UK Treble Harmony Brigade - a blog

UK Treble Harmony Brigade - a blog
Type of post: Chorus news item
Sub-type: No sub-type
Posted By: Laura Orton
Status: Current
Date Posted: Fri, 3 May 2024

A blog by Laura Orton

Last weekend I did something pretty magical! I went to the inaugral UK treble harmony brigade in Nottingham. What on Earth is that I hear you cry?! (There is a full history of it here - )

Well… Harmony Brigade is a harmony singers dream! If you sign up, you pledge to learn 12 (yes 12) songs in 4 months or less. You learn them at home, using teach tracks and sheet music, just like in chorus, with a helpful checking process along the way. Some lovely brigaders hold informal sing throughs in their house during the rehearsal period - these are amazing in themselves - you get to know all the other people crazy enough to sign up to 12 songs and talk about how excited / nervous / prepared / hopeful you all are, and you all begin to realise that everyone is feeling the same mixture of emotions.  Plus you now have friends to meet when you get there. 

Then comes the actual brigade weekend event. Some lucky ducks arrived on the Thursday and made a long social weekend out of it, going out for tea together on Thursday night and singing through the songs. Some less lucky still had to work - meh.

Friday, I arrived just after lunch and there were barbershoppers all over the hotel lobby. I was greeted warmly and checked in to get my lanyard, brigade pin and ‘dance card’. 

The dance card is a large card with a name and photo of every brigader on, split into sections. The idea being is that over the course of the weekend, the challenge was to sing with every single other singer there. If you sang in a quartet, without music, with another singer, you got a sticker with their name on it and you could tick them off your list. Those that were able to say that they had sung with every single person who didn’t sing their part, because a ‘HARMONY HOTSHOT!’ 

There were a few super keen who went a step further, learned at least one song in another part, and so were also able to tick off every singer in their own part as well, singing with EVERY SINGLE PERSON at treble brigade. Those brave people became HARMONY HYPERSTARS!

Anyway, back to Friday arrival - the welcome was so warm and inviting. Your lanyard is coloured yellow, red, green or blue depending on your part, so people know instantly what you sing and I was called over within minutes of arriving - “we need a lead! Come sing with us!” And I was off, I got my first three stickers and a good ol’ sing. From that moment to leaving on Sunday, it was non-stop. 

So what’s it like singing in a quartet of people you don’t know? Oh it’s amazing! Some of the singers there were previous national and international gold medalists. Some of the singers there had NEVER sung in a quartet before. Some were confident. Some were shaking with nerves. But regardless, everyone was enthusiastic, everyone had learned the songs and everyone was giving it their all. So it’s just wonderful to make music and to see the joy on peoples faces as they overcome their fears or hear a beautiful chord or find a voice they blend with really well. Yes, lots went wrong, with bum notes and dodgy chords, but that was just laughed off as we tried again. 

Friday evening, at 6.30 we met for tea and the brigade was formally opened. Hurrah! 

We then split into two for a brief chorus rehearsal, in imaginatively named Chorus A and Chorus B :).  I was in Chorus B, so we had the pleasure of singing Next Time I Love, Hooked on a Feeling, Songbird, Something to Talk about & What’ll I Do. More about the choruses later…

Then more quartet singing and collecting stickers. And finally bed. 

Saturday morning - breakfast with your part. The few people at brigade you don’t spend much time with. A lovely social chit chat.

Next up - the scratch quartet competition draw. Most of Saturday day time is taken up by the competition. We had three guest judges - Crystal Chords very own National Gold Medalist Anne-Marie Borneuf, Ros Kipps - mixed quartet National Gold Medalist, and Karen Searson - mixed quartet National Gold Medalist. They picked the quartets by pulling names out of a cup, so it is complete luck who you get to sing with. Likewise for the song - pulled out of a hat. 

This is the moment I became incredibly lucky. I was pulled out the cup along with Fiona (White Rosettes super tenor), Chantel (Muddy Stilettos region 31 gold medalist) and Mel (Blackdown Acapella bass section leader). Our four voices blended so well together and based on Mel short stature, we became ‘3.5’. The first song pulled out the cup for us was Shenandoah. Arranged by a chorus favourite Sam Hubbard, you already know how gorgeous this was going to sound - I’ll say it again - the man is a genius.

1 hour. That’s how long you have to rehearse in the quartet line up you’ve never sung in before. Argh! Then it’s the competition. 12 quartets entered, all singing one of the 12 brigade songs. The top 6 went through to round 2.

‘3.5’ went through! So the second song out the cup was the barbershop classic Next Time I Love. And I LOOOOVEEE singing a power ballad. 

30 minutes. That’s how long you get to rehearse the second song! Argh!

After round two, we had a mass sing of a couple of songs, and then the results. The results were announced with ‘The best for last’ coming 3rd, ‘The Larks’ coming 2nd and ‘3.5’ coming FIRST! Woohooo! My first ever barbershop related gold. Ohh it felt good :) 

After the comp - guess what? - more singing! Hahah. Honestly - it never stopped. Then dinner and after dinner came the show.

So the Saturday show is open to the public and was free to attend. It was mainly just us, but some local barbershoppers who weren’t signed up did come to watch, plus a guy from the hotel. This is where the two choruses performed. I had the honour of directing Chorus A as they sang ‘This is Me’. Some brigaders also did other acts - we had an Irish shanty, a take that tribute and some other group singing.

As our ‘prize’ (punishment), 3.5 closed the show, singing Fit as a Fiddle. This was the nemesis song of the weekend - how hard?! But we made it to the end. Phew. And then… back to the bar … more singing! People had until 10.30pm to try and complete their dance card. I was so pooped that I never made it. I had 4 people left from the other parts and 8 leads left, so I was neither a Harmony Hotshot nor Hyperstar :( 

Sunday morning was breakfast followed by the closing ceremony. We said our thank yous, gave out awards and sang a little bit more.  There were awards for the star quartet (the people voted the best by their own part, so leads voted for their favourite lead and so on), How Low Can You Go singer, person we most wanted to sing with (again voted by brigaders), the medalists, the hotshots, the hyper stars and the real superstars - the organisers. And finally, the goodbyes :(

So in all that rambling, I hope I gave you a good idea of what brigade is truly like - lots of hard work, but so much rewarding singing and so much fun! 

Since brigade, my new friends have been chatting about how much it meant to them to be there. The comments are as extreme as some saying it has changed their lives. Those who have never quarteted before genuinely overcame some huge fears and will no doubt be going back to their chorus as stronger group singers, plus maybe thinking about starting their own quartets in the future? For me, you all know my confidence is generally high, so my main take away was the pure joy of singing, making new friends and a few new skills along the way. So really, the best way to spend the weekend.

I must make a special mention to the organising team led by Catherine Phillipson who did an awesome job putting it all together! This isn’t a LABBS event. They are their own charity, ran by volunteers, and are open to anyone to attend. They had been led by the format of the UK Harmony Brigade (in February and in the lower voice range), and just knocked it out the park!

So - who is in for next year? The next one is 25-27th April 2025 so put it in your calendars now!