Pitch Perfect: Iowa Singers Inspired by A Cappella

May 20, 2015

A cappella singing has come a long way since its roots in cathedrals or a barber shop quartet, as exemplified by the new film Pitch Perfect 2. Lee Nelson directs choral activities at Wartburg College and says it’s a constantly evolving genre.

There's a Celtic idea that there are moments in life when you find spots that take us from Earth to another place. Often I feel like we find those spots when we're singing. - Lee Nelson

“A cappella is an Italian word. “Cappella” is a word for chapel, so much of the early music we think of as being unaccompanied started in churches… Then we move into slave work songs and shape note singing. That morphed into barbershop music,” he explains. “The a cappella we’re hearing today really started to stem from the barbershop movement.”

Nelson notes the quartet in “The Music Man” and popular artists like The Nylons who released “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Nelson about the evolution of a cappella and how movies like Pitch Perfect have worked to popularize the genre. We also hear from Paris Schnepf and Noreen Jeglum of the all-women’s group Take Note from Iowa City and Sean Lee from the Des Moines based men’s group Des Namix.

The women of "Take Note" a cappella from Iowa City competing in a collegiate competition.
Credit Courtesy of Take Note A Cappella

  Lee and his fellow singers are in their late 20s and wanted to keep singing after college, so they founded Des Namix three years ago and have been performing around Des Moines ever since. The group recently serenaded a couple as they got in engaged. He says the opportunity to do that is one of the special things about a cappella.

“You don’t need a big audience to get that electricity. It was really cool to walk in and pretend to be this couple's new neighbors and sing one of their favorite songs for them," Lee says.