Every year on 13 July, singers in Sweet Adelines International (SAI) and fans of a cappella music sung in the barbershop style celebrate Barbershop Music Appreciation Day with community performances and other activities designed to share this unique singing style.
Barbershop singing is an a cappella (voices only, no instruments) singing style with roots in African-American improvisational singing of the 1800s. Barbershop Music Appreciation Day commemorates the founding of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide women’s singing organisation committed to advancing a cappella singing in the barbershop style through opportunities in education, performance and competition.
Sweet Adelines is one of the world’s largest singing organizations for women, with a membership of nearly 21,000 in 525 choruses and over 900 quartets across the globe. There is a similar men’s organisation in Australia called Barbershop Harmony Australia, which is affiliate to a larger, mixed gender organisation called Barbershop Harmony Society.
The Gold Coast has several male and female barbershop choruses and quartets belonging to the respective international organisations. Vocalescence, an award-winning women’s chorus which rehearses weekly out of the Helensvale Cultural Centre, has recently taken its magical ‘Oz’ themed package (pictured) to the national convention in Hobart, winning much acclaim. Vocalescence co-founder Jenifer Howson muses on the special nature of the group and organisation.
“We fill up our lives working, going to school, going to church, being mum, dad, wife, husband, partner, boss. All very important things that are a part of who we are or who we become,” she says. “Being a part of an organisation where music is your passion and the people who come along with it become your lifelong friends because, we get that life happens and that’s okay, well that’s a special gift.”
“The business of singing can be a serious one but barbershop is where family and business meet”, she continues. “Yes, we want to work hard to sing well because we think that is fun and we like the way it makes us feel. Yes, we like to compete. It’s edgy and unknown and a thrill, not to mention a measure of learning just how much we can accomplish as individuals and together and we like the way it makes us feel. Yes, we like to dress up and put on shows, giving back to our community and families by sharing something that means the world to us because we like the way it makes us feel.”
For those who don’t understand what barbershop music actually means (or who immediately gets the strains of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ in their head), it’s actually quite a complex craft, Jen explains.
“The cleverness that is Barbershop music is what attracts a lot of us to the craft. It’s where science, math and music meet. It’s an ever growing opportunity for anyone who loves to sing and perform to become a better singer and performer. And the best bit is it’s with a bunch of other people who want the same thing.”
Keen? Fabulous. However be warned, barbershop may not be for everyone.
“It’s a team sport where the individual needs to play their best game whilst giving over to a bigger picture for the best interest of the team,” says Jen. “The challenge is real but so rewarding. I think as humans it captivates us. Barbershop is musical therapy.”
To learn about local Barbershop Music Appreciation Day performances and maybe get some musical therapy of your own, find your local Sweet Adelines chorus by visiting sweetadelines.com.
Disclaimer: The author is an ex-member of Vocalescence Chorus