Die Zaubertuba

Musings on the intersection of the arts, education, and culture in our communities.
And the crowd goes wild!

Rock and Roll, and Barbershop?

Each Fall our local Harmony Society Chapter, The Boise valley Chordsmen, hosts a youth Barbershop Festival for schools in the Treasure Valley.

Imagine over 500 high school kids standing up and screaming at the top of their lungs as if there were pop-stars on stage.  Only in this case the stars consists of a highly polished men’s barbershop chorus, quartets and other small ensembles of their own peers, and a heavenly-sounding college-aged competing women’s quartet from Sacramento.

The audience–with a good number of parents, but predominantly full of teens–would get quiet enough to hear a pin drop when the groups were performing.  Such attention and respect is often only seen in far more “formal” concert settings like a Boise Philharmonic concert.  But in this case, as each of the groups finish, the audience would explode in applause and cheers, often far louder than the music that preceded it.

I have to admit, the first time I saw it, it was rather surreal.

But I have to say, these Barbershop guys have it figured out.  They’ve taken the highly exacting competitive experience of Barbershop ensemble competition (if you haven’t actually attended a Harmony Society competition, you really should), and modeled from it a music festival that has doubled the number of participating schools in the last several years.

Early on, the kids were so excited about the experience that they started creating their own quartets.  Spontaneously.  For the sheer fun of it.  Now, a small vocal ensemble competition is a key part of the festival.

coachOne student commented, “I learned more today than I learned in a year in school.”  That’s the “drinking from a firehose” experience of learning from good clinicians.  That learning is multiplied when kids are excited–and see so many of their peers equally excited–about the experience.  The festival/clinician experience doesn’t replace a great in-school arts curriculum, but can really give local teachers a boost.

The skills aren’t lost on these kids.  They’re going back to their choirs being more aware of tuning, of ensemble, of vocal sound production.  But the technical contributions are only part of the benefit.

These kids are excited…actually fired up…about singing.

Not just any singing, mind you, but singing well. Somewhere by the end of those mass ensemble rehearsals, chords are in-tune, consonants match up, and these big ensembles are executing well-timed choreography that pulls it all together into the “glee club” entertainment experience that was so popular before the age of mega-stages and towers of speakers.

They’ve been tangibly hooked into that magic spot where technique and craft merge with expression and joy, and, well, fun.  It’s O.K. to have fun in the arts, isn’t it?

I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of Educational Outreach successes in my time, and as far as I can tell, this one’s firing on all cylinders. What elements do you see that mirror your own successes? What more would you like to do in your own outreach?

IMG_5162 2012 Monday full rehearsal


Article by Bryce Quarve.

All photos in this post © 2012 by Chris Wethered, used by permission. See more of his work on his Photoshelter page.


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