Take it from Tessa: One Youth Event Can Change an Entire Life
GUEST BLOG: One profoundly life-changing barbershop event is permanently imprinted in Tessa Walker’s memory. Now a youth member of three barbershop organizations, a high school music educator and lead of Hot Pursuit quartet (2019 Harmony Inc. Queens), she shares the moment that changed everything and how you can invest in the Next Generation of barbershop singers.
Where it all started
I joined the barbershop world at 14 after attending a Diva Day Youth Workshop organized by the Sweet Adelines chapter Song of Atlanta Show Chorus (SOA). I went because my life was missing the joy of singing. An Atlanta girls’ youth choir was a guest performer at the workshop, and my 9th-grade brain thought I might find the joy with them. My day was full of surprises! Instead of what I expected, I got a day full of making music I’d never made before. I got to meet Debbie Cleveland and Last Minute Quartet (Sherida Foster, Rebecca Grimmer, Deidra Ekins, and Erica Schleier) for the first time. I saw SOA perform. My life changed forever from that day on.
I wrote my college essay about this day. “Next up is Song of Atlanta (SOA), the chorus group running the “Diva Day” workshop. The lights go down, and they file in. I find myself sitting up a little taller. Something about these women demanded my attention. The lights go up and BOOM, I am hit by a mass of red sequins. Their power and personality expands into the audience. Someone blows the pitch pipe and they sing their uptune: an upbeat, fast-paced song. With the first chord, they have me. I whisper to my mother, “This is it. This is the chorus I want to join.”
I remember this day. This was THE day. When I saw SOA in their red sequined outfits and I heard them sing their first tune-up chord, I turned to my mother and said “I pick THIS. I want to do this for the rest of my life.” (And I am!) I walked up to Karin Kinder (a member of SOA) and asked about rehearsals. I started attending a couple of weeks later.
I chose barbershop that day.
I chose a whole world that seemed to be waiting for me. I chose a family that will be with me wherever and whenever. I chose a space that would give me new dreams and new ambitions. Barbershop brought me the joy of singing, gave me friends and family who I can’t live without, and brought me the love of my life. That day was the start of a new beginning for me and I was never the same.
So many young barbershoppers have a similar story to mine.
And so many young people CAN have a similar story to mine. The legacy that was set forth decades ago will only carry on if young people buy into it. The music of barbershop can easily grab hold of someone. Anyone who has rung a tag can agree with that.
Members who show that they value diversity, inclusion, and youth will always make everyone feel loved and wanted.
Youth membership and participation in the Barbershop Harmony Society is the most diverse demographic we have. The fresh ideas that are transforming the Music category and pushing the envelope to help carry this genre into a new generation are admirable. We have to support our youth both in and out of our organizations. It is the only way we’ll grow. Why should we not invest in that?
I am a proud member of three organizations: Sweet Adelines International, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Harmony, Inc.
I’m a member of all three because each one has something different to offer me. This, however, is VERY rare, especially for a youth member. I’m currently 25 years old and in my last year to claim the “youth badge.” I’ve had amazing support from my family that allowed me to afford these organizations and opportunities.
Most frequently, youth struggle to afford even one of these organizations. They face costs for gas to rehearsals, chapter dues, regional/area/district dues, costumes, convention registration and fees, and show ticket prices. An amazing article in the July/August 2020 Harmonizer by Dr. Jacob Bartlett goes through some tips for engaging youth in your chapters. Please give that a read. It highlights the common struggles that college students meet when getting involved in a barbershop chapter and how a local chapter can overcome those struggles.
Barbershoppers invested in me. I am the future of barbershop.
Local chapters must support their neighborhood high school and collegiate choral programs. Even if they do not gain many members by doing so, their impression on the younger community will be everlasting. As a music educator myself, I see that it is so valuable to create musical friendships within the community. Local chapters can offer to coach, donate barbershop music to their program, provide complimentary tickets to their annual shows, or come in and lead a “barbershop day” where students can learn and listen to the artform. It is worth it to be sharing barbershop with young kids. It is worth it to get them to sing -- even if it’s only a tag! Even if they do not become members that year, I can promise they’ll remember that time in their life. They will remember their favorite song to perform in high school was a barbershop number. They will remember that a barbershop quartet came and sang just for them.
Investing in young members is investing in the future of barbershop. I implore each chapter of every organization out there to get involved with youth. It doesn’t matter how small or how big your chorus is, you can make a difference. Create a district-/area-/region- wide event if you are a small chapter or research your organization for youth grants. Create a music team or board member position specifically for youth outreach. Give the youth members already in your chorus a voice. Give them leadership positions and let them show you how much vision they have. Let them teach you. Let them be the ones to give you another perspective. Invest in them. Invest in what they stand for. Every potential youth member deserves an origin story as epic as mine. They just need someone to provide it for them. Let that be you.
Tessa Walker is the choir director at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland. There, she music directs four choirs and the school’s musical theatre productions. Though she now resides in Maryland, she grew up in Georgia, graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Choral Music Education with a History Minor from Kennesaw State University. Tessa has been a barbershopper for over a decade with many contests, camps, and conventions under her belt. She is a proud member of Sweet Adelines International, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Harmony, Inc. In recent years, she won the Sweet Adelines International Rising Star 2018 Competition and the 2019 Harmony Incorporated International Quartet Contest with her quartet, Hot Pursuit!