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Where we are, and what comes next

Where we are, and what comes next

How can an activity built on people standing close together have any hope? How could the huggiest friends in the world stay apart? Fear not: Barbershoppers have jumped up and gotten to work preserving our experience.

Marty Monson, CEO, Barbershop Harmony Society

Each day during the pandemic brings new questions about our world. When will my state, province or city reopen? When will we be safe in public? When will work and school and community life -- and BARBERSHOP -- get back to normal?

Friends, if any one of us had the ability to see the future perfectly and could know when widespread vaccines and treatments would be available, well, we’d be trillionaires. (And we’d give a huge chunk to BHS, right?)

We choose to live in the real world, to accept facts as facts, and to not indulge in magical thinking. We as a Society need to act with hope for the future, and while we will -- and do! -- mourn for the events and experiences lost, we will not allow our mourning for the past slow us down.

I want to outline for you a few things that we are doing right now to keep our barbershop experience moving forward in the weeks and months ahead. We resolve to be nimble, and innovative, and trust that our barbershop community will continue to find ways to be safe together.

We can change the HOW of barbershop.
We will never change the WHAT.
And we need YOU -- and each other -- to walk this path together.

What we understand today

Our partners in the choral community are all working together to understand the future

The webinar we co-hosted with ACDA, NATS, PAMA and Chorus America was a landmark collaboration, bringing together science, medicine and arts management to provide clear-eyed, fact-based evaluation of the challenges we face.

  • We are working on co-sponsoring further scientific research on the distinct concerns about group singing as a transmission environment for coronaviruses -- and seeking options to mitigate foreseeable health risks
  • We are seeing professional education organizations working hard on methods for teaching music in the classroom -- potentially adaptable for us as barbershop ensembles, too.
  • We are working on additional partnerships to learn as much as possible, including a webinar on Tuesday, May 26 on Singing: What we CAN do.

What we can say with certainty

Regardless of the wide range of phased reopening of various states, provinces and communities, legal reopening/congregating is not the same thing as safely singing together.

The science is clear: in the hierarchy of “safe” activities to return to, group singing is considered among the least safe.

  • Singers are considered “super spreaders” and “super emitters.” The things that make for good singing make it easier to spread the virus.
  • No existing barrier methods (masks, PPE, etc.) can be considered safe for singing right now.
  • Even as we return to singing, our audiences may not.

What we are doing right now

At first, it felt like the world had stopped. How can an activity that requires four or forty people standing close together breathing hard have any hope? How could the huggiest group of friends in the world stay apart?

But it didn’t take long for Barbershopppers to jump up and get to work. Dare we say that this crisis will someday be seen as the moment we figured out absolutely every way it’s possible to barbershop?

People are figuring it out

  • Scores of chapters continue to meet and engage virtually, with
    120+ chapters hosting live rehearsals/meetings
  • Chapters are having variety and education in online meetings,
    70+ enjoying visits from Harmony Hall staff
  • Barbershoppers are seeking -- and getting -- answers to their questions,
    with more than 275 participants in chapter and quartet Q&A sessions
  • Members are gobbling up education opportunities,
    with more than 934 participants in Free Fridays classes online

Quartets, Chapters, and Districts are innovating

  • Self-organizing group are creating virtual choirs
  • Quartets -- including many champs! -- are staging virtual meet & greets, sing alongs, etc.
  • Virtual watch parties and “favorite videos” groups are expanding the shared social experience of listening together
  • Online support and conversation meetings -- not for singing, not for education, just for BEING TOGETHER -- are taking place everywhere
  • The tech hurdle is shrinking -- we’re seeing so many people leaping into new platforms -- including our older members! Way to go!

MAKE USE OF THESE RESOURCES -- Keep your barbershop flame burning bright!

Your headquarters staff is using every possible resource

I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of our staff. Every single person on our team has, at some moment, stood up and said, “Yep, I can do that!” -- whether it has been figuring out how to process physical mail from home offices, ship out merchandise, or start brand-new opportunities from scratch in just days or weeks. There’s a reason we’ve been honored multiple times as one of Nashville’s Best Places To Work -- it’s these CAN DO people.

We are making use of every resource offered under the law. You’ll be pleased to know that we have received support from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable grant which provides stability for our staff -- so they can continue to work for you.

What comes next

We are not giving you a full set of instructions today. No one knows the many implications still ahead as states, provinces and communities embark on reopening, confirmed cases surge, the economy continues to bend -- SO many variables. Be assured that everything we do will be fact-based, drawing on the best research throughout the choral community. Most important, the safety of our singers and audiences will be our Number One priority.

We’re compiling a “Guide to Restarting”

A new staff-led team is commissioned with assembling the kinds of guidance we all seek. Of necessity, it will be a dynamic, evolving piece of work, updated as new information emerges from our successes, parallel learning from our partners, and the changing medical and legal landscape. Expect a first iteration of that in early June.

We’re looking at all of our events, and pivoting

As you know, our District Spring conventions and major summer gatherings -- the International Convention and Harmony University (and other conferences) at Belmont University -- have been cancelled for 2020.

The safety and viability of Fall events are under study right now. It’s hard work, that our unsung District events leaders are undertaking with support by expertise from Events Manager Dusty Schleier and input from the Contest & Judging community. Expect further information on this in the next few weeks, as contract lock-in dates approach.

We won’t let physical distancing prevent us from being together, though. A retooled Harmony University summer experience will roll out soon. A really cool tribute to great quartets from our past will --- shhhh! I’m not supposed to say anything about this yet!

We’re examining our business model -- and making adjustments every day

There’s no sugar coating it. The cancellation of our big events is a huge hit to our budget and District budget. We have a lot of work to do to make up for it. We’re looking at every part of our financial model with an eye towards how to protect and redeploy our assets. While we can absorb some of the blow by managing expenses, we’re also considering every possibility for changing up our revenue model as well, so that our ability to serve singers and singing communities is not so dependent on our events. We’ll keep you posted as we make these adjustments.

What will YOU do next?

Make yourself responsible for the next steps

It would be easy to get caught up in hand wringing, despair, helplessness. OR... you can own your future.

  • What do you have? What do you want?
  • What can you do with what you have?
  • What “blue sky” project have you imagined before, but never attempted because of constraints of your traditional schedule, calendar cycle, etc. Now is the time to figure these out!
  • What giant steps can you take to reimagine yourself? If ever there were a time to pull up a whiteboard and sticky notes to rethink what a barbershop chapter and district can be -- this is it!
  • Do you have great social bonds? Use them -- organize online card games, trivia nights, Facebook watch parties, etc. Contact isolated members of the chapter, dropped members, and host history nights. Whatever: BE TOGETHER.
  • Do you have good educational resources or interests? Use BHS education resources together. Invite other chapters to your meeting nights. Crash someone else’s party (kind of like the old “mystery bus trip” nights we used to have). Do that online.

You’re doing it -- and we need you to KEEP ON doing it

Hundreds of people are pouring heart, soul, sweat and brain power into finding ways to keep us all barbershopping. YOU have to be a part of this. We need you to be engaged in every part of the barbershop world -- in your quartets, in your chapters, in your districts. And yes, we absolutely need you to renew your memberships in BHS, in your quartets, in your chapters and districts. You believe in the mission of what we do, in the value of the experiences we have shared. We need to keep the flywheel spinning, keep the energy alive to power us into a strange new world.

There will always be a way for us to sing together. We will find it. Our resolve and spirit are matchless. We’ll get there. Together.


Marty Monson is CEO and Executive Director of the Barbershop Harmony Society.