How to help others fall in love with barbershop
If few people bite at your invitation to try out barbershop, it may be because they don’t know whether they like the art form. Good thing the music sells itself!
In my short time as BHS Recruitment and Retention Manager, many members have asked how to get more people to their rehearsals— virtual now, eventually in person.
I want answers, too!
Here’s one thing: if a lot of people don’t accept your invitations, it may be because you glossed over the first critical step: helping them like barbershop. How can you expect someone who has no idea yet whether they like barbershop music to carve out time for your rehearsal? Do you even know whether they like to sing? Are they looking for something extra to do in their lives?
I’d like to introduce a crazy concept that “recruiting” isn’t always about getting your friend to come to your chorus rehearsal … yet. If you can just show a friend barbershop singing and see if they dig it, you’re on to something!
It’s not about getting people to sing with you, not even a tag. It’s about what you share with friends via social media or personal message. Help them fall in love with the music like you did!
SHOW THEM GREAT YOUTUBE VIDEOS
Anyone: “Notre Dame Medley,” Ringmasters. (Start at 4:45!) This is my go-to if I just want to show that barbershop is exciting and excellent singing. Plus, all my American friends are awestruck that they’re Swedish!
Students: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” The Newfangled Four. Young people seeing other young people entertain a huge audience is the key! Who knew that barbershop could be funny, too!
Choir nerds: “If You Love Me, Really Love Me,” Double Date. A mixed group of emotive, highly-trained singers that will attract choir lovers of any gender toward barbershop.
WHAT IF THEY THINK THEY KNOW BARBERSHOP AND SAY THEY DON’T LIKE IT?
“Barbershop is bad singing!”
Show them: “Lucky Old Sun,” Crossroads. They sing with total freedom and sincerity. Jim Henry is my favorite bass of all time and the quartet has made a name for itself in the choral arts world and has helped globally legitimize our artform. And of course, Mike Slamka’s voice is like butter.
“Barbershop is for old white guys!”
Show them: “Dance With My Father,” Signature. Not just a tear-generating performance, but this quartet has inspired so many young people of color to sing barbershop, and they encourage all of us to have frank conversations about our history and future. Their 2020 AIC Show video of “Listen” from Dreamgirls moved me to tears, and we need more of that.
OR show them: “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good,” GQ. Yes, that’s my quartet. But! The number of young girls who tell us, “I didn’t know I was allowed to sing barbershop!” is frankly scary. Representation is critical. If you’re introducing someone to barbershop, show videos of people who look like them.
“I can’t sing!” Reply, “Yes, you can!” Harmony University faculty member and quartet champion Debbie Cleveland tells everyone that their voice is beautiful. It’s sad to hear that some singers were told to be quiet at some point in their lives. Use positive reinforcement to help them be comfortable with their own voice.
LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING
The minute I show someone a learning track, they’re hooked, since not being able to read music is no longer a barrier. This beautiful hobby is accessible to everyone. Most of my non-barbershop friends (yes, I have some) wonder what on earth I do with “that singing group I’m in.” It’s not until I show them a GQ or other barbershop video, depending on the audience, that they really get that barbershop is a cappella but on steroids.
You can turn someone into a barbershop fan. You can be the person responsible for bringing them into the hobby. You could be their Person of Note. Start small by getting them to like barbershop.
We all started at Step 1. Don’t write this step off!
About the Author
Katie Macdonald is the Recruitment and Retention Manager for the Barbershop Harmony Society and a member of GQ, an a cappella and barbershop quartet from Baltimore, Maryland.
This article was originally featured in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of The Harmonizer.