Next Step of the Journey with Welwyn Harmony

Same warm-up location, now with more peopleSame warm-up location, now with more people

There are many nice things about repeat visits to a group over a relatively short time frame. You get to build relationships, developing trust and mutual understanding, both of which facilitate productive work together. And you also get to see progress.

Three months on from my last visit,Welwyn Harmony feels perceptibly stronger. They’ve not had an entirely easy ride of things in the interim – the back end of the Omicron wave was quite disruptive for them – but there were noticeably more people in the room than earlier in the year. Some are returning members, some are new, and both bring a sense of energy to the whole chorus that is audible in the voices.

Helping People Back to Choir

VFPlogoI don’t know if there has been any attempt to gather data about the overall state of choral singing since covid, but all the anecdotal information I’m coming across suggests that choirs are mostly back up and going, but depleted. A few groups didn’t make it through and disbanded – not necessarily directly because of the pandemic, but the stresses of the situation brought underlying problems to breaking point. A few groups, meanwhile, have come back with increased numbers and are facing the enviable challenge of integrating a high proportion of new singers all at once.

Most, however, seem to be reporting a drop in numbers of about 30% from pre-covid levels. The first ones lost were those who opted out during the zoom era, either finding the whole online rehearsing thing presented too many obstacles for them, or dropping out after a while because they found the experience unsatisfactory. Some of these singers have come back on return to live singing, but not all.

BABS & EBC Conventions – Reflections on New Music

It is time to start marshalling some of the thoughts I’ve been having about the music I’ve heard at my first two in-person barbershop conventions since 2019. One of the interesting bits of context for this is of course that at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Category School in 2019, the Music Category came away with a slightly less ‘anything goes’ approach to style, but then coronavirus came in before that decision could be enacted in live contests.

So we were coming into these conventions with an extra 2-3 years' arranging time, but no real case law to see how that policy tweak would play out. As it happens, I heard tell of only one case of an explicit score reduction for style in the contests in Sweden, but it did not discernibly disrupt the overall scoring profile – you wouldn’t have guessed it from just looking at the numbers. So for the various other charts that I thought might have been on the windy side of the style, there may also have been some score reductions, but likewise of a magnitude that inflects rather than devastates the Music score, and thus not immediately sending out a ‘don’t go there’ message to other competitors.

European Barbershop Convention 2021+1

From which we learn that, as a continent, Europe has a good pyramid balanceFrom which we learn that, as a continent, Europe has a good pyramid balanceBarbershop conventions are like buses: none for ages and then three come along at once. After the BABS Convention at the end of April, I had one full day at home before setting off to Helsingborg to attend the European Barbershop Convention, postponed from last year.* It was run in conjunction with the Sweet Adelines Northern Lights regional convention and the Society for Nordic Barbershop Singers annual convention, making a complex matrix of rules, judging criteria and rankings for the organisers to manage. Everyone else could just follow David Wright’s advice when MC-ing on the first evening: ‘Just turn up and sing when we tell you to, and we’ll let you know when you win anything.’ Simples.

After my stamina difficulties the previous weekend, I was pleased to discover I’d found my second wind. I still had to pace myself a bit, but no more than I would have back before the pandemic. I heard all the visiting competitors in the European contests, and a sizeable majority of the Scandinavian groups, so am feeling properly updated about the state of the art across the continent. My brain also seems to have clicked back into gear and I’ve come home with a notebook full of things observed and learned, which will take some untangling over the coming weeks.

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