Mention “Barbershop” to most people and the first image that comes to mind is 4 dapper chaps in straw boaters and natty candy-striped, blazers.
That’s where barbershop started, but as you’ve probably spotted by now, it’s come a long way since then. Barbershop is a style of close harmony singing, sung in 4 parts: Tenor, Lead, Baritone and Bass. It is sung in single sex groups and formed in either a quartet or a chorus. Barbershop differs from normal choral singing, not only by the use of very close harmony, but also by the choreography involved, from the emotive movements in a ballad, to the more complex dance choreography in an up-beat tune. The singers also perform without the safety net of music sheets or piano accompaniment.
Surrey Harmony was started by Jenny Lawson in March 1990.
Just four years later, Surrey Harmony won their first gold medal in the UK championships organised by Sweet Adelines International. It was the first of many wins in Sweet Adelines, and entitled them to a place at the Sweet Adelines International competition in New Orleans in 1995.
Back at UK competition, and a silver medal in 1996 was followed by the choruses second gold in 1997, and another trip to the USA. This time to Nashville, Tennessee! The chorus took to the stage with new outfits; hemlines were raised and it was out with the purple… in with the green!
It was during 1996 that the chorus first competed in the Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition, shaking things up Barbershop style and reaching the semi-finals. They went on to compete again in 2000 when they again reached the semi-finals and once again in 2008, when they achieved “choir of the day” status.
Surrey Harmony has now won the gold five times at the Sweet Adelines Competition in the UK and notched up silver a further six times. Over recent years their scores have rocketed from 541 in 2000, to 645 in 2008. They have competed at the international competition in Las Vegas, Portland, New Orleans, Nashville and Phoenix, scoring higher and higher marks each time.
In 2007 Surrey Harmony broke the magic 600 points barrier in their regional contest, and, along with three other directors from the UK, Jenny Lawson was awarded the title of ‘Master Director’.
Then in 2008, Surrey Harmony became the first UK chorus to win a wildcard place at the International Competition, entitling them to compete in Nashville once again in 2009.
During their second visit to Nashville, the Chorus surprised even themselves by coming 15th in the world, from a highly competitive field…the highest ever place for a UK chorus and just a few points away from a place in the finals. A further wildcard in 2010, following a silver medal in regional competition, saw the chorus competing internationally in Houston, Texas in October 2011.
But it’s not always about the Competitions. Surrey Harmony pride themselves on pushing the barriers with public performances too!
One of the highlights for many members has to be the BBC Proms in the Park in 2001. Surrey Harmony took to the Hyde Park Stage during the “Last night of the Proms” picnic concert.
In 2002, Surrey Harmony teamed up with the London Gay Men’s Chorus (LGMC) for 2 shows, including one in The Barbican, London. The highlight had to be the specially arranged, 8 part, Abba medley, which the 2 choruses sang together.
In 2005, Surrey Harmony performed for HRH The Princess Royal in a pre-Christmas show for The “Not Forgotten” Association in St James’ Palace.
Surrey Harmony continues to grow in numbers. It now has over 90 members in its ranks and is always looking for more women who love to sing.