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Frequently Asked Questions

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When does this all become a reality?

It’s exciting that everyone is discussing the Strategic Vision, and eager to get moving!

AND… this is the work of several years of research, discussion, listening, and sketching. The announcement of a Vision is NOT an implementation plan. Some parts will take months… some years… and some parts decades.

Shortly after returning from the launch of the Strategic Vision in Las Vegas, we activated two implementation teams to start building out the first steps. One team is working on developing new options for participating and engaging with barbershop beyond the standard “membership” model, as well as new ways to build communities of singers beyond the one-size-fits-all chapter experience. The other team is figuring out the new structures for the Society itself that will make it possible for us to support other barbershop organizations.

Harmony Hall produces an annual business plan and budget each year, and then works with the Society Board for approval at the November meeting. Once that’s done, you can expect to see announcements regarding the work of these implementation teams early in 2018.

In the meantime, unsatisfying though it may be be, the answer to many questions will be, “Not quite yet.”



How was the Strategic Vision developed?

The Strategic Planning process has been underway for 18 months, and has included feedback from more than 6,000 members and associates. Along the way, we’ve researched the external choral world, researched trends in member associations, and consulted with our partner organizations. Our Society Board made deep time investments, holding four separate retreats to develop the broadest, highest vision of our future. Guided by this, nine staff teams undertook extensive internal analysis of the business models, technology model, and financial model to bring this to reality.

The result is this Strategic Vision — a powerful collective statement that Everyone in Harmony is achievable via four major strategies.


What comes next?

The Strategic Vision is not a step-by-step list of tasks, nor an implementation plan. Developing the next steps — prioritizing, budgeting, integrating into existing processes and developing new ones — is the work of the next year. The listening, researching, and testing will continue, as we draw on the willpower and brainpower of thousands of devoted Barbershoppers.

Bringing new opportunities, new products, and new customers to the barbershop experience will only be accomplished with powerful communications, and we are devoted to listening and sharing in equal measure. You can expect a variety of “Road Show” meetings throughout the Fall convention season, plus direct communications in The Harmonizer and on the web, and milestone statements at our upcoming Midwinter and International conventions.

Be involved. Attend your House of Delegates. Read the full Board-Approved Strategic Vision document. Talk with your chapter. Talk with your district officers. Email ideas to strategy@barbershop.org. Your feedback is a key element in this process.

Even as these plans are being developed, your chapter can be positioning itself for continuing growth. Self-assessment — who you are and what you aspire be — will help you take advantage of new opportunities ahead. The Healthy Chapter Initiative draws together training resources, certified facilitators and other tools to support you. Consider what it means to be inclusive — purposefully, intentionally, radically inclusive — and how your chapter environment is welcoming.


How will this affect my Barbershop experience? Do I get to keep doing what I love?

First and most important: your barbershop experience will always be yours to choose. Your chapter life is what you choose it to be. Your participation — as a chorus singer, quartetter, leader, musician, fan — is what you choose to make of it.

The last decade has seen the emergence of new ways to participate beyond “membership,” from Harmony Platoons to online communities of multi-trackers, and that barely scratches the surface of possibilities. The aim always is to expand opportunities, expand relationships, expand ways to have fun singing together that may or may not involve a membership card. You will always choose your best experience, and want to go back for more.

Along the way, as we expand our impact, we expect to gain financial resources to provide you and your community of artists with more resources than ever.


What’s going to be different and what will stay the same?

In the immediate term … nothing will change. Our Mission and our guiding purposes endure — in fact, this Strategic Vision is about aggressively seeking to fulfill them all more than ever. The Society continues to sing, compete, meet, publish, teach, learn, serve, and support harmony in our communities.

Over time, as we offer new ways to participate and new modes of belonging for more people, you might add options that most closely align with your interests and wishes. For some people, that may mean no changes at all.

As the Vision is fulfilled, we will actively seek out more ways to serve more people. That will mean intentionally trying to reach audiences we haven’t reached before, and becoming the most welcoming singing Society possible.

With regard to specific programs — changes, expansion, elimination — nothing is determined today. That is part of the next phase of designing an implementation plan, which will be taking place over the next several months. Meanwhile, continue doing the things that work for yourself and your chapter. You need not wait for the next great thing — make the next great thing.


What will be the role of women in the Barbershop Harmony Society?

For decades, women have been deeply engaged in the Barbershop Harmony Society as directors, coaches, and as students and faculty at Harmony University. Women have directed choruses onstage in contests since 1994. In 2009, the Society began offering Associate status as a means for women to become more deeply a part of the Society, while maintaining a male-only membership model. With our Strategic Vision focused on Everyone in Harmony, we can support many kinds of barbershop activities — men’s, women’s, mixed — in many different ways.


Does this mean women can now become members of the Barbershop Harmony Society?

No, as the world’s leading all-male singing organization, BHS is keeping its membership open for men only. The male-only singing experience is central to our mission, cultural identity, to our expertise in practice, and to our structural, legal, and financial model. Ultimately, we want to ensure that every person who loves barbershop will find a path into our world in a personal, devoted, continuing way.

The Board-approved Strategic Vision states: “We will support at least three entities, including our current men’s barbershop organization, a women’s barbershop organization, and a mixed barbershop organization. We will provide infrastructure and essential services to these three entities, and potentially many other choral organizations. This new structure will be formed around the principles of local control and self-destination. We fervently believe that any man or woman should be able to choose the way they want to sing barbershop, whether that is with all men, all women, or in a mixed group. With our expanded structure, all forms of barbershop singing will thrive, and harmony will explode.”

Fulfilling this Vision does not occur overnight, and will become a part of the longer-term planning and implementation process.


Can chapters start accepting women on the risers?

While the Vision speaks to future support of women’s and mixed barbershopping, our current practices are unchanged. Participation in the Society’s membership model remains a male-only vocal experience.

That said, there is nothing to stop any chapter that makes a deliberate, proactive decision to do so from accepting women on the risers today for your rehearsals and community performances. The Associate program, while not membership, grants official status to members of Sweet Adelines International, Harmony Incorporated, as well as wives, widows, relatives, girlfriends, female directors, and friends of the Barbershop Harmony Society. In fact, our current Associates numbering over 400 are wild about the program. As Associates, women can participate in your chapter in virtually every way except participating in our men’s contests… and many of the chapters who are most enthusiastic about engaging with women don’t compete. Associates are also covered under the Society’s insurance program.

Note, too, that several districts are already staging mixed voice contests, which is great! If your district is supporting these contests, put together a group and sing your hearts out. Other ideas about this? Email strategy@barbershop.org.


Aren’t we already supporting women’s and mixed organizations?

Yes, we are! The Mixed Barbershop Harmony Quartet Association has been a recognized affiliate since 2016, and we have showcased it at several recent conventions. We’ve been working in mutually supportive roles with Harmony, Inc. and Sweet Adelines International in lots of different ways for a long time. For example, we share marketing resources at events with Sweet Adelines; Harmony, Inc. uses the BHS contest judging system and has a program for making Harmony University accessible to its directors, and so forth. With our Strategic Vision, we are saying that rather than being informally committed to this kind of cooperation and support, we’re making it an intentional, focused part of our work.


Will the Society be producing more music for men, women, and mixed groups?

Our publishing process in recent years has been to obtain clearance and finished arrangements in all three voicings, for maximum accessibility and market choice. High school music programs are eating it up as a path into barbershop for men and women alike. More young people singing barbershop means a stronger future!


How will this affect my dues?

Society dues have remained steady for the past four years, even as programs have grown. Part of this has been due to increased interest by non-members in our services; a broader customer base helps diversify our revenue sources.

One particular aim in the Strategic Vision is to change the relationship between traditional dues and overall value. Over time, expect a range of flexible business models and pricing options that fit personal barbershop needs as we move away from a model of “one size fits all.”


How will we pay for this?

Attracting a larger universe of people to barbershopping will produce a stronger financial engine for all our programs. New participation models at different price points can attract different kinds of customers. Of course, more Barbershoppers mean more sheet music sold and more people attending more events, directly boosting the financial results for existing activities.

As we expand and the brighter we shine, the more attractive we become to future customer-members. The larger our impact in the world, the more fellow travellers will wish to support our philanthropic and outreach efforts or include us as partners in their own projects.


How will we evaluate and prioritize existing programs?

We will systematically analyze all Society programs rigorously and regularly. We will retire programs that deliver little benefit in order to strengthen new or existing programs that can deliver maximum benefit. Programs will be evaluated according to at least six criteria, and likely a few more. Does the program:

  • produce a pipeline to engagement and participation in lifelong singing?
  • increase our delivery of more music to singers and audiences?
  • improve artistic and leadership skills of barbershop singers and leaders?
  • celebrate and raise the profile of barbershop singing?
  • create positive external social impact through the power of singing?
  • produce substantial net revenue to fund our mission?


Does this affect the Barbershop sound and style?

The Strategic Vision does not address this issue. Barbershop, like most musical art forms, has evolved over the years. Questions of style have historically been driven by the musical choices of ensembles, the types of performances rewarded by audiences, and the ways in which the style is encoded and reinforced in our Contest & Judging system.


How will this affect the convention experience?

No significant near-term changes are expected, but we anticipate that the long lead time needed for convention site selection could affect the pace of innovation. Conventions have been evolving for a long time, especially in recent years. Most changes have given competitors and non-competitors alike more ways to participate. Relatively recent innovations include a larger chorus field, Youth and Senior choruses, higher community engagement, a greatly expanded Harmony University presence, All-Chapter Choruses, Harmony Brigades and Platoons, and many schedule and format changes. As the ways that people interact evolve, we can expect to further evolve the convention experience. Innovations will likely come from leaders and members at all levels of the BHS structure.


How will this affect future contests?

No significant near-term changes to our contests are anticipated. The traditions we enjoy today — all-male quartets and choruses competing against each other — will always be a core activity. Looking toward the medium- and long-term, contest decisions will be driven by the Contest & Judging community and leaders at all levels. As always, ideas and innovations are likely to come from many sources and over an extended period. We need and seek your input.


How will this affect district structure and operations?

This discussion has only just begun. For today’s associations and membership organizations, the role of regional leadership is changing because of the role technology now plays in shrinking the globe and in strengthening the grassroots. As we expand the options for participating in barbershop, we want to be organized in ways that better serve not only our current chapters and quartets, but also our other barbershop singing communities — current and future. Both district and chapter leaders will play key roles in determining future organizational structures. Our charge is to determine how to better capitalize on the potential of our districts and better utilize the talents and commitment of our member volunteers.


How will this affect the way my chapter operates?

Your chapter will change as much or as little as it wants. We are looking for processes and structures that make it easier for your chapter to forge its own identity and better create the kind of singing, social, and serving experience you desire. One size does not fit all. We are not removing or discouraging traditional chapter models — we are simply pursuing additional options that will mutually strengthen all types of participation in the barbershop experience. We’re also making a serious commitment to a stronger array of products and services that will simplify chapter management and help you focus more on the musical experience.

As the international organization supports women’s and mixed barbershop organizations, we’ll be building a bigger tent that includes more people and additional revenue streams to better support our mission. For example, while our all-male chapters can choose to remain as they are, they might someday have the option to also support mixed or women’s ensembles if they wish. Expanded options will help us grow the size of our barbershop community, grow the BHS itself, and provide better resources to all ensemble types.


When there are differing opinions, how can we engage more members of a chapter in this Vision?

The most important thing to realize about the Vision is that it is aimed to add to, not subtract from, anyone’s current experience. And it’s built on the principle of local self-destiny. What your chapter wants to be or become is up to your chapter.

We think the Strategic Vision is a powerful way to preserve and encourage our beloved art form long into the future. Moving towards it is not intended to be an overnight transformation of every single unit. In five years, some groups will be exactly as they are today, and thriving. Some will change and thrive. Some will stay the same and wither, and some will change and wither. It all depends on listening, being honest in your intentions, and smart in your choices.

Keep the conversation going, cheerfully, positively, focusing on what you’re doing well and continue to do well.


Although the Society is addressing its history regarding race in constructive ways, what can we do to reach out to communities outside our traditional demographics?

We wish we could provide more specific guidance at this time. Fact is, we have a lot of learning to do at EVERY level, starting with our Board and staff and all the way through our district and chapter structures. We’re building plans for how to do the necessary reflection and education and will keep you posted as they develop.

We’re also excited about the work of the Alexandria Harmonizers around their year-long diversity project, which has included concerts, lectures and joint meetings with gospel choirs, churches, and community groups. See the story about the Ambassadors of Harmony IN UNISON in Ferguson, Missouri. Change is gonna come… one singer at a time.


Does “welcome all people who are interested in barbershopping” mean that anyone can just walk into a chapter and continue participating without paying dues? What does it mean to “welcome”?

“Welcome” means just that — welcome people into the barbershop world and help them find ways to participate that are meaningful to them. The main idea in the new Vision is that the old model of a one-size-fits-all membership will not be our structure. We’ll be offering many new options that allow the individual to choose how best to participate.

In the meantime, while traditional “membership” is still the primary mode of participation, consider:

  • Men unable to commit to regular weekly chapter membership are welcome to become Society members, enjoying member pricing on merchandise, events, etc.
  • Women are welcome to become Associates with similar benefits.
  • Every person who expresses interest in barbershop should be directed to other barbershop units nearby, to find the best fit.
  • Every person who expresses interest in barbershop should visit our YouTube channel and barbershop.org/livewire to become part of ongoing communication of our future.

Don’t wait! Regardless of any future membership products, help people have fun today.


What can my chapter/group start doing now?

First and most importantly, talk about what is happening. Understand your own chapter experience. What makes it strong? What limits your effectiveness and reach? What of the many possibilities suggested in the Strategic Vision resonate most strongly with you?

Success in the future is grounded in success today. Continue growing and improving all aspects of your chapter life, so as you expand your range, you offer a better experience.

Second, take a role in the phases to come. Attend listening sessions at your district convention. Speak your mind, and encourage all people to find their voice in the expanded vision. Participate in online discussions around gender, race, inclusion, style. We want to hear from you!