The journey toward Everyone In Harmony happens person by person and chapter by chapter. We’re seeing new ways for chapters to organize around the aspirations of members. Catch up with the people and thinking that are broadening our reach.
Everything old is new again in this startup
Remember those good old chapters of the 1940s? Chapters that got together to sing, share some meals and laughs, and conducted community service projects? That model gets a new take in the Middle Tennessee Chapter, where a mixed chorus of younger people received its charter last spring. Scanning the roster of Noteworthy, you’ll recognize a number of top-echelon singers who have gained notoriety in youth and open contests from BHS, Sweet Adelines, and Harmony, Inc. — but contest was not the organizing principle for these high achievers.
Still under development, the chapter defines its mission as musical and artistic excellence as a path to reaching youth and under-represented communities. Busy barbershop couples (the chorus has a few) find the mix of social life and a place to sing together the perfect blend.
One chapter, two choruses, distinct missions
When Ted Rose formed Harmony ReChoired in Charleston, West Virginia, his goal was simple:
“Instead of directing, I wanted to sing!”
A 20-year Barbershopper and accomplished musical theater actor, he envisioned a “directorless” mixed a cappella group with a wide-ranging repertoire, with singers coming from a wide variety of backgrounds.
This group would become a second ensemble within the Greater Kanawha Valley Chapter. “My husband Steve Waggoner directs the Kordsmen, and his heart and soul lies with a male-only sound, so we chose separate ensembles rather than converting to mixed.”
Two years later, Harmony ReChoired has 17 active singers, a handful of whom also sing in the Kordsmen, and 11 of whom are new members of BHS. “We’re piloting the Polecat program so any member of either chorus can do pickup quartet gigs.”
Bill Young and the Capitol City Chordsmen
One man's journey into barbershop - and his mission to share it
A chance meeting while buying a Christmas tree led to an invitation to Bill Young to visit the Lansing Capitol City Chordsmen. Although he’d always been a casual singer, he was hesitant. “I sang to all my kids and grandchildren when they were growing up.
I would sing Motown songs by the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, and Marvin Gaye. Those were the singers I grew up with, and they also looked like me. I had never seen an African American barbershop singer.”
Urged on by his wife and his granddaughter (“Papa, you know you like to sing!”), he took the plunge. “When the assistant director introduced me to everyone, the whole chorus started clapping. I felt I was welcomed and I didn’t feel out of place even though I was the only African American in the room."
At break, the guys came up to me and started introducing themselves to me and welcoming me to their rehearsal. At that point I felt that I just might belong there. Imagine me, singing with an organized chorus for the first time in my life!
Now six years later, Bill is initiating a project to reach out to African American churches and community groups with a packet of information and Harmonizer issues, leading to speaking engagements. “I thought I should get out there and start promoting it, if I want more African Americans involved in barbershop."
Reflecting on his career as a behavior management consultant, he notes, “I’ve spoken to audiences before, and the bottom line is that I know and feel when I’m accepted, and when I’m respected. I also feel when I’m just tolerated. As an African American, it’s difficult to express to white people that, hey, you’re always accepted no matter where you are. No one’s going to say, ‘Oh, there’s a white person here.’ Well, it’s just the opposite for an African American. Doors are not always open to people of color, including in the Society’s history. When I say that I felt welcomed in a predominantly white form, that’s a whole different thing. I want to share my journey into barbershop and make it as humanizing as possible."
Our commitment to inclusion
The Society’s commitment to radical inclusion cannot be achieved by speaking magic words and expecting the world to suddenly change.
Ongoing self-reflection, personal conversation, and intentional approaches to governance and decision-making all play a role in expanding our capacity to walk and sing alongside all people. BHS staff and the volunteer Inclusion Operations Project Team are working with the Culture Shift consulting group to expand training programs in many directions.
- Staff training: regular guest speakers address topics of inclusivity, gender, ability, diversity, and heritage.
- Facilitated discussions at Society Board meetings.
- Trained facilitators will conduct dialogues in chapters, boards, and small groups.