Mixing It Up – what it’s like being part of a regional mixed chorus
The Bristol Mix is a new, mixed barbershop chorus, made up of singers from a cappella close harmony choirs across the Bristol area. Several Fascinating Rhythm members sing with The Bristol Mix, alongside ladies from Avon Harmony, Black Sheep Harmony, Bristol Fashion, and men from the Great Western Chorus.
The Bristol Mix recently competed at the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) Sing 2022 at the Harrogate Convention Centre, where they achieved first place in the mixed chorus contest. The Bristol Mix’s stunning debut performance comprised two songs – ‘What Kind of Fool Am I’ and ‘You’re From Heaven and You’re Mine’ – under the direction of Craig Kehoe and Linda Corcoran.
We caught up with some of the Fascinating Rhythm ladies who are members of The Bristol Mix to find out more about their experience of singing in a mixed barbershop chorus and the thrill of winning a gold medal on the BABS Convention stage.
I’m in the Tenor section at The Bristol Mix but I sing Lead with Fascinating Rhythm and in my quartet Specs Appeal. I’m a big fan of all the local barbershop choruses and saw joining The Bristol Mix as a chance to make some friends and the opportunity to compete at the BABS Convention.
It was so exhilarating to be back at Convention (although it was a bit surreal after the pandemic) and, right up until the day, I was half-expecting it to be cancelled! The stage was fabulous – the rush of the lights coming up and your brain going a bit mushy with panic – but the songs felt good and everything went according to plan. When we walked off stage, it felt like we had given a good account of ourselves for our first sing-out. At the end of the competition, when The Bristol Mix was announced as the winner, I leapt out of my seat and danced for joy! After a two-year break from competition and all the sadness of covid, I let it all out in a high-pitched shriek and allowed myself to be genuinely happy. It was a moment I’ll never forget – so much pride for us as a group. The hard work paid off, especially as we’d only had a couple of months to learn our up-tune.
The last time I sang with men (well, teenage ‘men’) was in a Sixth Form production of Grease. I really enjoyed it and thought it would be fun to see if singing in a mixed voice choir was as good as I remembered. Having seen all the other Bristol choruses perform on stage, it’s fun to stand alongside them and make friends. The atmosphere at rehearsal is relaxed and fun.
I’d describe singing with The Bristol Mix as challenging, but joyful and rewarding. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of joining a mixed voice choir. You get to work with different Musical Directors and Section Leaders, learn fun new songs, and singing with male and female voices brings a whole new dimension to a cappella singing.
My favourite The Bristol Mix song is ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’. I love the work we did on it in rehearsal to make it really lyrical, which changed it from being sad to a thought-provoking story. And the rich tone of the male basses really comes out in this song to make some lovely ringing chords.
I sing baritone in The Bristol Mix, which is a change for me as I sing Bass with Fascinating Rhythm. It’s quite a challenge because I haven’t sung Baritone for some time – I seem to tune into the bass line but it’s way too low for most women in a mixed chorus!
I sang in a small mixed group a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so as soon as I heard about this brand new mixed chorus I knew I wanted to audition. I love the depth of sound produced by a mixed group and my favourite The Bristol Mix song is ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ by The Beach Boys.
It has been great getting to know members of other local choruses, who all share the same passion for singing. Usually, when our choruses meet, we’re competing against each other so it’s lovely at The Bristol Mix to be singing together on the same side! There is a great camaraderie developing and some of the male chorus members are very witty, so we have lots of laughs!
I felt very excited to be back on the Convention stage in Harrogate. As it was The Bristol Mix’s first-ever public performance, we had no expectations whatsoever, we just wanted to show what we could do and enjoy ourselves. It was a complete shock to hear The Bristol Mix announced as the first-placed chorus! I couldn’t believe my ears – it was so exciting! As you can imagine, the roar of amazement and delight went on for some considerable time! Receiving my gold medal after so many years of singing barbershop felt very special.
My advice to anyone thinking of joining a mixed voice choir is to go for it! I’ve already been trying to persuade more Basses from Fascinating Rhythm to join The Bristol Mix because it’s such a fun, exhilarating and challenging experience.
When I sang with TUBBS, I completely fell in love with barbershop music, the complex harmonics and the huge sounds that we produced so effortlessly. After I left university, I moved a couple of times and sang with choral music choirs but always had it in the back of my mind that I’d return to barbershop one day.
When the pandemic came, I found I really missed singing. When I changed jobs at the end of 2020 and started living in Bristol again, I felt it was time for me to return to barbershop. As soon as possible, I joined Fascinating Rhythm and when The Bristol Mix started auditioning for members, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to join a mixed chorus and re-live the glory of my university days!
Going to BABS Sing 2022 earlier this year was my first ever time at a barbershop Convention. When The Bristol Mix was announced as the winners I actually thought I’d misheard because I was convinced that we’d come fourth and missed out on a medal. My disbelief turned to joy – it was a very happy day!
If you’re thinking of singing with a mixed chorus, I’d definitely say come and join The Bristol Mix, It’s an extra commitment and you have to learn the songs in your own time but it’s very rewarding and worth the effort!
I sing Lead with both The Bristol Mix and Fascinating Rhythm.
Everyone came to The Bristol Mix, when it first started, without expectations but with lots of energy. I joined The Bristol Mix for the experience of singing with male voices and to have the opportunity of being directed and taught by different people. Plus, there was the draw of learning a new repertoire of songs! My favourite The Bristol Mix song is ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I’.
Being on stage with The Bristol Mix felt like a very different experience – I felt calm, not at all nervous, and just there to enjoy the experience. The feeling of winning a gold medal was indescribably exciting! And being able to share that joy with new and old barbershop friends was fabulous.
Singing with The Bristol Mix is exciting, fulfilling and challenging. I’d definitely say that if you have the time and commitment to learning music independently and really strive to contribute to being an ‘A level’ chorus then joining The Bristol Mix is a great thing to do. It’s very rewarding and so much fun!
I sing baritone with The Bristol Mix and Bass with Fascinating Rhythm. I also sing with Go Vocal and have always enjoyed the mixed voices there.
I joined The Bristol Mix because I wanted to sing with people from other local choruses and especially to have some male voices in the choir. Apart from the mix of lovely voices, it is a great way to meet other singers who share the same love of a cappella and barbershop singing and to develop an understanding of how other choruses work.
The Bristol Mix feels like it’s starting to develop its own unique “sound” and way of doing things. I find it an enriching, exciting and incredible learning experience. I would definitely encourage anyone who’s tempted to join a mixed voice choir to take the plunge! I feel like I’ve learnt so much, especially around voice blending and understanding different directors’ instructions. But most of all, it’s HUGE fun!
I felt incredibly relaxed singing with The Bristol Mix on the BABS convention stage and very positive about the whole competition. Taking part was an incredible experience and I was thrilled to be part of such a wonderful sound. Although there was an expectation of a high standard of singing, this was not at all off-putting – I had a ball! Winning gold was exhilarating and exciting.
I sing Baritone with The Bristol Mix, which is quite a challenge as I’m used to singing Bass with Fascinating Rhythm and that’s all ‘dums’ and ‘dos’! Baritone is also the only section in The Bristol Mix that’s truly mixed (i.e. made up of male and female voices).
I wanted to join The Bristol Mix because I enjoy listening to the Great Western Chorus and other male voice choirs and I love it when Fascinating Rhythm sing 8-part harmony songs with the men – it gives a whole different depth to the sound. Another draw was the opportunity of being directed by Linda; I’ve been in groups that have been coached by her in the past and I love her enthusiasm and talent for bringing the best out of singers. It was also an opportunity to be directed by Craig as well.
On stage at BABS Sing 2022, I felt totally relaxed. Standing on the risers whilst Jasper organised us, I looked out over the heads of the judges into the darkness and thought “it’s good to be back here”. As ever, the performance went by in a blur but I know I stuck to the plan. Waiting for the results, though, was nerve-wracking! As they were running through the third and second place choruses, I was getting more nervous, and then it was time for the gold medal announcement. I sat there with my fingers crossed just saying “The Bristol Mix, The Bristol Mix, The Bristol Mix” over and over again. When they announced our name, I jumped up and squealed with delight! We were all hugging each other and jumping up and down. It was just such an awesome feeling to be so happy – especially after the last couple of years. As I went to bed on the Sunday night, I put my medal on the bedside table; when I woke up the next morning, I looked at it to check that it wasn’t a dream – it was still there!
Singing with The Bristol Mix is exciting, challenging and welcoming and my favourite repertoire song is ‘You’re From Heaven And You’re Mine’ (although I didn’t like it to begin with because it’s very barbershoppy and has so many words!). The other great thing about The Bristol Mix is that you get to meet so many new friends and ring wonderful barbershop chords. It’s amazing what talent there is out there – we’re very lucky in the Bristol area! I’d encourage anyone who is thinking of joining a mixed voice choir to stop thinking about it and just get on and do it!
Thinking of joining a choir?
If you’re interested to find out more about barbershop singing, please get in touch with us via our website. You can also follow Fascinating Rhythm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and follow The Bristol Mix on Facebook.
You might also like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insight series:
05 – Why warm up?
07 – Breathing to Sing
Fascinating Rhythm Member Updates
Fascinating Rhythm has been celebrating a number of membership milestones and achievements over the past two months. We have also said goodbye to a few ladies who have decided to move on from singing with the chorus and wish them all the best in their new ventures.
Fascinating Rhythm’s newest members have been experiencing the joy of singing in front of a live audience and participating in a competition for the first time. Emma, Fionna, Hazel and Anne-marie took part in the Keynsham sing-out to raise money for Ups and Downs Southwest; they also sang with the chorus in the Cheltenham Music Festival, along with another new member, Lily.
“Finally getting to sing out with Fascinating Rhythm felt amazing! All the hard work through lockdown to learn the songs paid off, and everyone was really supportive, which helped manage the nerves.”Emma
“What a buzz to finally get to make beautiful harmonies with the wonderful ladies of Fascinating Rhythm in front of a live audience – I can’t wait to do it all again!”Anne-marie
“I was very nervous about singing for the first time in a competition, but so many ladies made a point of speaking to me in advance to offer encouragement and advice that my nerves had almost dissipated by the time I got on stage. I felt very supported by the chorus and Jo, and was able to perform at my best.”Fionna
Fascinating Rhythm’s Chair has also awarded a long-service badge to Erica, in honour of her 5-years of chorus membership.
“It is such a pleasure to give out long-service awards to our members, and usually it is a total surprise to them as time flies by so fast that it comes out of the blue! And we are always saddened when members move on and leave Fascinating Rhythm. We would like to keep all of them forever, but, of course, we wish them well and will always welcome them back if they want to visit us.”Lesley
Joining Fascinating Rhythm
If you are interested in joining a choir and would like to find out more about Fascinating Rhythm, please get in touch via our website. You can also find out more about what we do by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Fascinating Rhythm Wins Gold Cup at Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts
Fascinating Rhythm recently took part in the 2022 Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts, held at the Cheltenham Town Hall on Saturday, 14 May. It was a magical and epic day, and, even with only 29 members of the chorus performing on stage, Fascinating Rhythm proved how fantastic they are by bringing home the Gold Cup!
Fascinating Rhythm competed in two vocal classes:
• In the Songs From The Shows class, the ladies showcased an energetic rendition of ‘We Go Together’ from Grease, followed by an emotionally-charged performance ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman. Kitty provided a Makaton translation of This Is Me as the chorus sang, in homage to the version Fascinating Rhythm recorded with Ups and Downs Southwest in 2019 for World Down Syndrome Day. The adjudicators, Ula Weber and David Crown described it as a “great performance full of energy, passion and feeling” and “full of conviction” and awarded a score of 86 marks (honours).
• In the Female Voice Choirs class, the chorus sang three favourites from their repertoire: Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’, the Nina Simone classic ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘Pie Jesu’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber. They scored 89 marks (honours), with the adjudicators saying they “loved the sassy attitude” and describing the performance as “magical – you held the audience in a delicate bubble”.
Fascinating Rhythm had the most wonderful surprise when the adjudicators awarded them the Gold Cup for the most memorable performance of the day – ‘And So it Goes’.
“I had the great privilege of hearing this performance ‘in the flesh’, and it was simply stunning. The ensemble was absolutely extraordinary. I was in the front row of the audience, probably 25 feet away from the choir, and was listening so intently, actually looking closely at each and every singer and straining to focus in on each person to see if I could hear individual voices and absolutely couldn’t. My accompanist was just behind me and doing the same thing… nope – just perfect ensemble. Respect, love and care over every word with beautiful shapes and gorgeous tuning. I found I was holding my breath at the end. Thank you for one of the most memorable performances I have ever heard in 30 years of choral directing.”Mark Burstow, Director of Bournemouth Male Voice Choir
“I’m so proud of everyone! The competition was pretty intense, with so many brilliant choirs there. We enjoyed watching the other choirs perform, especially Peterborough Voices, Peterborough Sings and Peterborough Male Voice Choir, and a huge shout out to our sister LABBS chorus Cleeve Harmony! Our congratulations go to Insole Court Community Choir and Peterborough Voices, who won the classes we performed in together. This was our first competition in nearly three years, and we are absolutely delighted that our favourite song, And So It Goes, was considered worthy of the Gold Cup!”Jo Thorn, Musical Director of Fascinating Rhythm
Fascinating Rhythm sings out at Keynsham Memorial Park
This was Fascinating Rhythm’s first public sing-out since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. The sun shone brightly as they sang to an appreciative audience, some of whom had come from overseas to watch and others who had the unexpected pleasure of listening to the choir whilst out for a morning stroll.
Fascinating Rhythm sang a range of favourite songs from their repertoire, including: the Doobie Brothers hit ‘Listen To The Music’, ‘We Go Together’ from the musical Grease, the Nina Simone jazz classic ‘Feeling Good’, ‘Anthem’ from the musical Chess, Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’, the love song ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ made famous by Frankie Valli, and ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles, a bass-led version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.
Fascinating Rhythm’s performance of ‘Pie Jesu’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber was filmed for the Keynsham Jubilee Project and will be screened on 4 June 2022 at Keynsham Baptist Church as part of the Keynsham Picnic in the Park celebration. The film will also be available to watch online after the event.
Fascinating Rhythm were delighted to perform the David Guetta anthem ‘Titanium’ in public for the first time. They also gave a heartfelt rendition of ‘This Is Me’ from the musical The Greatest Showman, which they had previously recorded with Ups and Downs for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day in 2019.
Lottie, one of the Team Leaders for Ups and Downs Bristol, kindly gave up her Saturday morning to collect donations for the charity and promote its work to support families, professionals and all those involved in the care and education of children and young people with Down Syndrome. Thanks to the generosity of those who visited Keynsham Memorial Park, a total of £113 was raised for Ups and Downs Southwest.
“Saturday was an exciting day for Fascinating Rhythm – the first time since the pandemic started that we were able to sing to an audience! It was doubly exciting that we were able to collect donations for our chosen charity of the year. Ups and Downs Southwest relies on donations, and I’m so proud that Fascinating Rhythm is able to help keep this fantastic charity operational.”Fascinating Rhythm’s Treasurer Joan, who is also a Trustee for Ups and Downs Southwest.
A few days prior to the sing-out, Fascinating Rhythm had welcomed another representative from Ups and Downs Southwest to their weekly chorus rehearsal night. Michelle, who runs public relations and fundraising for the charity, visited the choir to talk about the range and diversity of work carried out by Ups and Downs Southwest and shared an emotional testimonial from one of the families that the charity has supported.
Fascinating Rhythm and Rob Mance
Fascinating Rhythm has enjoyed another two coaching sessions with the fabulous vocal coach Rob Mance, who was back in the UK in April.
Fascinating Rhythm first met Rob back in January 2022, when he encouraged individual chorus members to improve their singing posture and vocal technique and introduced some new warm-up exercises focused on improving pitch and vocal harmony. Since then, Musical Director, Jo has been encouraging chorus members to practice and embed Rob’s advice and develop and enhance the overall chorus sound.
“As a group, we’ve been working hard to implement and embed all the techniques Rob left us with earlier in the year and have felt and heard a step-change already. These extra sessions have been so well-timed to enable us to consolidate our learning and move forward again”.Jo said.
This time, Rob worked with the chorus to build on the individual vocal instruction and apply it to the ensemble sound. Working intensively on one of the two songs that Fascinating Rhythm is preparing for the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) convention, Rob also drilled down into the detail of each musical line to add layers of artistry and performance.
Fascinating Rhythm is currently working on a couple of songs in preparation for the Cheltenham Musical Festival. The chorus will be competing in two classes – Songs From the Shows and Ladies Choir – and is looking forward to sharing these numbers with the festival audience on 14 May 2022.
Reflecting on the coaching sessions, Jo said “Trying to get back to our high standard of singing after 18 months apart has, at times, felt insurmountable. Our time with Rob has shown us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Under his careful and safe instruction, Rob has reignited our passion for singing, provided us with a clear road map and helped us believe once more just what we are capable of. We’re really looking forward to taking our developing new sound onto the Convention stage in Bournemouth later in the year”.
Junior FR Joins May Day Celebrations!
Junior FR had a fabulous day, entertaining audiences at the Iron Acton May Day celebrations on Monday, 2 May 2022.
Junior FR sang a selection of favourite numbers from their repertoire, including ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and ‘Janie Mama’, both of which they performed at the Thornbury Eisteddfod earlier this year; ‘Circle of Life’ from the musical The Lion King, and Bruno Mars’ heartwarming ‘Count On Me’. The girls debuted their newest song, Guns ’n’ Roses classic ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ and rounded off their set with a rousing rendition of their unofficial anthem – ABBA’s ‘Thank You For The Music’.
The May Day event was the first sing-out for ten Junior FR members, who all rose to the occasion and sang confidently. Several of the girls also performed solo and duet pieces from a range of genres:
– Anna and Wendy sang ‘Sign Of The Times’ by Harry Styles
– Lily and Amelie sang ‘Naughty’ from the musical Matilda
– Emi sang two pieces – Adele’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ and ‘Your Song’ by Elton John
– Lily sang ‘Try Everything’ from the film Zootropolis
– Caitlin sang one of her Grade 2 exam pieces – ‘The Owls’
“It’s been three years since we last performed at Iron Acton May Day, due to covid, so we were very excited to be back at the event again. Plus, I had the privilege of singing a duet with one of the girls and realised my lifelong dream of performing on the side of a truck!”Junior FR’s Musical Director, Wendy,
Members of the audience complimented Wendy and Junior FR on their singing and performance:
“It was brilliant! My Mum is over from Germany and really enjoyed seeing Junior FR sing.”
“Junior FR were brilliant – it was fantastic to see them back performing!”
“The girls all rose to the occasion, and the soloists were great – such confidence and talent!”
“My daughters (who are both members of Junior FR) had been particularly looking forward to ‘May Day singing on a truck’; they loved it!”
See Junior FR in action
About Junior FR
Junior FR is a choir for girls aged 7 to 16 years old. There is no audition process for new members, and no previous singing or musical experience is needed. Members meet weekly during term-time at Iron Acton Village Hall (Friday afternoons, 4.00-5.30 pm), perform at events throughout the year, and help to raise money for various charities.
Junior FR are recruiting new members. If you, or someone you know, is interested in taking up singing or joining, please contact us.
How we choose Convention songs
Fascinating Rhythm is an all-female choir, and we sing close harmony a cappella based on the traditional barbershop style. Our varied repertoire includes songs from 1920s jazz classics to modern-day show tunes and anthems and reflects our fun, dynamic chorus personality.
We pride ourselves on musical excellence and are always looking for ways to challenge ourselves as singers and push the boundaries of the modern barbershop genre. But not every song can be adapted to four-part harmony or performed without musical accompaniment.
So, we asked Fascinating Rhythm’s Musical Director Jo Thorn and our good friend, musicologist and arranger, Dr Liz Garnett, to reveal what makes a piece of music a good choice for barbershop competition and how songs make their way into the chorus repertoire.
Give Me A Barbershop Song
Traditional barbershop songs have no musical accompaniment and are made up of four vocal parts – the melody and three harmony parts. All four voice parts will sing the song’s lyrics together most of the time (in other words, the harmony parts don’t just go ‘oo’ or ‘dm-dm’ as a backing track behind the tune).
The melody usually sits with the Lead line. The Tenor part harmonises above the Lead, whilst the Bass is the lowest harmony part; the Baritone line sits in between and may move above and below the Lead throughout the song.
According to the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS), barbershop harmony works best for songs that have a lot of harmonic seventh chords. These chords create a feeling of ‘tension’ in the music that you want to ‘resolve’ by moving onto another chord that sounds more comfortable. This transfer through musical tension and release gives barbershop its unique ‘feel’ and provides a sense of satisfaction for singers and audiences alike.
LABBS organises an annual Convention, bringing together quartets and choruses from across the country to share their love of singing, musicality and performance. The Convention competition follows Contest Rules (based on those devised by the Barbershop Harmony Society) and requires songs to be arranged suitably to the barbershop style.
Listen To The Music
Fascinating Rhythm’s Musical Director and Music Team strongly influence song choices for the chorus.
“I like music from across the board. I love the old-fashioned traditional barbershop songs, but being able to hear more contemporary numbers on the Convention circuit makes my heart soar! I try to keep a mix of traditional and contemporary music in the chorus repertoire.”Jo
Fascinating Rhythm mostly sings music that is arranged in the barbershop style (i.e. a cappella four-part close harmony), but we do have a couple of songs that include additional Soprano and Alto parts. “This Is Me” from the musical The Greatest Showman has sections that are sung in six voice parts, and “Mr Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra has been arranged in ten parts!
Fascinating Rhythm’s Music Team regularly reviews the chorus repertoire, deciding which songs to keep and which ones to retire. Songs that remain part of the repertoire, year after year, are those that resonate with audiences and get a good response from chorus members. The songs that tend to have a shorter lifespan are former Convention numbers that have been worked on so much that the chorus has fallen out of love with singing them or songs chosen quickly but didn’t resonate with the singers.
One of Fascinating Rhythm members’ favourite songs is “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel. It goes down well with audiences because the performance and message resonate with people.
“I love seeing the response from Fascinating Rhythm when they sing something that is relevant to them; songs like “Titanium” and “Shine” that have a strong message that we can really get behind and give meaning to as singers. And it’s great to watch how audiences react to anthemic songs like that.”Jo
“Sometimes a song will grow with you as you develop as a chorus; other times you grow out of a song because you want to move on as a singer and performer.”Liz
Go Your Own Way
A few years ago, Fascinating Rhythm’s Music Team decided to develop a new approach for choosing competition songs. Instead of looking at what other choruses and quartets had taken to the Convention stage, they wanted to work from a blank canvas and asked Liz to create some new bespoke arrangements for the chorus.
Liz is a talented arranger, vocal coach and musical director who has quite literally written the book on barbershop singing! She accepted the challenge of exploring the boundaries of the barbershop genre to bring new songs and exciting arrangements to the LABBS Convention stage.
Since 2015, Fascinating Rhythm has performed ten of Liz’s arrangements in competition, and we have another new song (no spoilers!) lined up for October 2022.
– LABBS 2019: the Cole Porter hit song “It’s De-Lovely” and “City Of Stars” from the musical La La Land
– LABBS 2018: Imelda May’s “Meet You At The Moon” and “A Night Like This” by Caro Emerald
– LABBS 2017: “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore and Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.”
– LABBS 2016: “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” by Louis Jordan and Billy Austin, and the Ella Fitgerald classic “Someone To Watch Over Me.”
– LABBS 2015: “Sway (Quien Sera)” by Dean Martin and another Ella Fitzgerald number “Manhattan.”
Jo and Liz now have a tried-and-tested pattern for bringing new arrangements to the barbershop genre. Reflecting on their collaborative partnership.
“I’ve known Liz for a long time, and she is a safe pair of hands, musically. Liz understands the journey I’ve been on as a Musical Director, and it feels really personal to have her create bespoke arrangements for the chorus to sing.”Jo
Making Your Mind Up
For Fascinating Rhythm’s Music Team, the process of choosing a contest song begins at least a year in advance of the Convention competition! The chorus will typically work on its competition songs for several months in the run-up to Convention, so they have to be sufficiently challenging and engaging pieces of music for the Musical Director and singers to be able to work on them in detail for an extended period of time.
Each member of the Music Team can suggest up to five songs that they would like the chorus to sing. There are no boundaries or parameters to constrain their choices (so they can take inspiration across all genres and artists), but they must find clips or videos of the songs to support their suggestions.
The Music Team then gets together for a ‘screening night’ to watch all the video clips and vote on how much they like the songs. A shortlist of half a dozen songs is drawn up using the combined voting scores, and these are sent over to Liz for her opinion on which ones would suit the barbershop style and make for an excellent contestable arrangement.
“By the time the shortlist gets to me, the songs on it have already been through a number of filters, so I don’t have to think about whether it will suit the chorus. There is usually one or two songs on the list that I think will be suitable for the Convention stage. But not all songs work in the barbershop style, and I won’t force a song where it doesn’t want to go musically, so I’ll feedback the reasons why I think each song on the list will or won’t work as a barbershop arrangement.”Liz
Arranging a song to make it suitable for the contest stage means meeting specific stylistic criteria. Many classic 1930s songs will easily translate to the barbershop genre, but more recent songs can be trickier to adapt to a four-part a cappella style.
“Not all songs suit the traditional barbershop style. Sometimes, I need to apply a bit of creativity to make a song ‘barbershoppy’, but there’s no point trying to shoe-horn a song into a style that doesn’t work for it. It’s important to think about the audience experience – you want the song to feel ‘true’ for the listener; you don’t want the arrangement to distract them from enjoying the message and the music.”Liz
Fascinating Rhythm is lucky to have a strong musical connection with Liz as a vocal coach and arranger. When arranging songs for the chorus to sing, Liz is able to hear Fascinating Rhythm’s unique sound inside her head and consider the preferred vocal range for each voice part.
And it’s not just Fascinating Rhythm who get to enjoy bringing Liz’s bespoke arrangements to life – they feed into the wider barbershop repertoire for other choruses and quartets to sing!
Thank You For The Music
And, according to Liz (who wrote another book about it!), the relationship between chorus and director is key to making good music.
“It’s about your Musical Director’s ears. Fascinating Rhythm is lucky because Jo has the skill and intuition to encourage the chorus to make good music. Her directional gestures are made in response to the sound she wants to hear and the sound she is getting from the singers. A lot of Fascinating Rhythm’s sound comes from how Jo listens. The chorus sound would change if they had a different conductor.”Liz
Dr Liz Garnett
Dr Liz Garnett is a musicologist, choral clinician and close-harmony arranger with a long-standing interest in the barbershop genre. She is one of the UK’s most prominent arrangers of music in the barbershop style and has coached and arranged for many of the UK’s top choruses and quartets.
Liz has been a member of LABBS for over 25 years and is the Musical Director of the Telfordaires, a male barbershop chorus. She was a Music Category judge and held the position of LABBS Music Director for three years.
Liz has also adjudicated in barbershop and mainstream choral classes at Eisteddfods and music festivals.
If you enjoyed reading about our chorus and the kind of music we love to sing, you might also like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insight series:
05 – Why warm up?
07 – Breathing to Sing
Deke Sharon Workshop
Fascinating Rhythm enjoyed a live, in-person coaching session with ‘The Father of Contemporary a cappella’, Deke Sharon, as part of a workshop on a cappella singing. More than 120 delegates attended the event held at Christ Church Downend on Monday, 21 March 2022.
The workshop saw Fascinating Rhythm put through their paces, focusing on getting in the groove and singing from the heart. The choir worked on two of Deke Sharon’s musical arrangements: ‘Good Old A Cappella’ (first released by The Persuasions) and ‘Seasons of Love’ from the Broadway musical Rent.
“It was amazing to hear how quickly the songs took shape; we certainly filled the rafters with some amazing harmonies! Deke interspersed the learning process with amazing stories, great humour and fantastic demonstrations – it’s fair to say this part of the evening was uplifting and joyous.”Fascinating Rhythm’s Musical Director, Jo
This was followed by coaching under glass experience, through which Deke helped the chorus work on two signature tunes from their repertoire: Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’ and the Doobie Brothers ‘Listen To The Music’. Deke took Fascinating Rhythm on a journey from singing with great emotion to being comfortable engaging wholly with the audience.
“It was an absolute thrill to work under glass with Deke Sharon. He was really sweet and asked if he could play in the sandpit with us and try a few things. We spent some time getting some sadness into ‘And So It Goes’ and reducing the volume so you could hardly hear us sing. Then Deke got us to try and make eye contact with the audience and with each other as we sang Listen To The Music, which was great fun. The audience seemed to really enjoy the performance more when we looked at them rather than our Musical Director.”Fascinating Rhythm’s Assistant Musical Director, Wendy
“It was such a thrill to sing to a live, very appreciative audience (mostly of our peers) and to be in Deke’s very safe hands – he masterly managed us and our audience in this unique, live coaching experience.”Jo said
Reflecting on his experience working with the chorus, Deke said, “Fascinating Rhythm is the best kind of barbershop chorus: technically spectacular yet sings with undeniable presence and heart. Go change the world!”
The evening was shared with other choirs from the Bristol area, and Deke Sharon also coached Bristol Fashion on two of their repertoire songs. It was lovely to see and hear Bristol Fashion sing ‘live’ after two years; their songs were breath-taking and beautifully delivered. The workshop finished off with Fascinating Rhythm joining Bristol Fashion on stage, alongside Black Sheep Harmony and Cleeve Harmony members for an incredible and emotional rendition of ‘Anthem’ from the musical Chess.
“It was fantastic! What a hugely enjoyable and inspiring evening. Singing and learning new songs with singers from other Bristol choruses, making new friends and meeting up with old ones – such an amazing way for the singing community to get back together after the last two years!”Lead Section Leader Karen
Looking back on an incredible evening, Jo said
“What an absolute treat this was for us. We live to sing to an audience, and this was Fascinating Rhythm’s first opportunity post-Covid. To be put through our paces by the master himself, Deke Sharon, was sheer joy! Deke fully understands the power of music: how it heals, brings communities together, and brings strength and courage at times of need. I love his ethos and approach. This evening served as a very timely reminder of why we do this amazing hobby of ours. As Deke says – it can literally save a life….”
Deke Sharon is a renowned singer, arranger, musical director and producer and is responsible for the current sound of modern a cappella singing. Deke is an honorary member of the Barbershop Harmony Society and an honorary member of Brigham Young University’s Vocal Point a cappella singing group.
The workshop was initially planned for January 2022 but was postponed due to coronavirus restrictions. Fascinating Rhythm was invited to take part by Beth Morgan, who runs The Creative Choir Leader and directs The Great Day Choir.
Junior Fascinating Rhythm celebrates Eisteddfod success!
Junior Fascinating Rhythm (Junior FR) members are celebrating singing success at the recent Thornbury Eisteddfod, part of the Thornbury Arts Festival 2022. The girls picked up several trophies and were invited to sing again in the Presentation Concert at which they were awarded a bursary.
Junior FR’s senior girls (aged 11-16 years) competed in the ‘Choirs 18 and Under’ category. They received a Distinction for their beautiful performance of ‘Lullabye’ by Billy Joel and the Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. The adjudicator was impressed by the musical phrasing of the two songs, which was something the girls had worked hard on in preparation for the competition and complimented them on a ‘touching performance’. In recognition of their musicality, the girls were presented with two trophies: Best Performing Choir in their class and Best Choir Overall In Competition.
Junior FR’s junior girls (aged 7-10 years) competed in the ‘Choirs 11 and Under’ category. They were Commended for their performance of ‘Hakuna Matata’ from Disney’s The Lion King and ‘Janie Mama’, a Jamaican children’s song. The adjudicator awarded the girls a trophy for being the Best Performing Choir in their class.
Junior FR’s Musical Director, Wendy, said “We always look forward to the Thornbury Eisteddfod – it’s a big event in our calendar. At Junior FR we really enjoy the whole process of getting our songs ready for competition and we are always well-received by the adjudicators and organisers. I’m delighted that the senior girls have been recognised for their outstanding performance.”
Solo and Duet Performances
Several of Junior FR’s senior girls also performed in solo and duet categories of the music festival.
Evie and Caitlin sang in two classes: Under-14s Show Songs and Under-14s Traditional Songs. They performed exceptionally well, with Evie securing first place and Caitlin second place in both categories. Evie was awarded a trophy for achieving the highest score across the board in traditional song.
Lily won the Under-12s Show Song class, and her duet with Amelie in the Under-12s Duet class was considered ‘outstanding’ and won the whole category with a score of 90 points. In recognition of the high quality of their singing, Lily and Amelie were also invited to perform again in the Winners’ Concert on 25 March 2022.
Anna and Izzy sang together in the Under-14s Duet class. They gave a mature and professional performance and scored 83 points.
Eisteddfod Winners Concert
Junior FR was invited to sing at the Eisteddfod Winners Concert on 25 March 2022, where they were presented with the Robert Hall Bursary of £100 in recognition of their outstanding performance. This is the second time that Junior FR has received the bursary, which is awarded at the discretion of the Eisteddfod Committee.
Wendy said “I’m over the moon that Junior FR has once again received the Robert Hall Bursary! It’s lovely to get the recognition and the money will be spent on something that will really enhance Junior FR’s singing and performance. Last time, we bought portable speakers that we could use in rehearsals; this time it would be lovely to spend it on a specially-arranged piece of music.”
Duettists Lily and Amelie also sang at the concert and were presented with the Jonathan Parfitt Cup, which is awarded for an outstanding performance. The award is made at the discretion of the Eisteddfod Committee with advice from the adjudicator. Lily and Amelie were one of only two performances that achieved an outstanding mark of 90, making them deserving winners of the cup.
Kate Phillipson-Masters, Chair of the Eisteddfod Committee, said “It was so good to have the Junior FR girls perform at the concert. They really are a most impressive group.”
Keeping it in the family
One of Junior FR’s newest and youngest members, Eva, was delighted to sing in the Eisteddfod for her first choir performance.
Eva said “It is fun and I like singing a lot. I like learning new songs like ‘Amazing Grace’. This was my first ever competition. I felt scared at first but when I started singing, I felt comfortable. I like that my family can sing too.”
Eva has a long-standing connection to Fascinating Rhythm because her great-grandma Thelma sang Bass with the chorus for many years and her great-aunt Lesley currently sings in the Lead section.
When Thelma retired from singing a few years ago, she become an honorary member of Fascinating Rhythm. She went along to the Eisteddfod to support Eva and the rest of the Junior FR girls. Afterwards, Thelma said “I felt so proud to watch Junior FR in the Eisteddfod competition. I have supported them since their formation but to have my great-granddaughter singing with them was so very moving. She is following in my footsteps and her aunt Lesley’s. I am so proud of Eva and have noticed already, despite being a new JFR member, her confidence in everything; her enthusiasm, calmness and dedication to learning her music without input from others. She is showing how much she enjoys singing, something she has always loved since she was little. It is with huge pride that I see my lovely girl so happy and contented. I hope Eva will enjoy having music in her life as I did and that she will be a good asset to the Junior FR chorus.”
Reflecting on the girls’ performances and successes in the competition, Thelma said “I enjoyed both the junior and senior girls’ sections. They were so very well performed and deserving of their high marks. I especially loved ‘Mr Blue Sky’ which the older girls sang; it was a difficult arrangement – well-done girls!”
Joining Junior FR
Junior FR is currently recruiting new members so if you, or someone you know, is interested in taking up singing or joining, please contact us via our website.
Junior FR is a choir for girls aged 7 to 16 years old. There is no audition process for new members and no previous singing or musical experience is needed. Members meet weekly during term-time at Iron Acton Village Hall (Friday afternoons, 4.00-5.30 pm), perform at events throughout the year and help to raise money for various charities.
Fascinating Rhythm Celebrates Membership Achievements
Fascinating Rhythm members have welcomed another new member to the risers and awarded long-service badges to long-serving members of the choir.
Fascinating Rhythm’s newest recruit, Julie, has passed the first stage of the assessment process to become a full member of the chorus. Julie will join the Lead section.
“I’ve found joining Fascinating Rhythm a very welcoming, organised and efficient process. Everyone is warm and supportive and I was thrilled to pass my audition. I’m looking forward to being able to join in with more of the songs and can’t wait to be part of a competition, as well as learning so much more about singing at the various workshops. It’s been so uplifting and I really look forward to practising every Thursday!”Julie
Fascinating Rhythm membership pin badges have been awarded to seven long-standing chorus members in recognition of their membership milestones:
– Mel has been a chorus member for 5 years
– Joan, Jo F, Peggy, Rose and Alison have all been part of the chorus for 10 years
– Sue has been part of Fascinating Rhythm for 15 years
“At Fascinating Rhythm, we very much enjoy celebrating our members’ commitment and contribution to our chorus family. These long-service awards give us the opportunity to celebrate on a regular basis and make our members feel valued appreciated and recognised.”Membership Secretary, Kitty
Fascinating Rhythm also held an Extraordinary General Meeting on 10 March 2022 to elect members to vacant committee roles. The chorus welcomed Lesley as interim Chair, Jane as Vice-Chair and Chloe as Public Relations Officer.
“I’m very happy to be supporting Fascinating Rhythm as interim Chair. Our singing family is very important to us and I’m delighted to be able to help on the committee for a while. I’d like to welcome Jane and Chloe – they will both be a great asset to the team. It is going to be nice to help them settle into their roles over the next few months. I’d also like to thank the previous committee members, who have carried out a huge amount of work of the last few years, and hope they enjoy a well-earned rest.”Lesley