Judi Smith persuaded me at the last minute to go to the Barbershop Harmony Society International Convention in Orlando. I was skeptical, but she assured me that there would be lots of random singing, and everyone would be welcome, even women with high voices. When I checked the agenda, I saw that the convention included a mixed chorus that anyone could join. That sounded like so much fun, I signed up, even though it meant arriving a day earlier and learning two songs in three days.
The convention ended up being a wonderful experience. Singing with the mixed chorus was awesome, and everyone was very friendly. The amount of talent was incredible, and the convention attendees included many young men. I watched both quartet and chorus competitions, and I was interested to see how much variety there was, both in song choices and in presentation. Some of the choruses put on two-song mini-musicals, while others took a more traditional approach, some with very fancy choreography.
Tag singing took place at all hours on a hotel landing, and all singers were welcome. At one point, another woman and I were the only tenors, and the young men singing with us looked for tags with higher tenor parts. Once I downloaded the Tag Master app and could look at the sheet music, tag singing became so much easier. There also were sessions where anyone could go in and sing from books of standards they call “Polecats,” which were easy to follow even if you didn’t know the songs.
The convention included educational sessions created by Harmony University. I went to sessions on singing (one led by Joe Cerutti, who says he is looking forward to seeing us again) and on chorus growth and marketing.
The mixed chorus, Everyone in Harmony, performed two songs as part of the Saturday night finale. We sang an eight-part version of “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” and a four-part men’s barbershop arrangement (raised a whole step) of “Show Me Where the Good Times Are.” The chorus was about 170 people, half men and half women, plus a few children, and it was new this year. Our directors were Debbie Cleveland of The Buzz and Jim Henry of Ambassadors of Harmony. Both were masters of teaching us a lot in a small amount of time, plus they were delightful to work with.
The convention was welcoming and easy to navigate for a newcomer to the barbershop world. Plus, I found the experience eye-opening because it gave me a better sense of what kind of music it is possible to make.