The Third Annual Tucson and Southern Arizona Youth in Harmony Festival was held on September 6th, 2008 at Sahuaro High School in Tucson. Attending were 265 young men and women representing 15 local and regional high schools, a few traveling as far as 275 miles to attend.
The years festival committee consisted of 18 individuals representing the Tucson Sunshine Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) and the Tucson Desert Harmony Chapter Sweet Adelines International(SAI). This group was led by Ron and Annie Hayes. Ron is the Youth in Harmony VP for the Tucson Sunshine Chapter, Annie the YWIH Coordinator for the Tucson Desert Harmony Chapter, and, Region 21, SAI, YWIH Program Manager. Members of both chapters assisted in various functions throughout the festival.
As in the 2007 festival, Connie Keil and Charla Esser, with the help of quartets Sonoran Sound, The Eastsiders, and Havin' a Blast, conducted the day-long workshops and performance. Tucson Barbershop eXperience Director, Jeff Dolan, as Program Chairman, was assigned the task of placing the 265 singers on stage in performance, a task not easily accomplished. It was very well executed, as seen in the program finale. Tucson Desert Harmony Director, Dayle Ann Cook, and Assistant Director Karen Meade, were the choreographers who aided in the students' visual presentation.
Even though the day had an early start (8 a.m. on a Saturday), everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the activities of the next 8½ hours. After receiving and introduction to the day's activities, the students were introduced to the coaching quartets, who each performed one song from their repertoire. The young men and women then separated and began to learn the music of two songs for each group.
After a noonday lunch of pizza, which the students obviously enjoyed, they returned to work on an 8-part arrangement of Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You to be performed at the late afternoon show. They were also treated to videos of BHS and SAI youth quartet and choruses. During a mid-afternoon break the students received their commemorative t-shirts which served as their performance uniform. This was followed by their return to the stage for a dress rehearsal. Following the rehearsal they filled out evaluations and participated in a Q&A wrap-up session with the clinicians. Finally, it was on to the stage to perform to a packed audience of friends and family.
The three teaching quartets appeared on stage between the choruses, in order to facilitate move the young men and women on and off stage behind the curtain.
The first chorus to appear was the young men, who performed Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby and Let There Be Peace on Earth. The young women's chorus performed In My Life and Orange Colored Sky. With the opening of the curtain for the finale, the audience was overwhelmed by a chorus that encompassed the entire stage. This presentation was the mass chorus of the young men, and women, along with the teaching quartets. It was a magnificent performance, drawing a standing ovation.
Response from the evaluations indicated the students loved the music, the singing, meeting new friends and singing in a large chorus. They loved barbershop, had fun, and want more! The teachers responses included: "student increase in confidence", "excitement", "student interest in quarteting", "reinforced concepts of pitch, projection, diction, breath control and focus", "a new style", and more.
Building upon the enormous success of the High School Honor Chorus that performed at the 1999 International Convention in Anaheim, the Masters of Harmony have organized and conducted an annual "Young Men's Harmony Festival" that has attracted an average attendance of over 200 young men from high schools and junior high schools through Southern California.
We have been privileged to have the endorsement and co-sponsorship of the Southern California Vocal Association (SCVA), which is a professional organization of choral music teachers that serves the SoCal area. Since we started this program, we have had more than 1,700 students attend our festivals.
Our festival is a concentrated day-long event in mid-February every year that is exclusively for young men. An equivalent festival organized by the Harborlites Chorus (2005 and 2008 Sweet Adeline International Chorus Champions) is available for young women. The overwhelming feedback that we receive from the choral music teachers is that these events need to stay separated, so that the young men have their own unique event. Planning for our festival begins many months in advance, primarily to secure the venue and date before the end of the previous school year. This allows the choral music teachers to plan their calendars well in advance.
The cost for each singer is only $20 if they submit their applications by mid-November, or $25 per singer after the early registration deadline. This covers the cost of all sheet music, audio practice CD's, commemorative t-shirts and two meals. We send out the sheet music and audio CD's about four weeks prior to the event, so the young men can become familiar with the songs. Although we don't expect the choral music teachers to spend any of their class time working on these songs, many of them choose to work with their singers during lunch hours or after school. In some cases, a choral director will bring all of their male singers, and he or she will stay for the entire day.
At our most recent festival in February 2008, we were fortunate to have Royce Ferguson, Ken Potter, Alan Gordon and Craig Ewing as guest directors, along with OC Times and Gotcha! as guest quartets. The festival begins at 10:00am with introductions and warm-ups, followed by a run through of six barbershop songs—four that will be performed by the young men, and two that will be sung by the young men and the Masters of Harmony. Most of the singers come very well prepared, but the songs are still very ragged during the morning session, which is to be expected.
For lunch, we bring in over 600 Arby's Roast Beef sandwiches, along with hundreds of bags of chips and cookies, all of which are gone in minutes. After lunch, we break into sectional rehearsals, where the guest quartets magically transform the young men into a unified group of ensemble singers. I have never attended any of those sessions, so I have no idea what happens there. But the results are incredible, so I don't mess with that success.
While the young men are in sectional rehearsals, we hold a separate meeting with the choral music teachers to discuss the barbershop style and rehearsal and coaching techniques. During that session, we also teach a couple of simple barbershop songs to the music teachers. We also give them some time to ask questions and share their experiences with barbershop music in their programs. The most frequent feedback is that all of the vocal production techniques and ear training that we provide transfers directly into all other styles of musical literature. In many cases, choral music programs have grown significantly because the music teacher brought several young men to one of our earlier festivals.
After the young men return from the sectional rehearsals, the choral music teachers perform the two songs that they learned for their singers. It's one of the highlights of the entire day. Then it's back to rehearsing and polishing during the rest of the day, including adding a few choreographed moves to a couple of songs.
For dinner, we bring in a truckload of pizzas from a local Pizza Hut restaurant for the students, while my wife Shellie brings a homemade pasta dish for the faculty, staff and the choral music teachers. After dinner, the young men change into their performance uniforms (long sleeve white shirt and dark trousers), and the Masters of Harmony provides bow-ties and cummerbunds. Then it's time for a combined rehearsal on-stage with the young men and MOH, in preparation for the evening show, which is open to the public for only $5 general admission.
The show consists of the young men's chorus, performances by our guest quartets and the Masters of Harmony, culminating with all singers on-stage for a combined finale with over 300 singers. It's a little cramped on the risers, but well worth the effort.
Our Harmony Festival program has continued to gain the recognition and respect of the choral music education community over the years. In the past few years, several additional harmony festivals have been established throughout the Far Western District, with equally successful results.
Recently, the SCVA established the new position of "Vice President of Barbershop Harmony Festivals" as a voting member on their Executive Board, and appointed me to that post. It is an incredible honor for me to serve in that role (I have already been serving as their volunteer webmaster since 2000). It is also indicative of the outstanding support that barbershoppers through the Far Western District and the entire Society have unselfishly given their time and energy to help support choral music in our schools and our communities.
Plans are already well underway for our 2009 Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 21st at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. Applications are available on the SCVA website.