My Barbershopper's Wish List for the New Millennium
By Todd Wilson
I grew up admiring the remarkable abilities of the 1961 Quartet Champs, the SUNTONES. As my dad, Harlan Wilson, was their baritone, they rehearsed in my living room every other Wednesday. What a thrill! Many people assume that my dad was responsible for my getting hooked on barbershop, but the real hero in that task was my mom. While I was still in my crib, she would walk around the house doing chores and singing the baritone part to all kinds of songs. Through repetition, I eventually began to mimic what she was doing and sing the notes and words back to her, still unaware of what harmony was all about. Eventually, when she was sure I knew a song from start to finish, she would begin sneaking in the melodies of these songs while I was doing my thing and WHAMMO, I was harmonizing!! And I was hooked!!
My mom tells me I was singing all four parts to a dozen songs by the time I was six years old. She eventually used the same technique on my sister a few years later, and by the time I was six years old, our "Wilson Family Quartet" was off and running, and usually the hit at parties at our house. Of course Wendy and I had to stand up on a chair between mom and dad as we were a bit "vertically challenged" in those days. I started singing in my dad's SPEBSQSA chorus, The Palm Beach County "Coastmen" chorus late in 1971, but didn't join the Society until 1972, because of an age restriction. He was their director for many years and led them to a 4th place International Chorus medal the very first time he took them to contest. My first International contest was in 1973. I was destroyed that we didn't win!!
Over a 21-year period, I have had the honor and privilege to compete at the International level in choruses and quartets 13 times, I have been fortunate to win one International Quartet gold medal and six International Chorus Championships along the way. A tremendous amount of hard work went into each and every win. In my travels as a member of two SPEBSQSA International Championship groups, ACOUSTIX and the Vocal Majority, and as a coach at various mini-HEP schools around the country, I am often asked what we do to perform at such high levels of proficiency.
From a chorus-member-point-of-view, I can tell you the Vocal Majority's work ethic is admirable. Between a busy schedule of appearances, the three hours
the chorus spends "on the risers" every Thursday night and the many all day Saturday workshops and recording sessions, the members of the Vocal Majority make tremendous sacrifices to maintain their individual "commitment to excellence". The VM is blessed to have a superb director in Jim Clancy. Aside from being a master motivator and gifted vocal arranger, Jim's competitive drive to set and attain new levels has helped the VM win an unprecedented nine International Chorus Championships. Jim does not stand in front of the chorus and waste his time beating the guys into learning their words and music. The members for the most part, do their homework between rehearsals and the music staff (in sectionals) polishes the songs to a level where Jim can perform his magic. Jim's son Greg Clancy is following in his father's footsteps in his important position as a section leader and Associate Director of the chorus.
As a member of ACOUSTIX, with the exception of a few weekends of outside coaching prior to our win in 1990 through the end of 1996, we were blessed to have within our group one of the most talented and gifted vocal performers I know, Jeff Oxley. Jeff acted as our internal coach for seven years and expected nothing but the very best each and every time we uttered a sound in rehearsal or on stage. And if the best we had to offer wasn't good enough, he'd definitely show us how to make it better. His discipline and talent made us all better performers. Since Jeff's departure in early 1997 and the addition of Joel T. Rutherford to the group, ACOUSTIX had the honor and privilege to work with one of our good friends, Larry Ajer. Larry will surely be remembered as one of the most popular coaches and mentors to many barbershoppers around the world. I miss him greatly, for aside from being a good friend, it was Larry that convinced me to become involved in the COTS program and devote more time to coaching other quartets and choruses. Larry, Steve Plumb, Darryl Flinn and Don Clause were the coaches ACOUSTIX worked with prior to our win in San Francisco.
ACOUSTIX celebrates our 10th Anniversary this year. My how time flies when you're having fun! I firmly believe that one of the best ways to increase our enjoyment of this hobby is through improved and higher performance standards. Being a part of a great chorus or quartet without an audience to perform to is not an attractive proposition, so I also feel establishing effective marketing strategies for the Society's choruses and quartets is of paramount importance. Producing quality shows provides us with many opportunities:
1) An opportunity to polish and prepare our presentation, both musically and visually
2) An opportunity to showcase other local talent and perhaps some interesting guest performers from other areas of the country
3) An opportunity to establish and maintain a quality image within the community.
4) And last but not least, an opportunity to raise some funds to cover some of your chapter's annual expenses
In my experience on some 1000+ shows as a chorus and quartet performer, I have been involved in some incredible productions and some I'd rather forget. Hopefully some of the what is discussed here will help many of you to avoid the pitfalls of poor planning and increase the benefits realized from one of the more important weekends you will have each year. As we enter a new Millennium, it seems appropriate to look back on where we've been and what we've accomplished, but it is just as important to look ahead to the many challenges of the future.
MY ASPIRATIONS FOR BARBERSHOP AT THE TURN OF THE NEW CENTURY
AKA"My Barbershopper's Wish List for the New Millennium"
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PERFORMANCE ISSUES:
1. I see a time when more barbershoppers discover the importance of singing from the heart and not being satisfied with the bare bones of just knowing your notes and lyrics. An accomplished performer singing from the heart, can stir all kinds of emotions within the audience while they clearly express the mood and message of the song.
2. I see a time when more barbershoppers discover the importance of singing every song as if it's the last time you will ever have the pleasure of performing it. If you are not going to try to do a better job each and every time you perform a song, WHY DO IT AT ALL?
3. I see a time when more barbershoppers understand that how you end a phrase is just as important as how you start it.
4. I see a time when more barbershoppers take the time to learn the role their part plays in every chord to achieve the perfect balance and blend between and with the other voice parts, and how doing so will generate more overtones than we've ever heard before.
5. I see a time when more and more lead singers discover that it is their responsibility to know all aspects of the performance of any song better than anyone else and execute the interpretation (once it's established) with consistency so that the harmony voices know what to expect. There is a reason we call them "LEADS" and not 2nd tenors.
6. I see a time where more barbershop quartets and choruses discover the incredible value of rehearsing just one or two parts at a time, using this kind of technique to improve the foundation of every group, the match between the lead and the bass part.
7. I see a time when more barbershoppers will discover that executing EVERYword sound within a song and using precise diction is just as important as every other aspect of your musical, mental and visual performance.
8. I see a time when more tenor singers learn NOT to over-sing the other parts and not to flat the high third on a tag.
9. I see a time when barbershoppers around the world can maintain the integrity of the vowel shapes and sing from their lowest to highest notes without all kinds of facial contortions and neck movements.
10. I see a time when more barbershop groups take the time to create and follow a dynamic plan for every song they sing, which in turn will help make each musical presentation more interesting to the singers as well as your audience.
11. When it come to vowel shapes, I see a time when an "A" is always and "A", and an "O" is always and "O" and so on.
12. Don't we all hope for a time when talking on the risers is ELIMINATED while the director or some other chapter leader is sharing important
information with the folks in the chorus?
13. I see a time when more barbershoppers understand the "ins and outs" of VOWEL MODIFICATION and how practicing this technique will help us to ring more chords and bring excitement to every performance.
14. I see a time when more barbershoppers realize targeting EVERY vowel sound produces a much more favorable result than scooping into them.
15. I see a time when more barbershoppers than ever before understand the incredible benefits of IMAGINEERING, when it comes to preparing for a
potentially "nerve rattling" contest performance.
16. I can see a time when more barbershoppers understand that your level of proficiency "on the stage" will be directly linked to the attitude you have in a rehearsal environment. If you just go through the motions at rehearsal, you are wasting the most valuable asset we all have...TIME!
17. I see a day when more barbershoppers have a chance to practice the two important tips recommended by my baritone singer, Jason January. "When the curtain opens, "look good and breathe". In barbershop singing, our type of phrasing and musicality isquite difficult to execute without proper breath support. However, do not allow your breathing to disrupt the mood of the song. Do not take a quick gasping breath before a tender and soft phrase in a ballad. Make your approach to breathing appropriate to the type of mood you want to maintain.
18. I see a time when chorus and quartet members REALLY spend more time working on their music between rehearsals and showing up each week more prepared that the previous rehearsal. Learn your notes and words at home on your own or with a learning tape and allow the limited time at rehearsal for polishing your presentation.
19. I envision a day when more of your fellow riser mates can actually perform a new song without the sheet music within a few weeks of its introduction, so the director can begin to work his/her magic and have every singer's undivided attention.
20. Don't we all hope for a time when the "penny pinching" committee in charge of selecting chorus costumes will realize the ramifications of this important duty? How you look on stage will probably impact your performance and how your group will be perceived by the audience? IMAGE IS EVERYTHING - When in doubt, budget and spend more to acquire quality attire. Cheap costuming looks cheap and will not survive the rigors of a busy show schedule. Also what have you accomplished if you buy a cheap outfit that looks good from stage, but embarrassingly bad up close when you are greeting your friends and fans after the show? Don't forget comfortable shoes.
21. I can see a time when more and more chorus and quartet performers enter and take command of the stage like they own it!
22. I can see a time when more chorus and quartet performers establish the mood of each song visually before they sing a note, and that their facial expressions throughout the performance are in harmony with the message and mood of the song.
23. I hope for a time when barbershoppers spend much more time in the process of selecting the right songs and arrangements to perform. As a performer, in my opinion, the choices you make with regard to the music you perform are THE MOST IMPORTANT decisions you will ever make.
MARKETING AND MANAGEMENT:
24. I see a time when every chapter and quartet has an email address, web site, fax number and dedicated phone number with voice mail.
25. I envision a day when attempts to run our barbershop quartetes and choruses
"like a business" are not looked down upon by others.
26. I envision a day when more barbershop chapters discover one of the most important aspects of their success, besides their membership, their MAILING LIST?
27. I envision a time when more Society chapters realize that producing a top notch annual show can become the single best marketing tool to attract new members and other outside bookings throughout the year?
28. I envision a day when more barbershop choruses understand that you really can charge more than $8 for a ticket to their show and still fill seats. In my travels as a member of a show quartet (Class of the 80s & ACOUSTIX) I have sung on all kinds of shows in all kinds of venues. The ticket prices have ranged anywhere from $5 to $50 for special patron seating. I have seen shows where at $5 a ticket, the chapter sold half the house and the chapters with a $20 ticket price (with usually a better production) sold every seat in the house.
29. I see a time hen more barbershop choruses actually advertise their shows to the general public instead of relying on friends and family members to fill the seats.
30. I envision a day when more chapters discover the potential "goldmine" that comes with selling ad space in their show program. Case in point: Several years ago (the first time we did their show) the Wooster Ohio Chapter hired two International Champ quartets, ACOUSTIX and the BLUEGRASS STUDENT UNION on the same show at $5 per ticket. They packed the house and covered all the expenses with program ad revenues. The ticket sales were all profit. This proved to be so successful that they hired ACOUSTIX again, this time with MARQUIS sharing the stage. It can be done.
31. Don't we all hope for a day when more than 80% of our ticket sales come from more than 20% of the members?
32. I envision a day when more barbershop chapters join forces with other non-barbershop musical organizations in the community to produce a concert that exposes barbershop to other segments of the population that would otherwise have never heard our music?
33. I envision a day when more choruses put greater emphasis on having a quality sound system and professional sound engineer at all public performances instead of relying on the system that installed in the days of O.C. Cash and run by a kid from the local high school.
34. I envision a time when more Society chapters consider inviting hiring a top notch Sweet Adelines International or Harmony, Inc. quartets or choruses to participate in their annual show or better yet assist each other in the production of the event.
35. I envision a time when more Society chapters seek out a profession MC to acts as "the glue" that holds the production together.
36. I envision a time when more Society choruses realize that from a PR point of view, more is not always better. If learning a bunch of songs and getting them to an acceptable level is beyond the capabilities of your chorus, you are better off be preparing a strong opening and polished closing number and share the performance duties with to other more proficient groups and your headliner act. There is no law that says the host chorus is required to sing 30 minutes to an hour on the show! 10 minutes of quality is better than 30 minutes of mediocrity.
37. I envision a time when more Society choruses ask themselves the following question: If your annual overhead to run the chapter operation without any "out of pocket" expense by the members is (for example) $25,000 a year, and you only average ten paid bookings a year, how much would you have to charge the client, just to break even? On the other hand, enjoying success in competition doesn't mean you no longer accept freebie or "expenses only" gigs. Actually, your invitations to participate in these gratis events will probably increase as you climb the competition ladder. There are situations where these are a good idea. My present quartet has done over 250 gratis gigs in the last 10 years, representing about 30% of our total appearances. Because after all, we are barbershoppers, and this is just a hobby : )
TOOLS OF THE TRADE:
38. I see a time when more barbershop singers show up at rehearsal with more than just their music, but also include audio or video recorders and a pencil to capture comments or suggestions made at rehearsal and to allow the time they spend between rehearsal to be more productive.
39. I see a time when more singers realize the importance of hydration (drinking lots of water). Joe Connelly is one of barbershop's most gifted vocalists and coaches in barbershop and there's a good reason why you rarely see him without a gallon of water in one hand.
OTHER MEMBERS OF THE TEAM:
40. I see a time when more and more quartets and choruses are blessed to spend time with an experienced coach. It is a very difficult job to critique your performance from within.
41. I hope for a day when more of us REALLY appreciate the work of some of our Society's most gifted vocal arrangers and express our thanks at every opportunity. The same could be said for the work of our chorus directors, section leaders, administrators and coaches.
42. I hope for a day that barbershop choruses no longer concern themselves with the gender of a prospective director and choose the most talented and available candidate for the job, without gender bias clouding their judgement.
DEEP THOUGHTS :)
43. I think it would be fun for many of us, at some point in the future to be able to sit in the audience and rate the performances of a group of quartets comprised solely of Society judges.
44. Don't we all hope for a time at some point in the future where we can all meet for the annual ceremonial burning of our $7 patent leather chorus shoes, perhaps on the Sunday morning of each International convention?
45. I see a time when the quartets on the annual AIC show actually sing more barbershop and are allocated more than 10 minutes of time on stage.
46. One day I envision a "kinder, gentler" Harmonet with thousands more barbershop enthusiasts contributing to the discussions.
47. I envision a day when having one of our quartets or choruses on national television is really no big deal.
In closing, I realize that some of you may interpret certain aspects of my "wish list" to be very "business oriented" and somewhat "serious" for involvement in this "hobby" we call barbershop. However, like me, many of you devote countless hours of your time and energy to your barbershop activities. If you're going to make that kind of investment, why not take every opportunity to help the Society to become a better and more popular place, where men of all ages can come together and enjoy the thrill of singing four-part harmony to an even larger and more appreciative audience. I know THAT is what I intend to continue doing. I hope that many of you share my sentiments and will join me for a thrilling musical journey into the next century.
Todd can be reached at email@example.com
ACOUSTIX - International Quartet Champions
10455 North Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75231-2211
WEB SITE: www.acoustix.com
BOOKINGS: 888/449-STIX (7849) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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