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3 "Ahs" to keep singers coming back every week

As featured in The Harmonizer.

Keep your singers coming back

Great leaders know we need a variety of elements to keep our barbershop singers coming back to sing and socialize with us year after year. If certain critical elements are missing from your week-to-week barbershop experience, members of your chorus become dissatisfied and everything suffers. Chapter members may go elsewhere to fulfill the needs they are looking to satisfy by singing with us. First, let’s identify the elements that will help your chapter experience to be healthy and balanced: Quartet time, interchapter visits, performances, recruiting, retention, and many others I’m sure you can think of as well. Here, I’m going to focus on the rehearsal. Choir guru Rodney Eichenberger wrote much of the below about rehearsals, and I had it posted in my music rooms since the mid-1980s. It guides me still today!

The 3 Ahs

• Ah-HA!
Recognition of a goal or learning.
• Ha-ha!
We had enjoyment in the learning process.
• Ahh!
Satisfaction received from our music.


What can we do that will result in new learning?
If your group is not learning, they will find reasons to no longer attend.

It’s the director/leader. You establish everything by being clearly in charge with your upbeat energy, people skills, and demanding a high level of excellence! Sorry, it all comes from you! Change every 20 minutes. This might be a new song to rehearse, standing instead of sitting, changing the riser formation, watching a video, listening back to a recording of your last performance, talk-singing a rhythm. Change directions often.

Use different people out front. Every director on the planet is amazed (and a little annoyed) when a coach says what the director says word for word, and the entire chorus suddenly understands. Trust others, and start building future coaches and directors. Try to have at least four different people out front, and grow new people who may say something in a new way.

Connect concepts with physical movement and images. Have every person physically move (mirror you) most of the night. Moving, like doodling, increases the brain’s capacity to comprehend as much as 29% more new information better than standing still. New music teaches new concepts better than old music. We all have unbreakable habits in old music. Start fresh. Use technology. Record (audio and video) the group or section and play it back … right away! Play
great recordings of barbershop, so we know how good it can be. Have a website with learning tracks for your guys. Use sheet music, even for non-readers, to get them in the habit of visual learning.

Plan for a safe, joyful, and focused rehearsal every time.
Clearly we have “work” to be done, but it can always be delivered with a loving tone that is expecting excellence. It’s not about you telling jokes; show your men you care about them as individuals.

Directors, look like you care about your singers, especially as you direct. If this is not your nature, you have work to do. Look like you care about us as individuals,
who then can feel safe to laugh, risk, and let our guard down.

Use humor that is based in kindness, not sarcasm. Laughing in a rehearsal is natural and should be encouraged, especially if you laugh about something you just did by accident! Sarcasm is nearly always damaging, and will push members away from your group, and perhaps barbershop. If you have to say “just kidding” after you say it, don’t say it!

Choose upbeat/zippy leader over tired and frustrated. Rob Macdonald taught me a powerful truth: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Your leadership tone is a mirror your people will reflect back to you. Do you like what you see?


Goose bumps. Tears. Brotherhood!
We have all felt this mysterious power in our barbershop groups, and
we instinctively know it’s good for us.

Hang out with good singers. At conventions, shows, even HU: sing with people who are better than you and give yourself a treat. Take it back home.

Craft a beautiful, short moment that is just lovely. Tags work great!

Know every man’s name and something about him. This allows much more trust.

Have an emotional bond between director and singer. If you care and trust each other, the magic is much more likely to happen than if you are drilled into submission.

Use different modalities. The most magical music moments often happen when we are thinking about a story or image. If we sing “Heart Of My Heart” with focus on vowel purity and balance, we get one result. If we sing the same song to our daughter, in
her crib, as she drifts off to sleep, with her hand gently holding your pinky...that’s magic.

-Donny Rose Director, Harmony Univeristy drose@