The Standard Skill Set for Barbershop Singing: PART I

The following article is reproduced from my Pelham School website:


In my previous article, Two Philosophies About Barbershop Singing—And Their Outcomes, I promised to follow up with this present article. Well, here it is, even if it is nearly three years late!

The goal of this article is to efficiently enumerate some skills that are frequently overlooked in deference to those most fundamental basics of “getting the words and notes right”. As a choral director, I believe that the following skills should “come standard” in a choral singer—and that goes for Barbershop choruses, too. Continue reading “The Standard Skill Set for Barbershop Singing: PART I”

Two Philosophies About Barbershop Singing—And Their Outcomes

The following article is reproduced from my Pelham School website.  While Sing, Montana! does not sing only Barbershop, this article is still very relevant to what we’re doing.


Barbershop singing can be great fun for singers of many skill levels. Here are just a few of the more obvious reasons for that:

  • Singing is both fun and therapeutic.
  • Songs themselves are fun.
  • It’s great to have something regular to do–to be regularly active.
  • It’s rewarding to have some place to “belong”.
  • It’s fun to hear skilled musicians perform good arrangements.
  • There’s some level of importance to preserving an historic art form that doesn’t get loads of popular support.
  • There’s a certain thrill that comes from public performance.

In my experience, these are some of the main reasons that keep most Barbershoppers involved. Interestingly, however, being involved and being excellent don’t necessarily go together. There are a great many Barbershoppers throughout the world, comprising lots and lots of choruses and a bajillion quartets. (OK, that’s not an exact number for the quartets!) Some of these are so excellent that it takes a real expert to discern what they might do better. Then there are some that are on that track, but simply haven’t been on it long enough to achieve the level of excellence that they will eventually achieve. But then there are the rest, who never seem to near that level of excellence, even after decades of activity. Continue reading “Two Philosophies About Barbershop Singing—And Their Outcomes”

When Men Sing Together

MYVoice

When men sing together, lots of great things can happen.  I won’t try to write an eloquent post about it, because this simple list of one-liners says it just fine:

  1. When men sing together, they put the troubles of the world behind them for a time in order to focus on doing something meaningful.
  2. When men sing together, they enjoy a camaraderie that is sadly unusual for men in our greater culture.
  3. When men sing together, they achieve a musical effect that no man can achieve by himself.
  4. When men sing together, they discover an experience that is much stronger than merely listening to the same song sung by others.
  5. When men sing together, they exercise the courage to put themselves out there for a cause that proves to be worth it.
  6. When men sing (well) together, they learn an awareness of what the others in the ensemble are singing.
  7. When men sing (well) together, they deliberately discipline themselves to do things in a certain way, because this makes the overall sound better.
  8. When men sing (well) together, they make one of the most noteworthy sounds in all of music.
  9. When men sing together, they create for themselves not only something to do, but a place to belong.
  10. When men sing (well) together, they create an art that serves to thrill many an audience.
  11. When men sing together, they bring together people of all kinds (both in the chorus and in the audience)–who might not ever get to know one another otherwise.
  12. When men sing together, they give themselves something to enjoy richly in life, and it can become a life-long hobby.
  13. When men sing together, they cause us to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, people could come together for causes other than music.

I don’t mean to overstate the case here; men singing together will certainly not fix everything that ails this world.  But what it does do is to significantly enrich the lives of the individuals involved.  It gives us something to look forward to each week, and in my view, that’s a really big deal in this hum-drum and troubled world!

I think I will never forget hearing a senior citizen say after a recent men’s chorus workshop, “I don’t remember when I’ve ever had this much fun singing!”  And then there were the two teenagers who were hooked for life on their first experience singing in a men’s chorus.  One of them interrupted the rehearsal to ask, “So, this group only meets on Tuesdays?!”

It is for me one of life’s most meaningful experiences, and yet its meaning is strangely non-pragmatic.  I mean, it’s not like the economy does better because of men singing, or that it solves congested traffic patterns.  But its value lies in something of a different sort; there’s something so “human” in the experience.  And I find that Jack is simply a better person when there’s something like that to be experienced, and to be looked forward to each week.

There’s also quite a therapeutic effect in it for me.  Dealing with all the details of the music, getting things just right–that’s part of it, to be sure.  But really, it’s that SOUND.  It’s just so “freakin’ cool” that it makes a 52-year-old director use terms like “freakin’ cool!”  And when you see a room full of men grinning ear-to-ear when they realize how excellent the sound they just made was, that’s an unforgettable experience!

Of course, with Sing, Montana! Men’s Chorus, a couple more elements come into play.  One is our multi-generational aspect, since we welcome men from a mature 13 up to 120.  There’s a real chance here for men who have acquired good musical skills to be a part of introducing the younger singers to that same rich art form that has pleased so many in this life.  That’s worth an authentic man’s effort right there!  And where do the generations interact with one another anymore?  Yet here, we do it on purpose!

The second element that I’m referring to is the chance to be part of a charitable organization that helps other people on purpose.  It’s a little early to announce it just yet, but as we grow, Sing, Montana! is going to be in a very special position to help serve the local community in a very important and practical way.  I’ll give the details later when the time is right, but what I have in mind is a way to support the local arts (including music education) in a way that is not currently being done.

All these things are why I’m so excited to be (finally) putting together an organization like this.  It’s a huge undertaking, to be sure, but it’s worth it!  And while we’re in these first few months of slow and patience-demanding chorus building, keeping all these things in mind makes it all the easier to envision a day when we’ll have over 100 men singing together and saying to themselves, “I wish I had gotten involved in this sooner!”

Want to Age Better? Join Us!

Not that we’re only for those who are already concerned with aging, but here’s an excerpt from a great article that everyone should know about.

Want to Age Better? Join a Choir

A groundbreaking study examines the health benefits of making music as we age

Credit: Getty Images

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow musicmakers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once…..

Click here to read the entire article at nextavenue.org.  

Here We Go!

Jack Pelham, Director

I’ll be writing posts from time to time on this Director’s Blog about the things we’re learning along the way to meeting our goals.    This is the first post of many!

Jack