trust me, when I was in college lo those many years ago, there was no way nearly 1,000 students would spend a Saturday night watching a cappella performances. But, it’s become a huge deal in the last 20 years when I was busy having kids and working. It’s a big enough deal for Pitch Perfect’s author Mickey Rapkin, a journalist, to get the idea to follow three college singing groups around for a year.

The result, from the bits I’ve skimmed over, seems to be both dramatic and humorous. Author Sloane Crosley (I was Told There’d Be Cake) says Pitch Perfect is “hilariously harrowing and embarrassingly suspenseful.” I’m going to read the whole thing. I love it when the zeitgeist finds me, however accidentally.

For 12 years, Lynn Carey has run the Times Book Club, which now appears in the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune newspapers. For the past 17 years, she's lived in Lafayette with her husband, Lamorinda Sun columnist Mike Zampa, and their two teenagers.