Barbershop Harmony Society News
Journalist Bill Lynch of the Charleston Gazette-Mail is breaking new ground in reporting on barbershop. We’ve seen many behind-the-scenes stories about contest prep before, but this appears to be the first time a reporter has embedded himself in a chorus and actually rehearsed several weeks with a goal of singing in a contest with them. In this second installment, Bill discovers the depth of emotion in the music:
With “I Only Have Eyes for You,” for example, the feeling was romantic awe and wonder. Ted talked about the mood and emotion behind our songs at almost every rehearsal, things to which I’d never given much thought.
And it was something I hadn’t seen before.
I’ve written about musicians for years, talked with I don’t know how many songwriters, but nobody had ever spoken to me about the emotions behind the presentation of a song and what they were trying to convey.
Follow his journey at One Month at a Time: Taking the stage with the Kanawha Kordsmen.
As seen in the March/April issue of The Harmonizer, page 28.
By Dr. Jay Butterfield, Musical Director, Parkside Harmony chorus, email@example.com
About 20 years ago, when I was director of the Chorus of The Brandywine in Wilmington, Del., we instituted an effective vocal feedback program—effective, but also cumbersome and time-consuming! Fortunately, advances in technology can make critical vocal feedback much more painless.
The old process consisted of the singers holding up what was then a brick-sized or larger cassette recorder to their faces and recording either parts of rehearsal or doing it solo, at home. They’d label the cassette, hand it to a section leader, and the next week (or weeks) later, the men would receive their original along with a feedback cassette.
Fast forward to today: electronic file sharing is a very easy process. Feedback remains a critical step for choruses in our style to enhance the development of individual singers, as well as the chorus as a whole. Here are some details as to how an effective, modern feedback system works:
Provide a platform for home rehearsal. Most barbershop choruses use professional rehearsal tracks with voice predominant, voice minus, and mixed versions. These are an excellent foundation for your program.There are many excellent sources for high quality tracks.
Establish a voluntary submission procedure. Ask for volunteers to go through the recording and feedback process, to help smooth out the process before it is implemented chorus-wide. The practice submissions might include simply recording your voice at rehearsal on a recording app for your phone and emailing or texting it to the appropriate party. Note: some smartphones have proprietary recording software that produces less common file formats (AIFF, WAV etc). These often use more data and are difficult to convert on the receiver end, so you may consider designating a common app or format for all singers.
Create a practice assignment. Once the volunteers are comfortable, assign a practice submission in which they sing at home with a rehearsal track. This requires both a playback device for the digital file (computer or tablet) and their smart phone or digital recorder to record their voice on top of the audio from the playback device. Be clear with the expectation and make it simple at first. The singing evaluators should check submissions for recording quality and balance. Encourage one headphone in and the other out, so the singer can hear both the track and himself.
Train the evaluators. After all have successfully submitted once, train section leaders or other evaluators on what to listen for on recordings. In most cases, they will serve the singers best by focusing on constructive feedback aimed at low-level issues pertaining to whether a passage was sung correctly. They should not give feedback on vocal production and techniques unless they are schooled and skilled in these areas. Poor strategies and improper technique have caused many a setback for our singers over the years.
Have section leaders create practice feedback recorders and submit to the chorus music leaders, who will ensure that the commentary is appropriate and accurate. It may take some time before the feedback team is fully prepared.
Give specific assignments to the chorus. Once the feedback team is truly ready, begin regular recording requests, or requirements, depending on your goals and expectations. Don’t bite off more than the music team can chew! Requests need to be specific and in writing to the membership. Example: “Basses, please submit measures 1-38 of “Melancholy Baby” by Sunday, March 26 at 8 p.m. Remember we are especially working on the breathing, so double check this as you prepare.”
Make use of effective feedback strategies. Ask both individuals and the chorus as a whole early on in the program, to be sure they understand and are comfortable with the process and the feedback.Here are some other tips:
- Evaluators should use the written music, and note concerns verbally as they record both their voice and the submitted track.
- An excellent variation is to stop the singer track and describe the particular concern, model the passage correctly, then play back that area for the singer to hear.
- Summarize at the end of the feedback track. Example: “Thanks, Bob, for the submission. Remember the stagger breathing techniques discussed and try these at rehearsal next week.”
- Send the feedback to the singer as promptly as possible.
- Develop an electronic tracker for submission dates and feedback dates so you have a record for follow up as needed.
A regular feedback program takes a while to get implemented, but it will pay huge dividends both for individual singers and for the chorus as a whole. Good luck!
As seen in the March/April 2017 issue of The Harmonizer, page 24.
By Debra Lynn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bel canto (Italian for “beautiful singing” ) was the standard of singing technique from 1800 to about 1840, and is primarily concerned with upper body engagement, creating a clear, concentrated, free, resonant tone without force of any kind. Many other singing techniques have come since then, but unless you are an opera singer, these bel canto techniques often yield better and faster results.
There is a famous story about opera legend Luciano Pavarotti as a young voice student. His teacher placed a lit candle in front of his mouth and would tell him to sing while not allowing the flame to move. In essence, Pavarotti learned to keep the tone source steady. This is exactly the type of tone that results in ringing chords in the barbershop style.
The real jewel of the bel canto tradition is its breath mechanics, which are perfect for our type of singing. It may feel odd at first, but understand the body mechanics involved in releasing air over your vocal folds. Think of blowing up a balloon and holding the neck so that it whistles. How long will it whistle? For as long as the gentle air pressure in the balloon is sufficient. In bel canto, the air pressure, stabilized in your rib cage by expanding on inhalation and engaging throughout a phrase, gives that seamless tone-to-tone connection or legato line, just by staying still.
By engaging your body to replicate holding your breath for a few seconds, you can feel the connection required to make consistent, stable tone. Feel how your rib cage naturally engages and stabilizes. Release and gently do it again. This time, when you hold your breath, notice the sensation in your throat; to some it feels like gentle compression downward, to others holding back. Release and relax. That feeling is the vocal folds coming into approximation and closing. What if the question was not “how do I take bigger breaths?” but instead, “how do I take smaller ones?” Less air, not more. This is where this work seems fantastic and unbelievable. The beauty of the technique is that if the ribs engage on each breath, you’ll feel your voice work in an instant. When singers embrace this type of singing, the first comment is often “I made it through the whole phrase and it was too easy. Shouldn’t this be hard?”
By realizing that the primary air management objective is just to sustain gentle air pressure, not to force air through your instrument, you can easily manage your singing. When you are not struggling to control air, effortless delivery becomes more accessible.
The over-pressurization or irregular force across the vocal folds is the primary culprit behind poor quality of tone, inconsistent resonance and intonation, and loss of stability and control. By using this breathing technique, you have the ability to focus on artistry, musicianship and performance. Bel canto offers a transformative experience, as you become an optimal resonating acoustic instrument designed to amplify sound with ease.
Deke Sharon, the music director of the Pitch Perfect movie franchise as well as NBC’s The Sing-Off, gave a powerful keynote address at the 2017 Midwinter Convention in San Antonio. The BHS Honorary Lifetime Member encouraged Barbershoppers to make audiences cry while singing a Polecat, addressed the issue of mixed singing, spoke about the importance of video in growing the popularity of barbershop and so much more. It’s a candid yet impactful perspective that warrants the attention of all who love our amazing art form.
“What is this gift that you have that the world needs?”
Tell us, Deke. And let us listen.
- By Jay Dougherty, Asst. Professor, Director of Choices and Choral Activities, Marietta College - email@example.com
Barbershoppers are ear singers. We sing and tune by ear, so why do so many of us often sing out of tune? Perhaps a more pertinent question would be, “What does in tune actually mean?” Are we singing in tune with a piano? With our neighbor on the risers? With what we remember as “Do” that was blown 45 seconds ago?
The very concept of tuning requires a minimum of two sounding pitches. A solo voice cannot sing harmonically out of tune, because it is not being compared to any other source. Most amateur musicians can tell when an interval does not sound right, and we know intuitively when a sound is disagreeable or when it is pleasurable. If our goal is to sing in tune with another person, we need to know what it means to sing in or out of tune.You don’t make overtones—they’re already there
You’ve probably heard of overtones, or perhaps the overtone series. But did you know that we cannot “make” overtones? They are always there. Every note you sing, even every word you speak, contains an infinite number of pitches (overtones) above the one you are singing (fundamental). When you sing one note, you are actually singing many notes at the same time. The extra notes you are singing have a very specific order: the first pitch is one octave above the fundamental note you are singing, the second is a fifth higher, and then a fourth higher, and then a third higher, and so on until the overtones become so close together that we don’t have names for them. They eventually get so high in frequency that the human ear can no longer hear them.
But here’s where it gets interesting. These overtones exist in physics. We do not get to choose at which intervals the overtones will sound. As an example, if you sing the note C, you will also be producing a C one octave above your fundamental. There is nothing you can do with your voice that will cause your first overtone (or any subsequent overtone) to be anything other than an octave.The beats you don’t want to hear
This is important because the intervals between the overtones reside in the most “in tune” place. In other words, overtones happen to exist where there are the fewest possible beats to create an interval. You hear examples of the overtone series in all music, especially on bugle calls like “Taps” and “Reveille.” These songs are a simply a brass player moving up and down on the overtone series, using no valves.
When you hear dissonance, you hear beats in the sound—-small fluttering disturbances in the sound that, if prominent enough, can make you cringe. The fewer beats you hear, the more in-tune you’ll perceive something to be. A great way to learn to hear beats is to sing against a fixed pitch: a pitch pipe works great. As you blow air through your pipe, hum the same note. Now, hum a little flat and hear how the beats are very obvious. Slowly bend the pitch back up, and when you finally match pitch, the sound will smooth out and the beats will go away.The math of being in tune
There is an easy mathematical solution to determine which set of pitches will be the most in tune. In a purely-tuned major third, the higher pitch will oscillate 5 times for every 4 times the lower pitch oscillates. This repeating pattern of 5:4 produces a harmony that the human ear finds pleasing and considers to be in tune. Not only is this because this tuning of a major third contains the fewest possible beats, but also because it is the exact interval between the 4th and 5th overtones in the overtone series. In other words, we constantly hear this interval in every note somebody sings and even in every word they speak.
By way of comparison, the major 3rd on a piano or electronic keyboard, which is equally tempered and therefore slightly out of tune in every key, has a ratio of 15749:12500. In other words, for every 15,749 times the upper note oscillates, the lower note will oscillate 12,500 times. This ratio is so large that the pattern doesn’t repeat often enough for the ear to hear it as perfectly in tune. Beats are heard when a major third is played on these instruments, but this is the tricky piece: if we have grown up in Western music and heard this “out of tune” sound for a lifetime, we learn to accept it over time … it starts to sound right to our ears. That’s why getting away from the piano is critical for success in barbershop.
So let’s get really technical. We now know that physics determines which overtones are being produced. We also know that the overtones produced are the most perfectly in tune intervals possible. Third, we know that these intervals are produced in every note we sing. Thus, if Person One sings a C, he is unintentionally also producing an octave above that C, and then a fifth above that octave, which is a G. After that we get another C and then an E, and so on. That E, the fifth harmonic (or 4th overtone), does not match the E on a piano.
If Person Two sings an E against a Person One’s C, we find ourselves back to the first question: with what is Person Two supposed to sing in tune? If he or she sings in tune to the piano, this will not be the same E that Person One is already producing in his/her overtone series. Thus, they will be singing out of tune with each other. In order to avoid the beats of dissonance, Person Two must sing the same E that Person One is already producing via the overtone series of his/her C.
How is this done? With practice, we can tune our ears to hearing overtones. But more simply than that, listen for the beats. The fewer beats, the more in tune. Let your ears do the work. It is not about singing higher or lower; it is more about simply singing the “right” note. And that right note is the one that exists in physics, the one that has the fewest beats in the sound, and the one that is automatically produced in the overtone series of the person you’re singing with. When you hear beats, you’re hearing overtones not matching up in low ratios.
If you would like to learn more, search online for “just vs equal temperament” and you will find a wealth of information.
By Theo Hicks, Lead of 2015 champion Instant Classic – firstname.lastname@example.org
Choosing songs and arrangements can be the most challenging part of singing in an ensemble. Whether you are preparing for a show, contest, or community singout, repertoire selection is usually the first and most important thing discussed. There are so many aspects one must consider when developing a varied repertoire, and it is crucial to be thorough with the selection process for all your song choices.The importance of “appropriate”
Why does repertoire have to be “appropriate,” and what exactly does “appropriate” mean? It refers not only to songs that are suitable for the ensemble, but also what is fitting for the specific audience. It’s important to remember the role of repertoire as a direct reflection of the personality and message of the group. If an ensemble sings songs that are inappropriate for the group, audiences will not respond well to the selection.Consider the music
It is critical to thoroughly evaluate each arrangement that you are considering adding to your repertoire. Pieces with good lyrical value will usually increase the effectiveness of your repertoire. Is the piece melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically interesting? Does the arrangement develop and tell a story? Does the voice leading (or part writing) make sense, or is the baritone part impossible to sing? Are the ranges and tessituras suitable? Does it fit into a balanced and varied repertoire? Is it over-arranged or too complex? What is the song’s “expiration date?”Consider your ensemble
What are the different strengths of the ensemble? Individual vocal ranges should be considered, reading ability, and aptitude for learning new music. Many groups make the common mistake of singing songs that are too difficult, but desire to sing them because they were made popular by other groups.
It is important to find songs that will help improve the skillset of the ensemble, but still remain attainable. There’s certainly nothing wrong with singing repertoire you’ve heard from top-flight groups, but it is important to properly assess if the piece will work for your group. For example, many arrangements for international chorus competitors today are not necessarily great for smaller groups because of tessitura demands (i.e. singing too high for too long a period), phrasing challenges (long sections with no good place to breathe), and/or harmonic difficulty.
There are also arrangements that are tailored to specific voices. Some arrangements are made for singers who excel at exceedingly difficult vocal passages, often referred to as “vocal acrobatics” (such as 2012 champ Ringmasters, 2006 champ Vocal Spectrum, or 2002 champ Four Voices), and those are not ideal for all singers.Consider your personal taste
It is also crucial to assess what songs will resonate with the ensemble. For example, if a quartet is trying to pick a song that three guys love and one guy hates, it will be an uphill battle when it comes to learning the piece and enjoying the performance collectively. From my own experience, my quartet likes to enforce the idea of “veto-power.” If one member “vetoes” a song, then the other three have to agree and move on. While it is extremely tempting to ask for rationale and justification (and it’s not wrong to provide it if willing), it is important to listen to your quartet-mates’ concerns about the piece and respect that everyone’s taste is different.
Having all members on the same page is crucial for relaying the intended message of the song to audiences. At times this might seem easier for quartets than choruses, but as long as the leadership of a chorus can create the appropriate enthusiasm for a piece, the chorus will generally share the excitement.Consider your audience
Some groups’ goals are to educate an audience, some strive to entertain, and many try a combination of the two. A great way to prepare yourselves for success is to assess the musical taste of the audience ahead of time. An audience of a guest artist recital at a university can be wildly different than the audience of a district convention, and can be even more different than a school concert or chapter show.
If your audience is well-versed in barbershop, you can easily perform some of the hallmark arrangements of the style. Perhaps you may consider more contemporary songs for a younger audience (like a school sing-out), or songs easily recognizable to any audience (very popular musical theater, songs made popular by blockbuster artists, etc.). Considering the audience’s musical taste ahead of time can help you plan out your repertoire so that you leave a lasting impact.
All performers hope to create a connection with their audiences so they can create a memorable experience for their listeners. Selecting appropriate repertoire is arguably the first and most important step in creating an unforgettable performance that can leave a permanent impression on audience members.
By Gary Parker, Bass of Dealer’s Choice, 1973 International Champion
In 1973, Dealer’s Choice quartet not only won our international contest on its first attempt, but changed the sound of barbershop harmony forever. Their innovative “expanded sound” techniques create a stream of beautifully locked chords and a sonic richness that continues even through the consonants. Virtually all of today’s top barbershop quartets and choruses use some variation of the principles that were first brought to the art form by Dealer’s Choice. This article is an excerpt of a much larger work that Dealer’s Choice bass Gary Parker authored called “Basic Group Singing Technique.” The larger work is available for sale from the author.
This vowel matching program was originally developed by Mac Huff while serving on the music staff of the Barbershop Harmony Society many years ago. Its purpose was to enhance the blend and “expand” the unit sound of a vocal group by training the singers to produce matched vowel sounds. The time required to accomplish each step in the program will vary by the number of singers in the group, the number of voice parts, and the relative variety of natural qualities and dialects. It also requires a lot of feedback from outside ears. This program, if strictly followed, can have significant positive influence on quality and consistency of sound, projection and lyric understandability.
If a singing group spends twenty to forty minutes a rehearsal on this program until completed, the enhanced sound produced in the exercise will almost unconsciously improve the sound quality of the group’s entire repertoire. It will greatly reduce the need to correct individual sound problems. It transcends the tedious job of working on one phrase at a time. It is a much more efficient approach to improving the overall quality of the group’s sound.Introduction
The program utilizes a basic exercise involving 10 pure vowel sounds which, when sung alone or in certain combinations, can produce all the vowel and diphthong sounds in the English language. The 10 pure vowel sounds are listed in the table below, ranked generally in order of natural focus from forward to back:
Sound – “Example”:
- ee – “mean”
- ih – “bid”
- a – “them”
- ah – “rag”
- uh – “job”
- oo – “love”
- oo – “moon”
- oh – “good”
- oh – “more”
- aw – “dawn”
In the example words above, most words have singable consonants surrounding the pure vowel sounds. Energizing through these singable consonants and synchronizing the transitions from consonant to vowel and back to consonant are secondary missions of this program.Step 1: Stabilize the melody
It is the responsibility of the director, section leader or other members of the group to serve as coaches and provide input, counsel and assistance to the melody singers first. These singers must make adjustments necessary to produce the ideal, appropriate or acceptable pronunciation and quality for the various pure vowels that the rest of the parts will build upon. Group agreement on the appropriateness of the melody singers’ vowel sounds is important, because the harmony parts will need to match those sounds later in the program.
The word “stabilize” is used to describe this first step because the melody singers, once agreement is reached on a vowel sound, are expected to sing it the agreed way every time it occurs in the repertoire. The “ee” in mean must also be an “ee” in tea, clear, and each.
To begin the exercise, melody singers start at the top of the pure vowel sound list and sing the example word “mean” in the upper middle part of their range at a comfortable volume level, sustaining while the coaches listen. The coaches assess whether the vowel sound is pronounced correctly and the sound is appropriate for the group. The sound should be easy for the harmony singers to match.
If your coaches request an adjustment in pronunciation and/or quality of the vowel, the melody singers must then determine whether the change can be accomplished easily and naturally. If not, a compromise may be considered. It is important the melody singers feel comfortable with the suggested approach. If it is unnatural for them, it will be difficult to repeat consistently.
The first step is complete when agreement is reached on all 10 pure vowels. It should be completed at successive rehearsals to ensure the melody singers are stabilized and consistent.
The second step involves part duets, always with the melody singers. Melody singers initiate the exercise as in step one. The first harmony part listens to the sound produced by the melody singers for three or four seconds, then tries to match it as closely as possible in unison (octaves may be used in mixed voice groups). The coaches offer suggestions as to how the harmony part can improve the match. Several repetitions of each vowel in the table may be required to achieve a good match of both pronunciation and quality. Usually some vowels are matched more easily than others.
After an acceptable unison match is produced on a particular vowel, the duet sings the vowel again in unison. This time after a good match is achieved, the harmony part moves to an appropriate note for the voice part relative to the melody. I suggest:
- Lead singing “do”
- Bass should move from unison to “do” an octave below
- Baritone should move from unison down to “sol”
- Tenor should move from unison up to “mi”
When moving to the appropriate note, the harmony part should try to maintain the match achieved on the unison. Several more repetitions may be necessary to accomplish this task. Harmony parts must learn to maintain a consistent match from the unison to their harmony notes. Over time, the exercise will become easier and the match will ultimately come automatically.
This exercise should be completed for all 10 vowels, and then repeated with all possible duets that include the melody singers.Step 3: trios
The procedure in the third and final step is identical to that used in the second step. The melody singers sing the example word while two harmony parts listen. The harmony parts then join in unison (or octave) with the melody singers, trying to produce a perfect match. Coaches help the harmony parts adjust to the stabilized melody. After the unison match is achieved, the exercise is initiated again with the harmony parts moving to their appropriate notes working to maintain the match.
The exercise is completed for all 10 vowels, and then for every trio combination that includes the melody singers.
Note: A final step that many groups fine helpful is to sing this 5 note chord exercise and practice vowel consistency and tuning on different words with the same target vowel. Instead of singing the same word, use five different words that occur in a song you are learning. For example, if you struggle with ee as in mean, you can sing “He sees fleas each sneeze.” If you struggle with oh as in more, you can sing “Bo knows go for flow.”
- By Jim DeBusman, retired BHS music staff – email@example.com
Keeping yourself active through singing has the power to heal and stimulate your mind and body. There are so many of us out there today who have been helped with our bronchitis, asthma and other forms of breathing issues because we sing. Follow the below steps to maintain good vocal health throughout your life.
Sing a little every day. The muscle you sing with is one of the strongest in your body. However, like all the other muscles in your body, it too will begin to harden as you grow older. When you were younger, you could miss one or two days and it would not make a difference. As you get older, it does! Sing every day! Activate your mind and ears by singing some kind of harmony.
Warm up before your rehearsals. Do a little warm-up on your own, even before your own chorus warm-up. This is probably the most important vocalizing that you will do each week! This warm-up should include both vocal exercises and breathing exercises.
Use proper posture throughout each day. Breathing for everyday life and breathing for singing should be the same. Ensure that you do not stoop as you walk or sit, nor while working on your laptop or watching TV.
Sing with proper, relaxed posture. Your muscles are changing, and proper breathing will keep them fresh and alive. Stand tall with your feet parallel to your shoulders, your chest high, and your shoulders relaxed. Keep your mouth and throat open to the point that you hear no noise when you inhale and exhale.
Sing deeply with “warm” air. If you cannot feel humidity when you place your hand in front of your mouth, you are not breathing deeply enough. Breathe deeply without your upper chest moving; instead, your abdominal wall, sides and back should move outward when you inhale.
Speak the same way you sing. Use your head voice, with proper focus and relaxation throughout your range.
Always speak in your “mean” pitch. The older you get, the more easily you will lose clearness in your tone. Speaking at your mean will keep your vocal tone clearer and stronger. The “mean” pitch is a fifth higher (a bit less than a full octave) than the lowest quality pitch you can sing. People with low-pitched voices often complain of vocal fatigue (a worsening of the voice, soreness, hoarseness, or pain in the throat after prolonged vocal usage). This is often from speaking too low in their range.
Keep your body active. As you mature, you must keep physically active. Sitting in your easy chair to watch TV will not help you continue to sing your best. Just as singing can help you stay healthy, a healthy lifestyle helps you sing. Find an active hobby that helps your body combat age. The number one exercise is swimming, but walking, cycling, golf, a health club, or an aerobic program on the Wii are all great ways to stay active. Do anything your body will allow you to do to stay flexible.
With National Barbershop Quartet Day coinciding with the Passover observance, this story from the Times of Israel is timely. The author uses a barbershop quartet as a metaphor relating to the parental obligation to teach the younger generation about the Exodus:
A useful framework for considering the Four Sons — and particularly the plight of the misunderstood Rasha — is the music of the barbershop quartet.
In this a cappella (unaccompanied vocal) form of music, the lead sings the melody, while the tenor and bass harmonize from above and below, respectively. The baritone completes the chord. Not unlike the various hymns included in the Haggadah, barbershop music tends to emphasize songs and ballads with simple lyrics and accessible melodies. The most distinctive element of barbershop music — and in many ways its most alluring quality — is the “overtone.” Also known as “expanded sound” or the “ringing chord,” the overtone is a natural acoustic phenomenon in which sound waves interact and a fifth voice is produced over and above the four voices of the quartet as they combine to sing the chord.
The beauty of the overtone is achieved only in the context of four very different voices. The listener would be deprived of the experience, would be musically and aesthetically impoverished, if only a bass or only a tenor were singing the same piece, however gifted the singer and pleasing the rendition.
It is telling that barbershop musicians sometimes refer to the overtone effect as “the angel’s voice.” In the Haggadah, in our families and communities, as in barbershop music, it is in our integration of different voices and of people with varying strengths and perspectives that we become more than the sum of our individual constituent parts.
We recognize that this isn’t always an easy process, but we hope these guidelines can help provide some suggestions around the process of a search.
Important note: These guidelines are not intended to be a ‘checklist’ but simply suggestions and guidance in approaching the process. Every chapter of the organization and its needs are different! You may use a piece of this resource or all of it.Access to the Guidelines
To access the suggested guidelines, please visit our online Document Center: CLICK HEREAdditional Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to deal with a current music leader (such as an associate or assistant director) if they may not be the new music director?
Be sure that your chapter is clear about what you are looking for in a music director and offer for the individual to apply for the position along with the other applicants! They may end up being the best fit for the role you’re looking for, so don’t burn that bridge!
How should the music director and the chapter board work together?
Like a producer (the chapter board) and director (the music director) of a film or play, these two roles must play hand-in-hand yet with well-defined roles and scope of creativity, expression, and oversight intact. Each should definitely be well-informed of the dynamics of the chapter. The music director should contribute and be aware of the identity that the chapter board has created and adopted. Similarly, the chapter board should foster contribution and buy-in from the music director in where the chapter (and its musical arm, the chorus) would like to go.
Of course, since most of the time a music director is considered an ‘employee’ of the Chapter Board, there should be an understanding that the Chapter Board (the producer) is responsible for general oversight of the chapter and its experience.
How do we know what kind of music that the director proposes will work for us?
A visioning of what you want your chapter to look like will give you a pretty good idea of what kind of music you should focus on. Obviously, you want to give ownership of those types of decisions to your music director, but they also can be surrounded by a great music team who can affirm and provide support to his or her decisions.
Remember, try not to get stuck in looking at the chapter now, but at the chapter, you want to see. If you desire a chapter diverse in age, ethnicity, etc… you’ll need to have a variety of music which includes various approaches to our artform.
If you want to keep your demographics exactly the way they are now, have you considered polling the chapter for the kind of music they would like?We know there are plenty of other frequently asked questions about conducting a Music Director Search. As always, please feel free to reach out to your District Leadership or the BHS Chapter Leadership & Education Team who has resources and experience working with chapters through this transition (firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.876.SING)
No Strings Attached. Do what’s needed. Start by listening.
The Medford, Oregon, Rogue Valley Harmonizers have mastered key principles of outreach efforts over the past decade, and are making a lasting impact on students throughout their community, funded in part by grants from the Barbershop Harmony Society. This recent story in the Mail Tribune paints a beautiful picture of a committed group of Barbershoppers doing whatever it takes to keep music alive:
“Starting in 2006, we began to help local schools,” said Harmonizers marketing vice president Bob Hall. “At first it was in the elementary schools. We distributed 1,500 songbooks to classrooms around the Rogue Valley. Then we had our guys go out and teach those songs to fourth-graders for the next several years.
“Five-thousand fourth-graders later, and those songbooks are still out there.”
While the group’s budget is meager — about $30,000 to $40,000 from membership dues and performance sales are spent each year on outreach programs — they’re inspired by the response the fun-loving group gets from community members and would love to do more, Hall said.
Our Society’s April 11 birthday can be the occasion for nice bread-and-butter press coverage, like this article featuring the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Clipper City Chordsmen. The reporter nicely covers not only the history of the style and Society, but more importantly, the key emotional rewards of singing together:
Bruce Beyer points out that “For me, the camaraderie and friendship are the biggest parts of belonging to this group.” Tim Steffen adds that “Being a part of this chorus is like being a part of a big family. Everybody works together for a common goal.”
At age 93, Marv Lishka has been a member of the chorus for 43 years. He says, “I wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for these guys.”
Roger Gottschalk has been a barbershopper for 64 years; 55 of those years singing with the Clipper City Chordsmen in Manitowoc. He says: “I was an only child, but I now have family all over the world. These are all my brothers!”
Read more: Chordsmen celebrate Barbershop Quartet Day.
We seldom see “embedded reporting” about barbershop, so we really love this writer’s immersion into the barbershop experience with the Charleston, West Virginia, Chapter:
More than a year ago, I stumbled into the idea of taking a month to explore a topic I didn’t know much about. One topic led to another and then another and so on.
This series has taken me some interesting places. I’ve learned what it’s like to give up meat. I’ve studied yoga. I’ve fired handguns, danced with the ballet and zip-lined off the New River Gorge Bridge.
Each month, I’m just trying to broaden my perspective a little, discover things about myself and the world around me.
A few months ago, Steve Waggoner and Ted Rose with the Kanawha Kordsmen contacted me to see if I’d be interested in learning to sing with them and take part in a competition in Ohio with the group.
It all sounded pretty weird to me, but absolutely irresistible.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to sing. But I’ve never been especially good at it.
Late night TV loves two things: rap and barbershop. While the first probably gets more total airtime, the latter has a powerful advocate in Jimmy Fallon, whose Ragtime Gals quartet has made numerous appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The boys are at it one more time with a song that won Sir Mix-A-Lot the 1993 Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. (As is often the case with this genre, the material is outside the usual barbershop repertoire, and not suited to all audiences.)
A second troupe of Ragtime Gals is also a preshow feature of the new Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Most men join the Barbershop Harmony Society as chapter chorus singers. Right away, then, the answer is “More than four.” Many singers will remain primarily chorus singers their entire barbershop lives. But chorus singing is only a slice of the full spectrum of barbershop ensembles available to you, and your mix of activities may blend and change through the years.
- You might find yourself called out into a VLQ (Very Large Quartet, often an octet) for a special performance.
- Many chapters offer Singing Valentines services, and put together new foursomes just for the day.
- You might form your own quartet, taking gigs and performing as an independant ensemble.
- Some chapters have sub-groups that perform as church singers or holiday groups.
- Mixed-voice (men + women) harmony groups, mainly quartets, are growing in popularity
Explore them all. TRY EVERYTHING!Step one: Be a great chorus singer
The security of having others on your voice part, the range of effects possible with a chorus, the larger community of brothers in song, all make chorus singing the great entry point for many barbershop singers. Choruses range in a size from a dozen to 150 men, and in ambition from casual to world famous. Regardless, being part of a chorus will always be more fulfilling if you practice a few basics.
- Learn the notes and words. There’s a place for woodshedding, and in rehearsal ain’t it. A few minutes of study daily, especially using learning tracks or recorded rehearsal notes, means you’ll be ready to step up to the next level with each rehearsal.
- Learn to love your voice. Good music programs include thoughtful vocal warm-up each week. Apply those same exercises to daily vocalizing, to develop range and ease in singing. (Hydrate daily, too!)
- Learn to learn. Ears open, mind focused, heart willing — make the most of chorus rehearsal time by reminding yourself that’s why you came — to enjoy singing. Less riser chatter means more singing and ringing.
- Expand your own knowledge. Learn to sight sing, arrange, or understand music theory in Harmony University online. Attend the weeklong Harmony University at Belmont University. A better singer is a better chorus singer!
Expand your Horizons! Sing in a VLQ (Very Large Quartet)
Bigger than a quartet, smaller than a chorus, VLQs are great for veterans and novices alike, helping singers across the skill range assert themselves vocally while having the support of another singer for guidance. VLQs can add variety to chorus performance packages, either in standalone songs or interludes in longer pieces. Some districts and chapters event host special VLQ events to enjoy the stage time and competitive fun.Deliver Singing Valentines
Four men and a song can leave sweethearts speechless. The surprise factor and up-close performance of a Singing Valentine make it a particularly rewarding singing experience. Many chapters that offer Singing Valentines form quartets specifically for that purpose. Ask early, ask often to get into a quartet. Consider singing a different voice part to expand possible combinations.
- As always, when singing in public, sing well. Know the music, rehearse it well, and perform it with consideration.
- Sing one song, then get out while the emotions are strong and memories bright. Leave them wanting more!
Many congregation choirs take the summer off. Barbershoppers with a taste for gospel and religious music can fill a busy schedule by volunteering to perform at worship services, sometimes visiting three or four churches in the same morning. Other choruses take a break in December and invite all interested singers to participate in a seasonal ensemble.Form a Quartet
- Personally compatible. Do you like these guys? You may be spending a substantial amount of time together. Be happy.
- Vocally compatible. Do your voices blend in a pleasing way? (Ask an additional set of ears to evaluate.)
- Are your goals compatible? A casual quartet and district champion quartet are vastly different in goals, time available, investments of time and money desired. Talk it out.
For a fuller discussion, see the quartets resource center at www.barbershop.org/quartets/Sing in Mixed Harmony
Mixed voice harmony is a rapidly growing segment of the barbershop art form. The same joys — joint creativity, immersion in shared harmony, teamwork and trust — are bringing more singers to try it out each year.
The Barbershop Harmony Society publishes a growing collection of music arranged for mixed voices — see the catalog at shop.barbershop.org
Starting in April, the beloved Dapper Dans of Walt Disney World won’t be the only barbershop quartet appearing regularly in an Orlando theme park.
Universal Studios is currently previewing a new attraction, Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon. The pre-show entertainment includes live performances by a quartet inspired The Ragtime Gals on NBC’s Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. As on TV, the material is outside barbershop norms for content, and the “quartet” has five members. No word yet on whether the quartet will sing tags with you after their set.
Here they are performing a “History of Rap” routine
And a medley of pop hits.
Time.com’s IDEAS section highlights a truth that will bring a sad nod of recognition to most Barbershoppers:
Research shows that many adults who think of themselves as “unmusical” were told as children that they couldn’t or shouldn’t sing by teachers and family members….
Children are natural musicians, as they readily sing, dance and play music from the time they are infants. People ask me all the time how they can tell if their child has musical talent. I assure them that their child – indeed every child – has musical ability that can be developed into a satisfying and lifelong relationship with music.
However, as they get older, some children begin to get messages from peers, family members, the media and (unfortunately) music teachers that they may not be very musical – that they don’t have “talent.”
Author Steven M. Demorest, Professor of Music Education at Northwestern University, discusses the Oscar award-winning short film “Sing” which traces a story just like this for a young child told to simply mouth the words.
Shows like “American Idol” have promoted the notion that singing is a rare ability reserved for the talented few, and that those without such talent entertain us only by being ridiculed and weeded out.
This “talent mindset” of music runs counter to what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset” that is considered critical for learning: Students who view their success as a result of hard work will persevere through challenges, while students who believe their success lies with some innate ability – like “talent” – are more likely to give up.
Read the full story The Idea of “Talent” Is Toxic to Childhood Development | Time.com.
Ringmasters, the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 2012 International Quartet Champion, headlines a wide-ranging cast of barbershop performers on WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Show, premiering in April on dozens of public television stations.
Recorded live last July at the historic Lyric Theater in Lexington, Kentucky, WoodSongs is a weekly celebration of Americana and roots music, and they were delighted to devote a full hour-long show to barbershop. You’ll find it in TV listings as WoodSongs season 19, episode 4, “Celebration of Barbershop Harmony With the Ringmasters, Vintage Mix, the Wildcat Harmonizers & The Time Bandits.”
This is a great way to share top-quality barbershop of all generations with your family, friends, and network of patrons, show audiences, etc.
- See listings in TVGuide, TimeWarner/Spectrum or your local cable provider
- Preview and share show highlights from the WoodSongs YouTube Channel.
- Tell them to tune or set their DVRs!
Sneak preview: Time Bandits
Sneak preview: Vintage Mix
Sneak preview: Wildcat Harmonizers
It is tragic to lose a friend or loved one. Many of us are left wondering how to pay tribute to those who have meant so much.
For fellow Barbershoppers who dedicated a significant portion of their lives to singing, Harmony Foundation offers the Keep a Melody Ringing program. When one of our cherished friends passes, memorial gifts not only recognize a life enriched by singing, but they create a lasting impact by supporting the programs of the Barbershop Harmony Society. Once memorial gifts for an individual total $1,000, the individual earns a place in Harmony Hall among the honored.
One spouse noted the profound impact of the program on the family after having her husband memorialized in this way. He was a Barbershopper for almost 60 years, and they volunteered and attended many conventions together where they formed lifelong memories and lifetime friendships. The gifts from their friends showed their acknowledgement of all his accomplishments.
Make a gift in someone’s memory online at harmonyfoundation.org, by calling us at (866) 706-8021, or mailing your gift to HFI at 110 Seventh Ave. N., Suite 200; Nashville, TN 37203. Be sure to let us know it is a memorial gift and the name of the beloved.
If you would like your friends and relatives to pay tribute to you in this way, leave instructions for your family to include the following wording in your memorial announcement:
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to Harmony Foundation International | 110 Seventh Ave. N., Suite 200 | Nashville, TN 37203 | (866) 706-8021