Dear Jack and Harmonetters,
In the past couple of months I have had the wonderful opportunity to connect with some very dear friends in my life who I would never have met had it not been for SPEBSQSA. I attended chapter meetings and made some relationships and renewed some relationships through singing that remind me of what it means to have these dear men as friends. THIS is what "barbershop" WAS.
As I look at my life now, working a very demanding job on second shift my time is precious and I have become more and more isolated from the general community of people, my connections to people have become less and less personal and more and more digital.
More people wish me Happy Birthday than ever before and yet I have never met these people face to face and wouldn't recognize them if I met them at an event or the grocery store. There are more and more demands on my time with work and family. Email and other electronic means of communication have extended my work hours and yet, those same tools have allowed me to renew old friendships and acquaintances and make new ones.
Times have changed. Yet, the only thing that has changed about the Society is the name and location of the headquarters.
There are chapters that are thriving, the ones that I visit that have a strong music program and continually strive for improvement in their singing seem to be the ones that are growing, When I visit a chapter where the men just want to gather round and sing polecats, learn a couple of new songs every once in awhile, and swap a few stories, those chapters seem to be small and have stagnant growth and seem to lose members as they grow older and the members become more infirmed or join the Chapter Eternal.
A note about the second type of chapter, when I go to those gatherings I am reminded of a neighborhood bar, a collection of men with little in common but the gathering place that develop a fierce loyalty to the establishment and to each other. I feel much more of an outsider in that meeting because I'm not a part of the family, and those men are a family in the truest sense of the word.
I guess what I am trying to say is that when the Society attempted to rebrand itself it seems to me that we merely changed the packaging and didn't do a lot to figure out how to push that rebranding down to the membership.
We as a society and as BHS haven't figured out the digital age, yet, because we don't really have a digital product. Our model relies on four men getting together face to face and creating something unique.
We really do events well, even though attendance is down, International and District Conventions, Harmony University, District education, Harmony Brigades, etc., these are fiercely attended and very well run and overall represent years of practice and hard work.
What we don't do well is give ourselves a community presence, both locally and digitally. Some of the things that miss the mark terribly are chapter websites. Every chapter should have one and somewhere prominent should be where you meet, what time you meet and where to park. You would be surprised how many websites don't have that information. MAPS and good directions are immensely helpful, as well as an accurate street address someone can plug into their GPS.
We really missed the mark on the virtual choirs. Peter Nugent's Virtual Chorus is really a thing of beauty, I can't understand why something like that wasn't even thought of to introduce the 75th anniversary convention in Toronto, could any of you imagine being part of a 75 man or 7500 man virtual chorus and the video and audio impact that could have on a large screen??
On a larger note, we are missing the mark on new technologies. Why is there not a contest category recognizing all the wonderful work that some of our members, especially the younger ones, do on YouTube when they sing and perform a song all by themselves with all four parts? These things are amazing?
In summary, the leadership of the BHS; from the chapter boards, the district boards, to the international board; needs to straddle that very difficult line by embracing the needs of the past while recognizing the needs of the future. The technologies finally exist where anyone in the society can reach out to anyone else in the society for any kind of help they need. Using the web it is possible to view every district and international performance on stage. What we have trouble promoting is the title of this song "it's Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet."