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Music Category Judging Parameters Update

August 29, 2019

Changes to Music Category Judging Parameters Announced

As part of its ongoing efforts to refine, clarify, and communicate the rules under which barbershop competitions are adjudicated, the Barbershop Harmony Society Contest and Judging Committee recently revised a portion of the Music Category rules. These changes are effective immediately (Fall 2019) for official BHS contests.

Before anything, it is important to note that the Music Category judges believe that these changes should not affect competitor scores. Rather, the clarifications should assist performers in evaluating the suitability of material before ever reaching the contest stage.

In the video above, outgoing Music Category Specialist Steve Armstrong and incoming Music Category Specialist Steve Tramack explain the revisions.

Of primary importance:

“The category description is written for judges, guiding them how to judge. The contest rules are written for competitors. Adding these rules does two things: First, they will help better answer the question, ‘Can I sing this in contest?’ Second, it provides Music judges with a more natural way of assessing components of the style which cannot easily be linked to performance elements.

“We don’t expect your score to change. We’re not tightening anything up – we’re judging to exactly the same category description.”

Access Video Transcript

The Big Picture

In summary, the changes reinforce and clarify core principles of the barbershop style.

  1. In the barbershop style, the melody is most consistently sung by the lead, with harmony above and below the lead notes. This does not preclude short passages for contrast, but excessive use of melody in an outside voice will result in penalties.
  2. Chord progressions are an important part of the barbershop style. We love to hear the dominant, or “barbershop”, seventh (and ninth) chords based on a variety of roots, resolving around the circle of fifths, while also making use of other resolutions. Songs lacking these characteristic chord progressions will receive penalties.
  3. For contest, lyrics should be sung by all four parts through most of the song’s duration. For the contest stage, there should be a predominance of all parts singing lyrics. This rule doesn’t apply to things like neutral syllable introductions, short passages of “scat” or solos over neutral syllables. However, excessive examples will result in penalties.

Again, the impact of these revisions are mainly advisory to performers in selecting material for the contest stage. As always, before diving into new material, it’s a good idea to seek advice from knowledgeable judges, coaches, and arrangers regarding contest suitability.

The Specifics

Although a few minor text edits may occur before final inclusion in the rules, the specific rule changes are as follows.

Article IX of the BHS Official Contest rules currently states:

A. Songs

1. Barbershop Style

All songs performed in contest must be arranged in the barbershop style. (See style definition in Chapter 2 of the Contest and Judging Handbook.) A song performed in contest must be in good taste, be neither primarily patriotic nor primarily religious in intent, and have a melody and harmony consistent with the barbershop style.

a. Jurisdiction, Adjudication and Penalties: Songs not consistent with the barbershop style will be adjudicated in terms of the quality of the performance by the Music judge(s). Actions by any contestant that are not in good taste will be adjudicated in terms of the quality of the performance by the Performance judge(s). Violation of the provision relating to patriotic or religious intent will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Performance judges(s) only.

2. Unaccompanied

Songs must be sung without any kind of musical accompaniment and without instrumental introduction, interlude, or conclusion. The latter provision applies to both the entire performance and each individual song. Violation of this provision will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judges(s).

3. Chorus Subunits; Four-part Texture

In chorus contest performances of songs, selected use of a soloist, duet, trio or quartet is acceptable as long as it is brief and appropriate. At no time should the musical texture exceed four parts. The spoken word, brief and appropriate, is not considered an additional “part” in this context. Violation of this provision will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judges(s).

Revised language of Article IX will read:

A. Songs

1. Barbershop Style

All songs performed in contest must be arranged in the barbershop style. (See style definition in Chapter 2 of the Contest and Judging Handbook.) A song performed in contest have melody and harmony consistent with the barbershop style, must be neither primarily patriotic nor primarily religious in intent, and must be in good taste.

2. Music Category Elements

In contest certain musical elements are so significant to the style that deficiencies must be noted explicitly in order to provide sufficient information on the basis for the scoring and for performer feedback.

a. Unaccompanied: Songs must be sung without any kind of musical accompaniment and without instrumental introduction, interlude, or conclusion. The latter provision applies to both the entire performance and each individual song. Violation of this provision will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judges(s).

b. Four-part Texture: At no time should the musical texture exceed four parts. The spoken word, brief and appropriate, is not considered an additional “part” in this context. In chorus contest performances of songs, selected use of a soloist, duet, trio, or quartet is acceptable as long as it is brief and appropriate. Violation of this provision will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judges(s).

c. Melody: The melody should be present and distinguishable and is most consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord. Excessive passages with the melody not in an inside voice will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judge(s) only.

d. Chord Progressions: The song’s harmony must feature the natural occurrence of dominant seventh (and ninth) chords based on a variety of roots. Chord progressions in the barbershop style are based on the harmonic practice of dominant seventh (and ninth) chords resolving around the circle of fifths, while also making use of other resolutions. Songs lacking these characteristic chord progressions will receive penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judge(s) only.

e. Lyrics: Lyrics should be sung by all four parts through most of the song’s duration. Excessive passages without words in all four parts will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Music judge(s) only.

f. Other issues: Songs not consistent with the barbershop style for any other musical reason (including chord vocabulary or lack of homorhythmic texture) will be adjudicated in terms of the quality of the performance by the Music judge(s).

3. Performance Category Elements

a. Patriotic or Religious Intent: Violation of the provision relating to songs being not primarily patriotic or religious intent will result in penalties up to and including forfeiture by the Performance judges(s) only.

b. Good Taste: Actions by any contestant that are not in good taste will be adjudicated in terms of the quality of the performance by the Performance judge(s).

Video Transcript

[SA] Hello, I’m Steve Armstrong, the current BHS Music Category Specialist.

[ST] And I’m Steve Tramack, the incoming Category Specialist.

[SA] And we’re here to discuss additions to contest rules, related to the Barbershop style. Note, these are not changes to the definition of the style, nor changes what we judge. As such, we don’t expect the resulting score to change – simply the method by which we account for three stylistic elements.

[ST] Over the last 10 years or so, as part of clarifying the category description and judging process, the Music category has reviewed which components were really core elements of the style, versus performance elements of great music. We also shifted from a penalty mindset related to stylistic infractions, to a holistic mindset for scoring, weighing both musical and performance elements. This rule change allows the pendulum to swing back ever so slightly in three areas.

[SA] The category description is written for judges, guiding them how to judge. The contest rules are written for competitors. Adding these rules does two things: First, they will help better answer the question, “Can I sing this in contest?” Second, it provides music judges with a more natural way of assessing components of the style which cannot easily be linked to performance elements.

[ST] Once again, we don’t expect your score to change. We’re not “tightening” anything up – we’re judging to exactly the same category description. We naturally think of these three elements as lowering the performance-based score.

[SA] In summary, here are the new rules (show the article number on screen: Article IX). Infractions of these rules will lead to penalties ranging from 1 point up to and including forfeiture of the Music score only:

  1. In our style, the melody is most consistently sung by the lead, with harmony above and below the lead notes. This does not preclude short passages for contrast, but excessive use of melody in an outside voice will result in penalties. An example of an arrangement which would generate a penalty is the Boston Common’s version of “We Three”.
  2. [ST] Chord progressions are an important part of the barbershop style. We love to hear the dominant, or “barbershop”, seventh (and ninth) chords based on a variety of roots, resolving around the circle of fifths, while also making use of other resolutions. Think about your favorite arrangements which you would unabashedly identify as “barbershop” – chances are, they feature a number of these chords and progressions. Songs like “Five Foot Two” naturally imply these chords and circle of fifths progressions. Arrangements such as the Society’s published version of “Under the Boardwalk” do not feature dominant sevenths on a variety of roots or circle of fifths progressions. Songs lacking these characteristic chord progressions will receive penalties.
  3. [SA] For contest, lyrics should be sung by all four parts through most of the song’s duration. Think about an arrangement such as the Polecat version of “Darkness on the Delta”. We would identify many elements as “barbershop”, but 60% of the song features a lead solo over neutral syllables. Keepsake’s “The Entertainer” is another example of solid barbershop…except for the fact that there are no lyrics. For the contest stage, we’d like to hear a predominance of all parts singing lyrics. This rule doesn’t apply to things like neutral syllable introductions, short passages of “scat” or solos over neutral syllables. However, excessive examples will result in penalties.
  4. [ST] There are other elements of the style, such as chord vocabulary or degree of homorhythmic texture and embellishment, which can be assessed holistically through our performance elements such as consonance, and will continue in that manner.

[SA] To once again reiterate, we don’t expect the final score will change. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to either Steve or myself at the email address listed on screen. Thanks for your time, and enjoy making great music in the barbershop style!