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BHS Announces Contest Expansion Plan

Since the announcement of the Everyone in Harmony Strategic Vision, we have looked forward to providing an opportunity for all singers to take part in the Barbershop Harmony Society International Quartet and Chorus Contests. That era will begin with contest cycle leading to the 2021 International Convention in Cleveland. A summary of the Contest Expansion Plan approved by the Society Board is below, followed by more specific details.

Contest Expansion Plan Summary

The Society Board has approved the International Contest Expansion to include:

  • Three classifications of ensembles: Men, Women, and Mixed Harmony.
  • A champion and up to four additional medalists named in each classification based on cumulative score across all rounds. In all cases, men compete only against other men, women against other women, and mixed harmony groups against mixed harmony groups. No single overall champion will be named.
  • A single qualification process for all classifications at the District level, as described below.
  • Each BHS District is assured of representation by at least one chorus and at least one quartet, provided the representative ensemble meets a minimum score.
  • Competitors will be allowed a second attempt to achieve the qualifying score by competing in multiple preliminary contests, if they choose.
  • The current number of competitors in the Quartet Semifinals (20) and Finals (10) will be maintained, with no distinction of classification to advance.

Note: Qualification process and awards for Next Generation and Seniors contest events are not a part of this proposal. Information about these contests can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions.

The Society Board believes this decision represents the best path forward at this moment in our evolution. The current Contest Expansion Plan, and specifically the decision to maintain distinct contests and awards for each classification, does not prevent further expansion in the future. As we increase participation and implement more aspects of our vision of Everyone in Harmony, we fully expect our current structures and practices to change and grow… just as they did when the International Chorus Contest was added in the 1960’s, and the first youth quartet contest in the 1990’s.

A word of thanks: Your remarks in response to our feedback request were critical to our Board. The input from our members and wider barbershop community is deeply appreciated and was a key component in making this decision. Thank you for taking the time to share your views and make your voice heard.

Contest participation is a vibrant part of the barbershop experience, but is not the only way to find fulfillment and joy through barbershop music. Conversations about the Expansion Plan will continue online and wherever barbershoppers gather, and it is our hope that we can move forward together as BHS follows this new path and seeks to build a more inclusive and engaged experience for all who wish to participate. We expect to learn -- and continue to change and evolve -- together, as a community of people dedicated to sharing harmony with each other and with the world.

Timeline and overview

Beginning in September 2018, a wide-ranging process of study and development led to a preliminary International Contest Expansion Draft Proposal (June 2019) and a further Revised International Contest Expansion Proposal based on initial feedback (September 2019). Feedback from both proposals led to further discussion among the Society Board of Directors, BHS Executive Staff and Events team, district leadership, and the Contest & Judging Committee. In November, the proposal feedback was compiled and reviewed by the Society Board. The final version of the Contest Expansion Plan was developed and approved by the Board in November 2019.

Feedback and discussion

Feedback on the proposed expansion was collected from a wide variety of sources: internal stakeholders (including, but not limited to the groups named above), current BHS members, and the wider barbershop community both in North America and abroad. In addition to individual communications to the Board, thousands of responses and individual comments were collected using an online form, as well as a hardcopy form mailed to members without listed email addresses. This information was compiled and discussed in great detail by the Society Board, confirming that there is more than one pathway to both simplify and expand the contest experience. You can see feedback results here.

Contest Expansion Plan Details

Classification of quartets and choruses

An ensemble consists of BHS members in good standing. Ensembles are classified by the individual members’ self-identification in the BHS Member Center database:

  • Men’s ensembles consist of only members who identify as male
  • Women’s ensembles consist of only members who identify as female
  • Mixed Harmony ensembles do not identify as all-male or all-female

Qualification process for the International Quartet and Chorus Contests

The same process applies to all quartets and choruses, regardless of classification.

  1. Register a quartet or chorus with BHS, with all members in good standing.
  2. Enter any available BHS preliminary contest, regardless of location or District affiliation.
  3. Earn a qualifying score, as set from time to time by the Society Executive Director.
    For the 2021 International Contests, the qualifying scores will be:
    • Quartets - 78%
    • Choruses - 81%

All ensembles achieving the qualifying score are invited to the international contest. No distinction is made among classification of ensembles.

Competitors will be allowed a second attempt to achieve the qualifying score by competing in multiple local events, if they choose. A second attempt automatically replaces the first attempt score in terms of possible wild card qualification.

District representation

Each BHS District is assured of representation by at least one chorus and at least one quartet, provided the representative ensemble meets a minimum score. For the 2021 International Contests, the District Representative minimum scores will be:

    • Quartets - 76%
    • Choruses - 74%

From time to time, the Executive Director may also invite additional wild card choruses or quartets.

Operation of the International Quartet and Chorus Contests

The same process applies to all quartets and choruses, regardless of classification.

Order of appearance

  • The draw for order of appearance is made from a single pool which includes all classifications.
  • Contest sessions may intermingle ensembles from all classifications based on draw.
  • All performances are judged by the same panels under the same criteria.

Advancement of quartets through rounds

No distinction is made among classifications to advance; that is, each round represents the highest scoring quartets from the entire pool, without reserving slots for each of men’s, women’s, or mixed harmony quartets.

  • After the quarterfinal round, the 20 highest-scoring quartets will advance to the semifinals, even if only one or two classifications are represented.
  • After the semifinals, the 10 quartets with the highest cumulative scores advance to the finals, even if only one or two classifications are represented.

Championships and medals

A champion and up to four additional medalists will be named in each classification based on cumulative score across all rounds. In all cases, men compete only against other men, women against other women, and mixed harmony groups against mixed harmony groups. No overall champion will be named.

    • Men’s Quartet Champion and up to four medalists
    • Women’s Quartet Champion and up to four medalists
    • Mixed Harmony Quartet Champion and up to four medalists
    • Men’s Chorus Champion and up to four medalists
    • Women’s Chorus Champion and up to four medalists
    • Mixed Harmony Chorus Champion and up to four medalists

    Rank and subsequent contest participation

    In each of the three classifications, the champion chorus will be required to lay out of the international chorus contest for the next two years.

    In each of the three classifications, the long-standing BHS tradition that “once a champion, always a champion” will apply to all gold medalist quartets, and they will never again compete for the international championship. See “Operational Guidelines for Quartets.”