About Harmony Brigades
Harmony Brigades are events at which competent barbershop quartet singers meet to spend an entire weekend singing in many different quartet combinations. Each participant learns and prepares a shared repertoire of 10 or 12 songs in the months prior to the Brigade. At the event, you can then simply pick any three people of the other voice parts and sing a couple of these songs. Then you say thank you and find three new people, and so on. It's amazingly fun, and has expanded across North America. A first Women's Harmony Brigade took place in 2014 and a first European brigade took place in Berlin in 2015. BABS Harmony College has offered an 'Extreme Quartets' stream for the past four years, based on the Harmony Brigade concept but reduced in scope to fit the needs of Harmony College. This website introduces the first full UK Harmony Brigade!
Here's how the official Operations Manual of the Association of Extreme Quartetting Harmony Brigades (AXQHB) defines the event:
A Harmony Brigade rally is an invitational weekend for barbershoppers with significant quartet experience who are vocally capable, committed to learning challenging arrangements, and who are prepared to enjoy success in rally activities. The charts are of championship caliber, somewhat challenging, and might be beyond the ability of less experienced men [and women - EHB]. It is not a chorus-oriented event, although a chorus performance of the repertoire songs is always part of the Saturday night public show.
It is really, really important that you can pick any three people and expect to have fun singing a song with them. As the quote says, this means that participants should have a good level of quartet experience before applying for a Brigade; if you're looking for a place where you can take your first steps in quartetting, there are many other venues for this. But just as importantly, every single participant must commit to being prepared. All of your quartet-mates on that weekend will have worked hard before the Brigade to make sure they know the songs. They will be looking to you to carry your part and to be fun to sing with. There will be an award for "the person I most enjoyed singing with", decided by popular vote. Everyone who comes to the Brigade should come with the ambition to be that person.
Being less than fully prepared is not an option
Because coming prepared is so important, Brigades include a number of mechanisms to ensure preparedness, some of which are:
Run-throughs in the months before the Brigade. A run-through is a meeting of Brigade participants, usually at someone's house, where you sing through some or all of the songs.
typical run-through of brigade songs
This is to give you a chance to identify and work through some of your trouble spots, and is a great chance to meet some other Brigaders before the Brigade even begins. It is a really good idea to attend at least one run-through before the Brigade, to make sure you're really as well prepared as you thought.
A random quartet contest. You will be put in a quartet with three randomly drawn quartet-mates, assigned a randomly drawn song, and given half an hour to prepare. Then you'll go up on stage and sing the song for all the other participants. If everyone is prepared well, the random quartet contest can be a lot of fun for everyone.
You will also be assigned three random songs when you arrive at the Brigade event. You will then sing these three songs with quartets of your choice for a Preparedness Checker, who will sign off that you actually know your stuff. Passing the preparedness check is a prerequisite for participation in the quartet contest and the Brigade Show on Saturday night.
Finally, a Brigade includes a public concert on Saturday night, allowing family members, the barbershop community and the general public the opportunity to experience this event. All participants of the Brigade go on stage as the "Brigade chorus" and sing a number of the songs in the repertoire. Quartets from the Brigade can audition to also appear in the show (either existing quartets or ones that are spontaneously formed for the purpose), and the programme includes some special invited guest groups!
Brigaders receive name tags on coloured lanyards. The lanyard colour indicates which voice part the person sings, so it's easy to spot someone needed to make up your next quartet.
Founded in North Carolina some 27 years ago, the first Extreme Quartet event in the UK took place at BABS Harmony College in 2011
There are currently ten Harmony Brigades shown on the main website (harmonybrigade.org) meeting at different times throughout the year, allowing enthusiasts to attend one or several.
Each brigade uses the same overall formula, and shares a core set of songs, but the details of how they are organised varies somewhat. Participation is currently open to both men and women only at the Harmony University in Nashville and at the German and UK Brigades. A separate women's brigade (singing female arrangements) hold its annual in August in the USA (google WHB - Women's Harmony Brigade).
Brigaders are creative at finding places to rehearse
winners of quartet competition may be invited to perform on evening show
Typical Song List - a mixture of up-tempo numbers and ballads, from medium to difficult
Here are the arrangements sung at the 2017 UK Harmony Brigade :
This Could Be the Start of Something Big
I’ve Got the World On a String
All the Things You Are
Have a Little Talk with Myself
All I Do Is Dream of You
I Wish You Love
South Rampart Street Parade
Do You Know What it Means
Fly Me to the Moon
Show Me Where the Good Times Are
Note that the song list for each brigade is kept as a surprise for the participants. There are ten brigades, sharing eight of the songs, so we do not announce our songs publicly to avoid spoiling the surprise of the brigades that are later in the same year.
* thanks to Alexander Koller and the European Harmony Brigade for permission to reproduce portions of their text used here.