A Capella and Speech to Song

After reading “Hallelujah!: Transformation in Film” by Jessica H. Howard, I was most interested in Howard’s discussion of how the film uses a capella singing and the transition from speech to song to crate a sense of natural transition. Howard writes that “the film’s reliance upon a capella singing…enhances the primary relationship of singer to song, and folk to folk expression, and yields the accompanying spontaneity this implies” (442).  A capella is one way that music is made to seem naturally incorporated into the film, and the “transitions throughout Halllelujah! between narrative and number are progressive and seamless…particularly regarding those numbers which come through the transformation of speech into song” (444). These numbers often occur when Zeke is discussing religion, with the music mirroring Zeke’s own transformation.

This article gave me more insight into how the film accomplished Zeke’s religious transformation and how the transformational numbers themselves work. One of the scenes that really stood out to me was the scene after his brother’s death. In that scene, Zeke goes from speaking about his grief and guilt to a mix of chanting and singing, with the natural seeming musical progression corresponding to Zeke’s own religious transformation. The a capella singing and gradual transition into singing makes Zeke’s behavior seem naturally spontaneous and his transformation itself feel more real.

This article also made we wonder how other musicals have used a capella, and I found this article about a modern musical done entirely with just a capella singing. I would be really interested to see if this musical or other musicals with just moments of a capella use it to achieve a similar effect as Hallelujah!

2 thoughts on “A Capella and Speech to Song

  1. Hi Hannah! I read up a little bit about the musical In Transit that you linked on your post, and it sounds really interesting!! According to its website, the story is supposed to follow “the intertwined lives of 11 New Yorkers faced with the challenges of city life.” I think there is a connection between In Transit and Hallelujah with their focus on the day-to-day lives of characters in their stories, and a capella could be a key factor to retaining that idea of everyday life versus a Hollywood production–like you said, the a capella makes Zeke’s outburst into song “seem naturally spontaneous,” so it could be used to a similar effect in the musical. Another fun connection I found is that In Transit heavily features trains, as its main setting is the subway in New York City. One of its taglines is ” IN TRANSIT takes you on a journey with people hoping to catch the express train to their dreams,” which sounded very familiar to the idea in Hallelujah of catching the train to Heaven and redemption. I think this is probably just a coincidence, but it makes me wonder if there is something about a capella musicals with trains in them. Great post!

  2. Carly and Hannah, I really liked the points you both made. I had never read about the use of acapella in film, or like you mentioned Hannah, in an actual musical. How do you think the film would have differed if there was a change in how music was used or if it didn’t appear at all?

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