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Musicality Category launched

Music Category becomes Musicality Category

Look for a new name on the contest judges’ badges, and continued growth in helping performers express themselves artistically in song.

“A rose by any other other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare

The Music Category was launched in 1993 as part of the “new” categories. Integrating elements of the previous Arrangement and Interpretation categories, Music judged the song and arrangement, as performed. Remarkably, the category adapted over the years as the Barbershop style evolved and performances exhibited increased levels of artistry. This adaptation required updates to the category language every 5-10 years to ensure that the Category Description (CD) document still reflected what we were judging.

During the pandemic, we took a closer look at the CD, and realized a refresh was in order. For example, key concepts of musicality such as unity/contrast, tension/release, and thematic development—all key areas of focus in our coaching and contestant feedback—were either under-represented or missing altogether from the CD. Also, guidance to adjudicate stylistic aspects considered commonplace, such as swing rhythms and contrasting textures such as neutral syllable introductions, was not included in the CD.

We set forth in late 2022 to update and refresh the CD. In doing so, we realized that what we’ve really been judging is “musicality in the barbershop style,” hence the name change. The Musicality category was officially launched this past weekend, and will be judged starting this fall.

So, what does this mean to contestants? For most performances, scoring approach and levels will remain unchanged. Remember, regardless of the name change, this new CD reflects what we’ve already been judging. It simply provides guidance for improved consistency.

There are a couple of changes which we believe are positive for both musicality and the barbershop style. First, much of the language in the CD has been changed to reflect positive examples of musicality in the barbershop style rather than negative. Instead of discussing how a Musicality score may be lower, it describes those aspects which may result in a higher score. The mindset is one of rewarding musicality—particularly when enhanced by stylistic aspects.

The performance aspects of musicality now more clearly provide guidance around the technical and artistic aspects of rendering music. The artistic aspects focus on micro and macro views of the performance, and reward performances demonstrating sensitivity to the music. Opinionated performers, informed by the composer’s and arranger’s thematic elements, will be rewarded.

The barbershop style is more prominently featured throughout the performance elements of the category description. While today, performances deficient in the barbershop style receive a lower score, those rich in elements of the style which enhance the musicality can now be more easily rewarded.

Look for more information later this year, providing a more detailed look into the Musicality category and exploring how you can increase your sensitivity to and knowledge of music to inform your musical choices.


Steve Tramack
Musicality Category Specialist