Musical Identity

On Tag-singing and Gender

bshop book coverThe end of September marked the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my first book. It was another 18 months in production, so we’re a way off the two-decade milestone for publication, but in terms of the shape of my life, the submission of the manuscript is the more vivid memory.

When it came out, the two chapters that got the biggest response from within the barbershop community were those dealing with, respectively, gender and tag-singing. And there are ways in which both of those dimensions of barbershop culture have changed in the interim, and also ways in which they haven’t.

On the face of it, gender would appear to have seen the biggest changes, with the embracing of both mixed barbershop ensembles, and the increasing presence of men’s and women’s ensembles at the same events – whether competing against each other (as in the Barbershop Harmony Society, BinG!, and IABS), or in parallel contests with separate rankings (as in the European championships and SNOBS/Northern Lights joint conventions). My chapter title of ‘Separate but Equal?’ would be less of an immediately obvious choice today.

On Recordings, Post-COVID Vulnerability, and Overcoming the Fear of Being Heard

This is a long title, and it’s going to be a longer than usual post. But I felt it all belonged together rather than being chunked up, as all the different elements are related to each other. It’s partly about coping with human beings, and partly about the nitty-gritty of learning activities, but as we experience the two things simultaneously it seemed best to consider them together.

Conversations with a number of chorus directors at LABBS Harmony College revealed a pattern of common experiences of chorus members having unexpectedly strong negative reactions to things that in the past might have seemed perfectly routine. These often revolved around being asked to record themselves to check on their note-accuracy, and part of this post will be about managing that specific issue.

Prioritising Connection at LABBS Harmony College

Leading a vocal development session with a laughLeading a vocal development session with a laughThe weekend saw the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers holding their first full Harmony College since 2019. It was fully booked before the closing date for registrations, confounding our expectations that numbers might still be a bit down, as they were for last year’s education events. It was superbly masterminded by its Dean, Debi Cox, who brought her deep understanding of both educational needs and logistical realities to the task. If you see her, tell her thank you again from us all.

Our guest educator this year was Kim Newcomb, and whoever had the idea to invite her also needs to feel pleased with themselves. Kim is not only highly skilled as a singer (most famous at the moment for being a reigning Sweet Adelines International quartet champion), she is also a professional educator, and, it turns out, profoundly encouraging as a human being. One has the sense that she has always been nice, but she has also developed a deep moral commitment to being kind and supportive that underpins her praxis.

Thoughts on Belonging: an Addendum

My three recent posts about belonging, and specifically the experience of feeling disconnected at a belonging-inducing event (and also sometimes being rescued from that state), have produced far more response than my posts normally get. Much of the ensuing discussion took place either in Facebook threads or in private messages rather than in the comments on the post itself, so I thought it might be useful to reflect some of the points in a follow-up post to share the extra insight they generated.

There was a fair bit of sharing of good practice, much of which resonated with the approaches Daniel Coyle makes in The Culture Code. A useful comparison was with making things accessible for people with disability: rather than focusing on the needs of specific individuals, you aim to make your building/institution/process accessible to everyone.

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 3

In my previous post on this subject, we arrived at a clearer understanding of when someone attending an event is most at risk of not experiencing the sense of belonging events usually aspire to offer, and of feeling isolated and left out instead. Before we move onto the practical strategies we can develop to minimise the chance of this happening, it may be worth reflecting on what’s going on when someone is heading into that state but is rescued from it and ends up feeling like part of the community after all.

I use the word ‘rescued’ because that it a word I’ve heard people use to describe what this felt like. And it aptly describes how I have felt in such situations too. And that itself says something about how quietly desperate the feeling is when you feel alone in a situation where everyone else seems to feel connected.

The tales of these experiences I have heard have a few traits in common:

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 2

In my previous post I reflected on the problematics of creating a sense of belonging at events. Why do some people sometimes feel horribly left out at an occasion when most people are feeling happily connected? What can we do, when organising events, to make that less likely to happen?

Finding some common patterns in my own and friends’ experiences of alienation (Scenario 2 experiences as classified in my last post) seems like the best place to start to increase our understanding of what’s going on. I’m intending to anonymise both the sources of these tales, and the events at which they took place, which risks making it all rather abstract. Of course, I’ll know the details of what I’m inducing from, so I’ll be able to learn effectively from the experience. I just hope I can present it in a way that isn’t too unhelpfully vague for everyone else!

Thoughts on Belonging

I’m writing this post (or maybe posts, I don’t know how much this will develop) not because I have answers, but because I have questions. The need to feel a sense of belonging is one of the more fundamental levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and has received in-depth attention as to how it operates in organisations in Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. (And how this plays out in choral rehearsals is the subject of my article in Choral Directions from a couple of years back.)

So, the general understanding of what a sense of Belonging feels like, and how it is generated, is in place. My questions arise from my own experiences and conversations with friends about their experiences. It’s not a huge sample I’m working from, but it is big enough for some striking patterns to emerge; I’m confident that where I draw on my own experiences to theorise about wider things in this context that it’s not just me, other people have been through very similar experiences.

On Voicings for Mixed Barbershop Choruses, Part 2

In my previous post, we considered why mixed barbershop presents vocal challenges that are quite distinct from the single-sex forms of the genre. (In a nutshell, the standard distribution of vocal ranges for a single-sex group is a camel, but for mixed groups is a dromedary.)

We also considered some of the impacts of this structural feature. It affects individuals singers, as quite a few in any mixed chorus are likely to end up singing out of their best range. It also affects the group as a whole, through the impact of people singing outside their best range on the sound, and/or through difficulty populating the parts in an optimum balance. That post didn’t mention the expressive impact of singing out of range, but it’s something I’ve touched upon before more than once.

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