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  • UK Treble Harmony Brigade - a blog
  •  Date Posted: Fri, 3 May 2024
    UK Treble Harmony Brigade - a blog

    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!

  • Success in Spain!
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 11 Apr 2024
    Success in Spain!
    Crystal Chords are back on UK soil after a thrilling and memorable weekend away at the inaugural BIBA (formally SABS) convention. Crystals are no strangers to the Iberian stage, as this is our 5th trip to Spain, having attended SABS in 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2019. So we already knew we were in for a treat and the hosts did not disappoint - BIBA put on a fantastic event. We took an excited chorus of 34 women and came out with a score of 79.3% which bagged us the international BRONZE trophy! We also got the top score in the performance category, so it was just like LABBS convention 2023 but with more sun :) We were pipped by two Sweet Adeline’s Choruses, Harmony Heights got the silver and the UKs Viva Acapella (who were stunning) took the gold. For many of the chorus, this convention marks another pin badge on the increasingly heavy lanyards, but for Sophie G this was her first convention out with Crystal Chords. Hopefully this will have hooked her to stick around for many conventions to come!
    YouTube Video URL:
  • Long service award
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 8 Feb 2024
    Long service award
    Another week, another long service award! This time for the wonderful Sue Ward who celebrates 25 years of singing in @singlabbs choruses. We graciously share Sue with @cheshireacappella, where she is the MD. Peeking in the back of this picture is proud husband Ted. ❤️
  • Long Service Awards
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 1 Feb 2024
    Long Service Awards
    We are part of a larger national organisation called the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS). LABBS is a parent organisation that organise our national conventions, education events and networks. So if you join any LABBS affiliated chorus, you become a LABBS member. If you move to a different chorus, you keep your LABBS membership.

    LABBS award long service certificates and pins to those who have shown years of dedication to our craft. This month, 3 of our members have been recognised for their service.

    In this picture, from left ot right is our club Chair, Alison as she presented awards to our musical director Monica Funnell (40 years!), Pat Gregory (35 years) and Carol McCully (30 years). 

  • 18th January OPEN EVENING
  •  Date Posted: Fri, 19 Jan 2024
    18th January OPEN EVENING
    Last night we had our first open rehearsal of the year, and it was AMAZING! We had 9 wonderful new women come and try out. Reports are that they are coming back next week so we must have impressed! We started singing our newest song Grace Kelly. So, if you couldn't make it this week, please do come next week instead. The doors are wide open for you to try it out too.
  • Spain bound!
  •  Date Posted: Mon, 8 Jan 2024
    Spain bound!
    It's official – we have entered into the Barbershop in Iberia Association convention and so in April 2024, we will be off to Calpe, Spain to  compete in the international barbershop competition. This competition is very special to us, so its going to be great to be back amongst our Spanish friends. Fingers crossed the sun comes out to play too.
  • Spreading Christmas cheer
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 28 Dec 2023
    Spreading Christmas cheer
    With the years competitions out of the way, all that remains are our Christmas bookings. This year we have been singing for customers at Tatton Park, John Lewis in Cheadle, St Anns Hospice and the Griffin pub! Our singers are full of Christmas joy!
  • Trophy success at LABBS 2023 convention
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 2 Nov 2023
    In October we travelled to Harrogate to compete in the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers annual convention. This is a huge event and the highlight of our annual calendar. Convention 2023 did not disappoint! We were awarded the National Bronze medalists, plus the top chorus in the Performance category AND to top off the accolades, we were also the first recipients of the Most Entertaining Chorus trophy. WOW what an honour! This is a video of our bronze winning set.
    YouTube Video URL:
  • Barberlicious Win GOLD!
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 28 Oct 2023
    Barberlicious Win GOLD!
    Barberlicious are four amazing women, who are all members of Crystal Chords. Their quartet have been impressing us for the past 10 years already but 2023 was their BEST yet, when they won the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers Quartet competition.  These wonderful people have been improving steadily and sound great. They wowed the audience with their performance and also managed to scoop the The Indigo Blue Trophy, and The Pzazz Trophy.

    All this means that they are now fundraising because they are off to OHIO to complete in the Barbershop Harmony Society's International convention in 2024. 
    YouTube Video URL:
  • Proudly supporting St Ann's Hospice
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 11 Mar 2023
    Proudly supporting St Ann's Hospice
    Every year at Crystal Chords, we support a charity, chosen by members, that we will fundraise and sing for throughout the year. 

    In 2023, members voted overwhelmingly to support St Ann's Hospice because we feel strongly about the care they give to so many at the end of life. 

    We hope throughout the year to support them with fundraising, while they attempt to raise enough funds for a brand new hospice site. Watch this space!

  • LABBS 2022 Mid-Size Chorus Champions
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 10 Nov 2022
    Crystal Chords were thrilled to have taken part in the LABBS Convention 27-29 Oct 2022, competing alongside 25 choruses from up and down the country, for the first time since 2019. 

    Two of our club quartets also competed in the National quartet competition; it was a great start to the weekend as we cheered on Barberlicious & Hat-Trick; how proud we were to see them both qualify for the finals with ease!  

    The event was held at Bournemouth International Centre, and the theme of the weekend was "Jubilation". It was a truly jubilant occasion to be able to celebrate with our sisters in harmony, having had various events postponed because of the pandemic.

    With only 37 singers on stage, Crystal Chords placed 4th overall, and were delighted to win the trophy for the "Highest Placed Mid-Size Chorus" It was a delight to be able to perform once more, and enjoy a weekend of harmony & friendship.  

    Our contest set features 2 songs: a beautiful ballad from Mary Poppins Returns, "The Place Where the Lost Things Go" arranged for our chorus by the talented Sam Hubbard; our second song "Almost There" is from Disney's The Princess and the Frog, aranged by Aaron Dale. Enjoy!
    *mid-size: 30-45 singers.
    YouTube Video URL:
  • A busy 6 months!
  •  Date Posted: Tue, 6 Sep 2022
    A busy 6 months!

    These past 6 months have been busy ones at Crystal Chords HQ - so busy we forgot to update our news section! Oops :0)


    In May we had the absolute honour of representing our parent organisation LABBS (the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers) at the European Barbershop Convention in Helsingborg. The European convention is held every 3 years and is a competition for past medalists of barbershop organisations from across Europe. The standard there is so high and we were amazed with the other choruses who crossed the stage with us. We came 6th overall with a cracking score and we are so pleased with our performance.


    In June we sang our hearts out in a fundraising concert for Stockport Foodbank. Stockport Foodbank were our chosen charity in 2020 and 2021, but we hadn’t been able to do that much while not allowed to sing through the Covid-19 pandemic, so this was our way of raising some much needed cash for this vital charity. We are proud to have ended up with a total of over £2,000 for them to help the people of Stockport.


    In July we were coached by not one but two inspirational coaches. First up it was internationally renowned David Sangster. David is the musical director for Forth Valley Chorus, who are about to fly out to Louisville Kentucky next October to compete at the Sweet Adelines International convention and let us tell you - he is AMAZING. At the end of the month, we then added performance coach Kristy Williams to the cast of people helping us reach our potential. Kirsty brought realism into our performance and reminded us why it is so important to treat performance as importantly as the singing and music category. Kirsty is one of the people judging us at convention in October 2022, so we hope we do her proud when she sees how we have applied her advice!

  • IABS 2019 Convention, Killarney
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 17 Oct 2019

    Irish Success for Crystal Chords

    What an amazing weekend we have had in Killarney at the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers Convention. Three of our quartets took to the stage with accomplished veterans Pzazz mic warming a competition, newly formed Hat-Trick having their first formal outing and then previous national silver medallists Barberlicious Quartet winning an international bronze medal in the quartet competition.

    Topping that all off on the Saturday with an international silver medal for Crystal Chords in the international chorus competition and we have had a ball. Thank you IABS!

  • Didsbury Festival June 2019
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 8 Jun 2019

    Festival Fun!

    Crystal Chords braved the rain to have fun and showcase our gifts and plants at Didsbury Festival again this year.

    Thanks to all our ladies who came out to help!

  • SABS convention 2019, Calpe
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 6 Apr 2019

    Crystals Shine in Sunny Spain!


    During a fabulous weekend in the sun in Spain, Crystal Chords came home with an international bronze medal. Visiting the Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers (SABS) annual convention in Calpe, a small chorus of Crystals took part in the chorus competition and showcased a song fresh from our Love to Sing course earlier in the year.

    Joined by some of our new singers, the weekend in Spain was a wonderful setting to give it a first performance and we were thrilled with the result.


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