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The History of the BHS Contest & Judging System

The History of the BHS Contest & Judging System

Kevin Keller introduces his new video series.

Kevin Keller Introduction

From the very beginning of our Society, contests have driven the evolution of the barbershop style. We hear and see innovations that we like, and we attempt to imitate and learn from it.

Yet often throughout our history, the rules have dictated what is regarded as barbershop. As a result, part of the evolution of style is driven by what is rewarded. The recent Legacy Quartet Championship - wasn’t that spectacular! - showcased some of our very best quartets throughout the last 50+ years. As you watched it, were you wondering why these groups did certain things, and then later groups didn't? These patterns were driven by the rules. Like any endeavor, if you want to win, you discover what is being rewarded by the judges.

Around six to seven years ago, I was attempting to do some research on the history of a particular rule. I contacted Harmony Hall for help, and was told that no archives of contest and judging existed beyond whatever we had in our possession. So after having a heart attack at the thought of losing all of the history of contest and judging, I sent out requests throughout the land to obtain as much contest and judging history as possible before these documents found their way into landfills. Rules, meeting minutes, letters, etc. - and the members came through. I'm 100% confident we do not have all the materials, but we now have a very strong archive system for contests and judging. Almost all of what we have has been digitized and stored in our Society's digital archives.

So as I was going through this process, it became a dream of mine to write a book to document the history of our contest and judging history, and how it influenced the barbershop style. There are so many myths about judging, which at one point in time were likely true, but are no longer true. Some rules were in place, and now are gone. Why did that happen? We look at some decisions today with decades of experience, and we think ‘what were they thinking?’ But at that time, the smartest barbershoppers in the world felt it was the best solution to the problem they were facing.

So one would think that with a pandemic, one would have more time than normal to write this book. Alas, the book has not written itself. However, this summer I made a couple of different hour-long presentations on our history, and a new vision appeared; we could do a video documentary series, walking through every era of judging, diving deeper into some of the rules, some of the lore, and how its impacted us. That we could do.

Currently, I've broken up this history into 11 video segments, but that is subject to change. The first three segments will take us from 1939 to 1961, and so on. Each video will be one hour or less, and will be released every two to three weeks (depending upon my ability to get each one done). The Society is hosting these videos and some supporting documents that go with each video.

In closing, this series is a labor of love for me. As a result, these videos and materials will be free. I don't want anyone to not have access to this valuable historic information. If you have more to add to what I’ve shared, please contribute all along the way. This study is not exhaustive and the earlier years definitely have gaps in our knowledge. Below is a link to the first video about the early years. I hope you’ll join me along this journey. Enjoy.

-Kevin Keller

Kevin Keller has been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society since 1978. A certified Music Judge since 1998, he served as Music Category Specialist from 2008-2010 and Chairman of Contest and Judging from 2012-2015. He has a rich history of both chorus and quartet experience. He was an assistant director with Ambassadors of Harmony as it rose up the ranks to winning gold, as well as taking small choruses to higher levels. He has won two district championships as a quartet singer and finished as high as 6th place internationally with Cheers! in 2003. He coaches quartets and choruses of all calibers. He is recognized throughout the barbershop world as an accomplished arranger, teacher and coach. Kevin was recently inducted into the BHS Hall of Fame.