Behind the scenes and in plain sight, the Barbershop Harmony Society is reshaping the way music educators look at the art form and the impact our organization can make in the classroom and the world.
A brilliant showcase concert featuring the fabled Vocal Majority Chorus and beloved medalist Main Street quartet closed the 2016 National In-Service Conference of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME.) “The standing ovations (more than seven throughout the night) started in the back -- among the high school honors students,” reported Jeremy K. Gover, BHS audiovisual producer. “I looked up and saw these kids standing and whistling and screaming for Main Street and knew that something big was happening.” A chorus of male chorus directors led by Dr. Jim Henry performed a barbershop set that also drew warm approval.
“Two years ago, when NAfME held a national conference here in Nashville, we were barely on their radar,” said Joe Cerutti, Director of Outreach. “We had a booth, and the amount of traffic and interest that teachers and students had for our presence helped us secure a few workshops for the 2015 conference.” When Crossroads performed last year, the whole place exploded -- and the top leadership at NAfME stepped up and grabbed hold of the many ways the Society is actively supporting music educators.
Crossroads subsequently was honored in the summer of 2016 with NAfME’s Stand for Music Award and was featured at the Hill Day collegiate summit in Washington, D.C.
This rich and growing relationship set the stage for a dynamic week in Dallas this November. “Director Greg Clancy and the leadership of The Vocal Majority made sure the chorus treated the event as a command performance,” said CEO Marty Monson and the audience rewarded them with ovation after ovation.
“It’s amazing that the kids are so eager and proficient,” Marty said. “We don’t have a barbershop problem with youth. They don’t say ‘we want to try barbershop’ -- they already know it. They come up to us and ask if we want to sing a tag with them!”
Traffic at the exhibit booth was universally positive, according to Advocacy and Partnerships leader Sherry Lewis. “They know what we’re talking about, and they’re eager to get their hands on the resources.” Free music, Music Educator Guides, and information on our programs found receptive teachers. “It’s what they want to do, and they know it’s working.”
Jim Henry set the bar high for his male chorus directors ensemble: “I want them to be shocked at how much we accomplish in a short amount of time.” With just three rehearsals, he tuned up a performance that had their peers cheering before the final chord had concluded. It’s this kind of experience that an educator can bring back to his colleagues and supervisors and say, “Look, our professional organization believes in the art form and the depth of support that BHS is offering with no strings attached.”
Jim also had the opportunity to speak to more than 300 future music education majors attending the conference, and, forged a quick rapport with his rap-along from Hamilton.
BHS Inclusion and Integration specialist Wayne Grimmer used local youth choruses to demonstrate the Adaptable Arrangements Harmony Method which is being piloted at various schools across the country. Joe Cerutti rounded out the week with a seminar on “Music, Money, Men: How Barbershop Can Help Your Program.”
A recounting of the successes of the week in words and pictures only scratches the surface of the impact we are making, said Marty, returning to Jim Henry’s session with the 300 future music education students. When the meeting had concluded, “One guy came back to me and said, ‘Can I sing a tag?’ Then two more came over. In this room, there are 30 kids singing together, barbershop harmony. When I’m talking to these people, they’re just videoing everything. I asked, ‘Have you heard this before?’ and he replied, ‘This is what goes on in the hallways of my school every day.’”
Where once we had to scramble for attention and legitimacy, the Barbershop Harmony Society now stands as an exemplar of a mobilized, energetic force for growth in music education “When I show up to these things now, we’re the poster child,” said Marty.