Flying high with Sky Harris
Before she could become a Society member herself, the former “barbershop brat” had already founded an internationally competitive BHS men’s chorus. Sky Harris discusses what she’s learned as a music educator and in her experience within both men’s and women’s barbershop.
I watched Sky Harris introduce my kids to barbershop as their choral director, and then my kids brought me back to barbershop after 35 years. The passion and persistence of Sky, now my chorus director in Harmonic Collective (SLD), gave me the gift of singing with my son on chapter shows and on the International Chorus stage. I sat down with Sky to let her share a little of her past, present, and perspective with everyone.
-David Lunden, President of Liverpool, NY Chapter
WHAT ARE SOME LESSONS YOU’VE TAKEN AWAY FROM GROWING UP AS A “BARBERSHOP BRAT”?
Staying to watch every quartet in the Quarterfinals with my dad taught me that every voice has value. Volunteering at his chapter shows, I learned you don’t have to win a medal to make a difference—you just have to care about people. At afterglows, I learned it’s okay to make a mistake—just ask the group to sing the line again and keep trying. Singing tags with the guys in my dad’s chorus taught me that reaching out and including people in your circle can change lives.
When Dad pulled my brother and me up on stage to sing “Keep the Whole World Singing” at every chapter show, I learned your “hobby” can become a calling if you believe in its power to make the world a better place.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOUR BARBERSHOP AND MUSIC EDUCATION COMMUNITIES KNEW ABOUT EACH OTHER?
I want music educators to learn from the inclusive, accessible family experience that barbershop can be and embrace it for all its musical, vocal, and social value. I want Barbershoppers to take the time to embrace all the music-making going on in schools already, with no strings attached. Sometimes barbershop music isn’t necessarily the answer, but the barbershop community can always be.
WHY START A MEN’S CHORUS?
In all my time growing up around the men’s barbershop world, my dad always treated me like just another Barbershopper, and so everyone else did, too. When I started teaching, my brother and I took kids to barbershop camps. He’s always my partner in crime.
When the girls got bitten by “the bug,” I could bring them to Spirit of Syracuse (Sweet Adelines). But my guys didn’t have an equitable opportunity, so we created one with the help of the women in SOS. They chaperoned the youth chorus to the Youth Chorus Festival at Midwinter, threw us a party when we got our BHS charter, invited us to be on shows, and we’re still learning from and cheering for each other today.
As an educator, I know the treble/bass choral experience can be invaluable on so many levels, just like mixed experiences. I’m grateful to so many that my kids have access to both.
OUT OF HUNDREDS OF PERFORMANCES AS A SINGER OR DIRECTOR, WHAT IS YOUR BEST MOMENT ON STAGE—OR WORST?
Being on stage at International with my brother and father had been a dream since my first International contest in 1998. The first time, my butterflies were fully deployed. But when I turned back to my guys, I wasn’t afraid anymore—just in awe of their greatness.
The most awkward things have happened after performances. After my Sweet Adeline quartet’s second contest ever, we had a great hit, won most improved, and then we got our scoresheet. It included a comment about how unflattering our outfits were. Very deflating. Another was after directing Harmonic Collective in a BHS contest. A gentleman told me, “Those guys are amazing! How are you not married yet?” I laughed and tried to change the subject. His response? “I could be the one!” I know he meant it as a compliment, but it felt like being reduced to a commodity instead of the powerhouse I had felt like moments before. Words matter.
WITH YOUR EXPERIENCES, WHAT PERSPECTIVE DO YOU MOST WANT BARBERSHOPPERS TO HEAR AND KNOW?
Last summer, I was the only female director to cross the contest stage. There were five of us in Orlando. My fear is for my guys to be judged by one trait that I cannot and would not change. I’m humbled and proud to be one of the few women in the Society currently directing at that level, and I’m grateful my guys value me both as a Barbershopper and a woman. Intersectionality and understanding the value in all our pieces matters. Making music together has the potential to make us all better humans—that’s why I became a music teacher.
Use your platform, your passion, and your privilege to amplify others and make the world a better place. I’m grateful I have the chance to still learn how to do that every day from my family and from my singers of all ages.
IF YOU COULD JOIN BOTH A GOLD MEDAL QUARTET AND A COMEDY QUARTET, WHICH QUARTETS AND WHY?
I love so many quartets—The Gas House Gang, Vocal Spectrum, GQ, and all the youth quartets I’ve ever gotten to love, but in both cases I’d choose Storm Front (2010 champion). I love their mission with young people, and that they can make you laugh and cry in the same set. Having had the honor to learn from them in person, I feel their quartet culture is one I could always buy into—help each other, work hard for each other, and do something out there that makes people think and feel. I sing tenor, so that would mean kicking out Jeff Selano ... sorry!