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A Capella

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

The term a capella is one of the more familiar Italian terms we run into in the music world. When applied to vocal music, a capella simply means “without instrumental accompaniment.” But you may find the derivation of the term interesting. The literal meaning of a capella in Italian is “as in the chapel,” or “in the style of the chapel.” And what has the chapel got to do with it? Well, it turns out that the term a capella was first used during the Renaissance, in the 1500s, to describe the unaccompanied vocal music that the great Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina and his contemporary colleagues composed for the Church. In the chapel, in the church. And eventually the term came to be applied in the secular domain, as well. A capella. Without accompaniment. It’s always interesting, isn’t it?.. how a term can take on a kind of independent identity, divorced from its origins and from its literal meaning.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.