Surrey Harmony - Talking barbershop
PUBLISHED: 17:52 12 May 2010 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013
Formed in 1990 with only 14 singers, Surrey Harmony now boasts a membership of over 80 and has set its sights on reaching 100. TONY FLOOK found out more about the group's formidable reputation in the field of women's barbershop, and what to do if ...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine 2008
Formed in 1990 with only 14 singers, Surrey Harmony now boasts a membership of over 80 and has set its sights on reaching 100. TONY FLOOK found out more about the group's formidable reputation in the field of women's barbershop, and what to do if you'd like to join them
When Jenny Lawson formed Surrey Harmony back in 1990, she never could have dreamt of the success they would go on to achieve.
"There were only 14 of us to start with, but we managed to muster 18 singers by the time we gave our first public performance - in a shopping centre in Sutton," she smiles. "I'm pleased to say that some of those original members are still active with us!
"We've grown a lot since then and can now bring up to 80 singers to our concerts - if the stage is big enough! Despite this, we're always pleased to see new members and would like to be able to advertise a concert boasting 100 voices in the near future!"
The chorus includes women from all backgrounds, including teachers, health workers, housewives and students, and of all ages - from teenagers to those in their 70s. Several mothers have been able to encourage their daughters to sing alongside them.
Jenny assures me that it's not essential to be able to read music - and because of the vocal range needed, barbershop also provides an outlet for women with deeper voices, who might not find it so easy to sing with other vocal groups
New members are given tuition and the chorus rehearses each week at Coulsdon Methodist Church Hall. The group recently ran a free singing course in order to attract new members. Interest was so great that not everyone who wanted to join could be accommodated and a further course is planned.
"Barbershop goes back to the 1940's, when women in the USA thought they'd like to share the enjoyment their husbands were having with their distinctive a cappella style of singing," explains Jenny. "Thanks to the efforts of a few determined women the movement grew and eventually formed an umbrella body, 'Sweet Adelines International', which now has around 30,000 members, worldwide. Here in the UK, there are some 20 groups, stretching from Aberdeen to Plymouth."
Competition is important - and fierce - in the world of women's barbershop, as much as anything to ensure that the quality of singing and stagecraft are maintained throughout the movement.
Surrey Harmony has proved its own strength in the UK by winning gold medals five times and silver four times in national contests - all in the space of 11 years. At this year's contest, in Birmingham, Jenny was made a Sweet Adelines Master Director in recognition of the standard Surrey Harmony has achieved under her leadership.
Trips to the USA...
"Surrey Harmony has also performed with credit against international competition on its five trips to the USA, the spiritual home of barbershop," adds Jenny. "One of the most memorable performances to date was when we sang to an audience of 10,000 in the world championships in Las Vegas in 2006."
Choral singing can look static but Surrey Harmony integrates movement, choreographed by a visual team led by Kren Pallot . She was also responsible for designing the latest, eye-catching outfit of a hot pink tunic top over sparkling red trousers, which proved to be a hit at Birmingham. There can be several costumes in the wardrobe at any one time and up to three distinctively different styles may feature in the course of a concert.
Surrey Harmony adds variety to its programmes by showcasing quartets of women with the traditional balance of lead, tenor, baritone and bass voices as they are called. Humour adds yet another dimension, in order to communicate the fun of barbershop to the audience.
Although Surrey Harmony performs to packed houses at some of the area's larger theatres, such as Croydon's Fairfield Halls and Redhill's Harlequin, members also travel to less obvious venues.
"We have sung at village fairs and in retirement homes as well as at charity and corporate events", Jenny says. "We were also honoured to be invited to sing in a concert attended by HRH Princess Anne at St James's Palace to raise funds for the 'Not Forgotten Association' - a charity working for disabled ex-service men and women.
"Nor will we forget the time we were at the pre-proms in Hyde Park, where thousands watched and listened to us - in pouring rain. Highdown Prison was another interesting place to visit, although none of us would choose to live there!"
Jenny concludes by saying that, with a full programme of events for the next year (and maybe beyond, if the USA beckons again), it's important to bring new singers into the team. Having spoken to her, I'm sure that they will find a warm welcome.
- If you are interested in joining Surrey Harmony, call 07801 258715 or visit their website at www.surreyharmony.com