If you stop to think about the most significant cities for music performance and production in North America inevitably Nashville TN comes to mind. What better location then, for the Barbershop Harmony Society's annual week of friendship, learning and singing at Harmony University (lovingly referred to as Harmony U). During the last week of July, sweet barbershop chords bounced off the rooms and hallways of Belmont University as barbershoppers from across North America and beyond met to impart knowledge, improve their craft and to share their love of this style of a cappella singing.
Among the one thousand plus participants at Harmony U, the ScotianAires Women's Barbershop Chorus from Halifax, NS was privileged to have six members in attendance: Director Sue Kember; Performance Chair Jill Reid; and all four members of the quartet Tonic!: Adele Merritt, Cathy Hunter, Marion Fraser-Pritchard and Mary Gareau.
Each morning began with a variety of Harmony U faculty members leading a general session, including physical and vocal warm-ups, tweaking and performing a song, and learning a new "tag" (the most fun with harmony you can have at the end of a song!). The day would then proceed with a wealth of workshops and hands-on-coaching in all kinds of areas pertaining to barbershop with ensembles, directors, and coaches from around the globe.
Tonic! was thrilled to receive intensive coaching from some of the best in the business including Mo Field, Charlotte Murray, Evan Boegehold and Eddie Martinez. Bass Adele Merritt recalls, "Mo helped us with showmanship and challenged us to re-examine our mental blockages which might be preventing us from being ourselves on stage. Charlotte helped us to consider the subtext to each lyric line and to allow true, authentic emotions to guide our performance. Evan gave us insight into the music category and helped us to interpret the music with more artistry. Eddie held up a figurative mirror to show us where we could improve our blend and balance to create a smoother singing sound".
Jill Reid benefited from workshops such as A Level Rehearsal Techniques, Make a Compelling Visual Plan, Master Class with the Performing Arts College and particularly appreciated watching and learning from the legendary performance guru Gene Spilker. Classes were engaging and topical, offering the best in contemporary barbershop practice to the Harmony U participants (A number of these presentations are available on the Harmony University facebook page www.facebook.com/HarmonyUniversityBHS/) Sue Kember noted, "I feel that I have learned the most current information on the direction the world of barbershop is taking...It has allowed me to network and meet people from near and far who are just as passionate about barbershop as I am."
Barbershop Harmony Society's new vision #EveryoneInHarmony was evident all week. The men from BHS traded notes on paper and notes in song with women from the Sweet Adelines, Harmony, Inc. and the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS). Ringing chords reached beyond traditional boundaries to include delegates from Istanbul, Turkey, who formed a group after watching barbershop videos on YouTube!
Friday evening was the chance for Harmony U quartets to shine and Tonic! performed the appropriately titled I Love Being Here With You. The week culminated in the highly anticipated Saturday performance showcase. Reid and Kember rocked the house as part of Harmony University's Women's Honor Chorus, and the audience enjoyed guest quartets such as BHS champions Instant Classic and Forefront and surprise guests, celebrated American gospel group The Fairfield Four. Tenor Mary Gareau appreciated the authenticity the choruses and quartets brought to the stage. "[T]his new category of "performance" has influenced the other two categories of music and singing. It is all about being true to the music, being believable and embracing the audience."
Considering Harmony U 2018? All six ScotianAire attendees agree that the Harmony U experience motivates and inspires. Baritone Cathy Hunter sums it up. "Every single person is valued and is given the freedom to be exactly who they are. It's like being enveloped in a giant group hug every day! And then there's the music, amazing teachers, and coaches, quartets and choruses, singing and harmony everywhere you turn! It just makes my heart happy and full, and I can't wait to go back!".