Add a comment

LABBS Convention 2023

‹-- PreviousNext --›

Chorus champions Cheshire Chord Company: with thanks to LABBS social media for the picChorus champions Cheshire Chord Company: with thanks to LABBS social media for the pic

Last weekend took me to Harrogate to spend the weekend with my friends from the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. Apart from a short stint of contest MCing on the Saturday I was free of duties, so could focus on collecting hugs and listening to people sing, and the quality of both types of experience was of notably high quality.

You’re going to have to take my word for the quality of the hugs, but the scoresheets from the contests will confirm my impression of the quality of the singing. With scores of 70 and above for the top 12 quartets, and top 17 choruses, it is a safe generalisation to say the organisation is in as good vocal and musical health as it has ever been.*

Having recently been reflecting on some of the changes in culture and practices since I finished my book on British barbershop 20 years ago, I’d say the quartet contest certainly bears out my impression that the erstwhile mistrust of quartetting within LABBS has largely gone. Social singing in afterglows may still be largely chorus-based, but the appetite for and commitment to quartet singing on display in the contests shows that the activity is these days both embraced and encouraged. That two choruses chose to feature quartets from within their ranks as part of their contest performance also suggests a much greater integration of the two forms than in yesteryear.

Indeed, I couldn’t help but notice a strong correlation between quartet activity within a club and success in the chorus contest. It makes sense of course: quartet singing, as I have discussed in detail before raises your game as an ensemble singer, so the more active quartetters you have in your chorus, the greater overall skill level you have within the group.

This goes for both the membership as a whole and for the leadership. The top six choruses this year (and also, I note, the top two from last year who weren’t competing this time) all have directors who hold gold medals as quartet singers. It looks like there may have been something to my Becoming a Director, Part 2: Before You Start that singing in quartet is a good way to develop the skills you’ll need as a conductor.

One thing that doesn’t seem to have quite recovered yet since the hiatus of the covid era is commissioning new music for contest. We did hear a few new charts, but not in the number we were hearing four or five years ago. I had noticed that I’d had fewer requests but didn’t know whether that was because people were commissioning less in general or that they just didn’t love me any more! (It still might be that they don’t love me of course, but the evidence from commissioning patterns leaves the question open.)

We did still hear a good variety of music, though, especially in the chorus contest, and as an audience member I am very grateful for this. When you hear the same song several times over the course of a weekend, the shine does wear off it. Even when it is sung beautifully, it’s hard to stay as engaged as you would be with something that felt fresher. I feel bad when I catch myself starting to mentally check out during a repeated song, because of course the group singing it weren’t to know that we’d have heard it a bunch of times already by the time they got to the stage.

Though it is perhaps something one can take steps to avoid. My suggestion is this: if a song is performed twice at one year’s convention, wait a year or two before bringing it yourself; if it’s performed three times or more, don’t put it in your five-year plan for contest. (Obviously you can still use it for your regular local audiences - unless perhaps there is another local choir who also sings it all the time!)

If everyone did this, we’d break the pattern of a song being introduced to the contest stage by one group, picked up by a couple more the next year, then completely oversung for the following two or three. We’d replace the ‘oh not again’ response with ‘oh I remember this one it’s lovely’ if we heard these great songs repeated just every so often, rather than as a deluge. Everyone puts so much care and attention into preparing their contest sets, I’d love for the audience to be able to greet every performance with equally eager ears.

*For those not familiar with the scale for scoring barbershop contests, 70+ betokens secure skills and a degree of fluency and panache that would make people familiar with amateur choirs nod their heads approvingly and pay sincere compliments. Comfortably exceeding expectations for amateur groups, and, by the upper 70s, doing so markedly.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Syndicate content