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What the Singing judges discussed at Category School

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Every three years, all Society judges and candidate judges wishing to certify are required to attend Category School. Held during the three days prior to Harmony University, judges and judging candidates receive instruction and testing; they also officially acquire, maintain or lose their certification. 

 Category School is also the point in which any formal tweaks to the scoring or interpretation of the rules are formalized and calibrated among all judges. All tweaks, shifts in focus, or other modifications are based on the prior three year’s feedback from competitors, judges, audiences, Society leaders and others.

“The most noticeable change for the Singing category following the 2013 category school is the renaming of the “Artistry” scoring element to “Vocal Expression.” For many competitors, there has always been some confusion with the terminology in the first sentence of our category description, “… achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style” when contrasted to the last sentence, which includes, “When artistry is present, these elements…”.  This has often led to the somewhat ambiguous explanation that while Artistry was indeed one of the five elements that we consider when determining a score, there is also the larger (more holistic) context of evaluating “the degree to which the performer achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style.”  This has even caused some judges to refer to the element as “little Artistry” and the other concept as “big Artistry” within the context of our Singing Category Description.

While there is essentially no substantive change to how Singing category judges will adjudicate performances in the future, changing the element term to “Vocal Expression” better clarifies the actual skills that are evaluated when considering that element of our category.  This includes vocal inflection, appropriate use of tone color and treatment of word sounds — all delivered in a believable emotional context. For a more thorough description of the Vocal Expression element, we encourage competitors to revisit the updated Singing Category Description in the C&J manual – specifically, section II.E.

Additionally, in order to better meet our goal to serve as the “Voice Teachers of the Barbershop Harmony Society,” we also discussed our commitment to provide more effective evaluations to all competitors.  Rather than just noting performances errors and vocal production distractions across all five Singing category elements, we will be looking to better identify the root causes of vocal production issues and seek to address them within our coaching evaluations.  As to the possible scoring impact, competitors may experience performances that demonstrate individual voices singing with better vocal quality (well-supported, freely produced and resonant) to be more appropriately rewarded.

Please reply to this post if you have any additional questions!

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