For my son’s 14th birthday we attended a concert by Straight No Chaser, a 10-man singing group. He was thrilled, as were we all, with the always entertaining and often humorous modern take on a variety of genres. After the show, we purchased for him the deluxe edition of their latest CD, Under the Influence, and he was lucky enough to get the front and back CD liners signed by all ten singers.
My next task when I got home was to rip lossless tracks onto our “jukebox”, a NAS media server that holds all the content for our various iDevices and receivers. While using iTunes to convert the tracks, I perused other similar vocal tracks already existing in our jukebox — by Acoustix, the Swingle Singers, and the Whiffenpoofs. I then realized that, thanks to community-driven databases such as Gracenote, the genre spellings were inconsistent. What is the correct spelling of the genre: a capella, a cappella, acappella, or acapella?
A Capella vs A Cappella
Technically, both spellings are correct; “a capella” (with one P) is the Latin spelling, whereas “a cappella” (with two P’s) is the Italian spelling. Slightly muddying the proverbial waters is that the phrase meaning “to the chapel” or “in the manner of the chapel” originated in Italian Catholic churches — in which most texts and records were written in Latin. However, for the past several centuries, written or printed musical notations used to indicate note dynamics (defining characteristics such as loudness, duration, frequency, or style) are written in Italian or use abbreviations of Italian terms:
- crescendo (abbreviated cresc.) — gradually becoming louder, from the Latin crēscendum.
- fortissimo (abbreviated ff) — played very loudly, from the Latin fortissimus.
- fortepiano (abbreviated fp) — played loudly and then immediately softly.
- staccato (abbreviated stacc.) — played shorter and detached, from the French distaccare.
While there are many musical directives originating in non-Italian languages (such as the German ängstlich, the Polish wolno, or the Latin ad libitum), due to the overwhelming prevalence of Italian, the Italian form a cappella is preferred for consistency.
Without a Space
The concatenated forms of “acapella” and “acappella” originated in the United States, unfortunately popularized by incorrect spelling on popular album titles or liners. The indefinite article “a” is so prevalent in English that other mid-sentence usages of the single lowercase letter are unusual; understandably, the sentence “He sang a song a cappella” appears a bit more confusing that would “He sang a song acappella”, however the second version is incorrect.
The proper spelling of the note dynamic is “a cappella”. For use in iTunes, where all accepted genres are stylized with initial-caps, the genre should be “A Cappella”. While it pains me greatly, when an artist name or album title or track incorporates an incorrect spelling of a cappella, the incorrect spelling should be used.
- On Jon Cleary’s album Occapella, the genre of the title song Occapella is still “A Cappella”.
- The genre of the third track, Free [Tiefschwarz Accapella Version], on the compilation album Defected Accapellas 11 is also “A Cappella”.
- The “60’s Accapella Hits Volume 1” and “Acapella Super Hits – Dance Collection 1” compilation albums released by Acapella Vocalists feature a cappella songs by various artists. The genre of all is “A Cappella”.