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How Can We Feature the "Common Man" in The Harmonizer?

If you'd like some insight into how I select which stories go in The Harmonizer, here it is. Right or wrong, this is how I see my job as editor of the magazine, and this is how I filter through the many submissions and story pitches I receive. The following e-mail exchange shows a quandary that I face in knowing how to talk about ordinary barbershoppers among ordinary barbershoppers.

It started with an e-mail story pitch I just received from a barbershopper who belongs to a 10-year-old registered quartet that doesn't compete. They perform about 60 times per year, mostly pro bono at hospitals, nursing homes and retirement facilities. He was inquiring about a feature regarding his quartet. The last part of his e-mail resembles several e-mails or conversations I've had:

If I must say so, we are very well received and entertain all of or audiences and are well know in our small cosmos. It is quartets like [quartet name] that is the frontline entertainers to the general public and deserve some recognition with an article in the Harmonizer. How about recognizing the "trench fighters" of our society? It is great to be a top quartet and compete with the "big boys" and get recognition for GREAT singing but there are many more of us representing the society to the general public than "medal" quartets.

The following is my reply. It includes details about my selection process and some rough ideas I'm trying to pursue. Can anyone enlighten me about how we can give "common" quartets, groups and individuals coverage that would be interesting to the average barbershopper? Any critiques on my present thought processes? Anybody you know who would make for an interesting profile?

Thanks for your inquiry and feedback. You’re definitely not the first person to say it, but I’m always a little confused about the perception that we only talk about the champs. A typical Harmonizer issue will feature several items about “regular” quartets and usually nothing about the champions. In any case, our editorial focus is actually shifting to talking more about regular, every-day choruses and members who are doing great things, although we will continue to talk about barbershoppers who accomplish the most or who perform at the highest level. It’s possible that the perception comes from the fact that it’s easy (and due to the fact that The Harmonizer is also an historical record, it’s necessary) to create features on championship level groups. To use that space to feature a quartet that other Society members haven’t heard about requires me asking, on the reader’s behalf, what parts of the story pass the “why are you telling me this?” test. Did they do something unique? Meet someone famous? Achieve some kind of milestone? Touch someone’s life in a particular way? Garner a big audience? Do something other quartets don’t always do, but should? Is there some general characteristic of the quartet that can be outlined in such a way that it shows what’s great about being a barbershopper? A lot of submissions I receive do indeed answer one or more of these questions. (Those would be the handful of “regular” quartets that we feature each issue.) For the sake of space (and reader interest), we highlight that interesting feature and elaborate only those elements that lend themselves well to elaboration. When it comes to FEATURING an “everyman” quartet in a longer piece, there’s an even higher bar, because the story has to be interesting and relevant enough to the reader to sustain interest. That would take either a very compelling back story or a very skillful writer who can cast the ordinary in a very interesting light. (Probably both!) I’m considering adding regular features on everyday barbershoppers, choruses and/or quartets – punchy, pithy and interesting pieces that go into a little more depth without taking up a lot of space. Still haven’t figured out what that’ll look like – again, making the ordinary look interesting to fellow barbershoppers is not easy, especially when one has no staff to which he can delegate the task. I share all this with you not as an excuse but so that you can understand that my job is to serve as the reader’s advocate. I get a lot of requests to give someone publicity for publicity’s sake (not saying that’s what you’re doing), and that doesn’t pass the threshold of what gets published. It has to be interesting and/or applicable to a large number of readers. Since you brought up the question, I’m very interested in some input from you on this matter:
  • What are the things about your quartet (or another quartet you know) that would make for the most compelling reading?
  • Thinking in a non-feature mode (but the punchy/pithy profile mode), what would you envision as the kinds of interesting or unique tidbits that might make it into such a profile?
  • Do you have any ideas how such a profile might work? I have some rough ideas, but I’m always interested in reader feedback that could flesh out an idea like this.
Again, I’m not trying to justify or excuse any past or current editorial choices. I really do want to know if you have any ideas how we could pull this off. Any suggestions, perception or feedback would be appreciated!