Powerful Voices

The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella
Joshua S. Duchan
The first scholarly account of the music and culture of collegiate a cappella


Collegiate a cappella, part of a long tradition of unaccompanied singing, is known to date back on American college campuses to at least the colonial era. Considered in the context of college glee clubs, barbershop quartets, early-twentieth-century vocal pop groups, doo-wop groups, and late-twentieth-century a cappella manifestations in pop music, collegiate a cappella is an extension of a very old tradition of close harmony singing—one that includes but also goes beyond the founding of the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Yet despite this important history, collegiate a cappella has until now never been the subject of scholarly examination.

In Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella , Joshua S. Duchan offers the first thorough accounting of the music's history and  reveals how the critical issues of sociability, gender, performance, and technology affect its music and experience. Just as importantly, Duchan provides a vital contribution to music scholarship more broadly, in several important ways: by expanding the small body of literature on choruses and amateur music; by addressing musical and social processes in a field where the vast majority of scholarship focuses on individuals and their products; and by highlighting a musical context long neglected by musicologists—the college campus. Ultimately, Powerful Voices is a window on a world of amateur music that has begun to expand its reach internationally, carrying this uniquely American musical form to new global audiences, while playing an important role in the social, cultural, and musical education of countless singers over the last century.

"Well aware that few musical pleasures top the sensation of joining one's voice with others to create a meticulously blended sound, Joshua Duchan proves himself an effective writer and historian, clear thinker, and skilled musician in showing how American college students today, using contemporary pop recordings, have organized a social framework built upon the experience of vocal blending."
—Richard Crawford, University of Michigan

"The scholarship is excellent. Duchan draws on relevant researchers and theorists in sociology, anthropology, music criticism, music history, culture and communication, musicology, and ethnomusicology. The sources cited are woven with care into the text to produce a fine analytic fabric treating of a cappella in all its complexity. Most impressive."
—Robert Stebbins, University of Calgary

"Collegiate a cappella is a hundred years old and touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of students each year. Finally we have a scholarly look at this community that's thoughtful and insightful. Often treated as rock stars on their campus, many college students find a cappella to be the most powerful musical experience they will ever have, and we now have a book that explains how and why."
—Deke Sharon, Founder of the Contemporary A Cappella Society and the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella

Joshua S. Duchan is Assistant Professor of Music at Wayne State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book will make a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in choral music, amateur music-making, the art of arranging, the creative use of technology in recording and performance, and more besides."
    --Caroline Bithell, Ethnomusicology Forum
  • "For both scholars and a cappella devotees alike, this book provides new information about the genre as well as new perspectives through which to understand the music and culture of this popular genre."
    --Elizabeth A. Clendinning, Journal of American Folklore

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Joshua Duchan interviewed in Inside Higher Ed - Link | 18:38 | 3/15/16 

Watch an interview with the author | 18:38 | 7/17/12 

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 272pp.
  • 4 musical examples, 7 B&W photographs, 3 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11825-0

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  • $79.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03664-6

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  • $24.95 U.S.

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  • Collegiate a cappella, a cappella, glee club, barbershop quartets, pop, doo-wop, music scholarship, ethnomusicology, music history