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NextGen Varsity contest kindles new leaders

NextGen Varsity contest kindles new leaders

Youth champs Wildfire take the leap from being great students of the music to becoming leaders themselves.

WILDFIRE: Kevin Mendez, bari; Harrison Cooke, bass; Stephen Goldman, lead; Caleb Hayes, tenor

Singing with conviction and commitment... hearing the deafening hush of a rapt audience... soaking in the applause… winning a contest. These unforgettable moments would be reward enough for any top-level quartet.

But as 2019 Varsity Champion Wildfire has found, the Next Generation Barbershop Varsity Quartet Contest teaches even broader lifelong lessons about teamwork, responsibility, and personal potential.

As part of a continuing series that expands on themes in our 2019 Annual Report, we share more of our interview with 2019 Next Generation Barbershop Varsity Champion Wildfire.

A lifelong lesson

STEPHEN: One of the life skills that barbershop has taught me has been to believe in myself more. When leading up to contests and rehearsals, I used to be so afraid to fail. Through failure and success, I have grown a lot and now believe in myself a lot more, in all facets of life.

Quartet singing sparks a new level of personal responsibility

STEPHEN: Once I was in a quartet and competed at the international level, it completely changed my level of engagement. I was putting more time and effort into it. Once there’s a component of just you and three other guys, it makes you want to work harder.

CALEB: It’s all about responsibility. Whenever we go into a contest, we're responsible for our own part but we're also responsible for the other three guys next to us. It’s a team based effort. You have those moments where one of us isn’t feeling too good, and we need to pick each other up. It’s just a big time responsibility to be part of the team. It has made me more responsible for my music and accountable to these guys.

HARRISON: Everyone’s rooting for each other.

Feeling like you belong for life — as a fan, or as a teacher, or as a singer

KEVIN: As a young Barbershopper, the availability of YouTube is amazing. The fact that we can watch all our heroes and quartets on there is incredible!

STEPHEN: Barbershop always seems like a getaway. It always felt like it was exactly where I wanted to be. Although we might be going to work 12, 13, 14 hour days with kids at harmony camps, it would feel like the time passed so quickly. I wanted to keep on coming back to these events and I felt like the weekends I remember the most from last year are the barbershop weekends.

HARRISON: Barbershop weekends really are like mini-vacations with your best friends doing something you love more than anything else in the world.

CALEB: Barbershop was the backbone of my life this year. I can always count on these guys if I needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to and they were always there for me. And that’s what barbershop is. You come together to sing, but I think subconsciously these friendships and long lasting relationships are the result of it.

Stepping forward as leaders

KEVIN: I helped found a mixed chorus this year. The fact that I get to sing with all of my friends, my girlfriend, we all get to come together and socialize and sing together is just a wonderful experience that I would not give for anything in the world. I’m really glad that BHS chose to support mixed choruses.

STEPHEN: We worked hard in the quartet. We were having fun and really just wanted to be as good as possible. We didn’t really know how bright our future could be until it was right in front of us. Then a lot of us took off after we had achieved the win in Salt Lake. We felt more confident to take on more responsibility for the future.

I had no musical experience going into high school— I didn't know anything. Now, I’m an assistant director to a top ten chorus in the world. It's amazing what barbershop can do. I didn't know anything a few years ago -- and now I teach tags and feel confident about my musical abilities. I would have never had that opportunity without barbershop. I was never that engaged by music. Now I feel like even more than just singing, I have something fun in life that brings me so much joy.

Mentorship makes a lifelong difference

STEPHEN: Debbie Cleveland brought barbershop in my life in high school and has harbored my love for it and been there every step of the way.

For the quartet, Rick Spencer was one of the first people who told us that we could be the real deal. He has guided us so much along the way, and was there for every step in Salt Lake City. Without Rick, we wouldn’t be where we are as a quartet.

Tony DeRosa has been monumental in my growth. Whether it be singing on the risers for him, learning a new singing technique or getting to learn how to direct from him. Not many people get to be in the position I am with him, and I never take it for granted.

For chapter leaders: How can you support young singers in your chorus or your local community?

You’ve probably heard Wayne Gretzky quoted as saying “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take,” and as it pertains to our chapters and our Next Generation quartets/singers, that is definitely the case. It starts with taking a chance and making an ask of local choir directors. Freely offer your experience, your resources, and your enthusiasm for music and fraternity, but do so altruistically. Don’t look for an immediate return, but instead play the long game. Offering scholarships to harmony camps, gifting sheet music and learning tracks, sharing barbershop YouTube links, and having high school choirs on your next chorus program are all ways to support young singers and to garner interest in our wonderful artform. They might not join your chorus that year, or even the next year, but sometimes they go on to found chapters of their own, become a chorus director, or even be on staff at Harmony Hall. You can read more about the impact of our outreach and how you can take part here.

Next time: The power of harmony singing to connect people