The Primary Season, A Cappella

Jan 11, 2012
Originally published on January 11, 2012 4:59 pm

The next 40-some weeks are going to be a screaming tower of political babble; a cacophony of accusing and boasting, pandering and slandering. I watch the news these days with the mute button permanently depressed, lest I fall into a permanent depression myself. There's only so much contention and vitriol a sensitive soul can bear.

Fortunately, I've developed a sonic antidote to the nerve-rattling chorus of pundits and office-seekers: a cappella music. Human voices singing solo melodies or merged in harmony. Best of all, they rarely sing about downbeat temporal matters like unemployment, budget deficits or gun control.

In fact, a cappella literally means "from the chapel" in Italian, and refers to its roots in early religious music. I personally favor the Gregorian chants of the medieval era, which hit the top of the Billboard New Age charts in the ninth century or so.

By the 14th century, vocal music took a turn for the secular, as composers like Guillaume de Machaut wrote paeans to courtly love by night, while penning liturgical music to pay the bills by day. I like to think of him as a pre-blues-era Robert Johnson — torn between singing Satan's songs or walking the narrower musical path to salvation. Johnson chose the blues over gospel, while Machaut worked both sides of the aisle, excuse the pun.

Lo these many centuries later, a cappella music is alive and well, whether in the hipper provinces of pop music, courtesy of groups like Take 6, or with musically mischievous college ensembles doing their spot-on re-creations of songs like Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."

So here's the prescription for election-year sensory overload: Silence the devil television and turn up the angelic strains of human voices united in harmony. As it turns out, we can all get along.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Musician David Was is not sitting by his radio or his television eagerly awaiting primary results this election season. Instead, he's been turning to a particular genre of music as a refuge from the political cacophony.

DAVID WAS, BYLINE: The next 40-some weeks or so are going to be a screaming tower of political babble, a cacophony of accusing and boasting, pandering and slandering. I watch the news these days with the mute button permanently depressed, lest I fall into a permanent depression myself. There's only so much contention and vitriol a sensitive soul can bear.

Fortunately, I've developed a sonic antidote to the nerve-rattling chorus of pundits and office-seekers - a cappella music, human voices singing solo melodies or merged in harmony. Best of all, they rarely sing about downbeat temporal matters like unemployment, budget deficits or gun control. In fact, a cappella literally means from the chapel in Italian, and refers to its roots in early religious music.

I, personally, favor the Gregorian chants of the medieval era, which hit the top of the "Billboard" New Age charts in the ninth century or so.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WAS: By the 14th century, vocal music took a turn for the secular, as composers like Guillaume de Machaut wrote paeans to courtly love by night, while penning liturgical music to pay the bills by day. I like to think of him as a pre-blues-era Robert Johnson, torn between singing Satan's songs or walking the narrower musical path to salvation. Johnson chose the blues over gospel, while Machaut worked both sides of the aisle, excuse the pun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WAS: Lo these many centuries later, a cappella music is alive and well, whether on TV's "Glee" or in pop music, courtesy of groups like Take 6.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WAS: Or with musically mischievous college ensembles doing their spot-on re-creations of songs like Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WAS: So here's the prescription for election year sensory overload - silence the devil television and turn up the angelic strains of human voices united in harmony. As it turns out, we can all get along.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Musician David Was lives in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.