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Thoughts on Youth Enrichment Program -Long (SAI/HI as well)

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  • Russ Squires
    Hey Jack and everyone out there, I don t get on the Harmonet much any more, but I saw this thread and was intrigued. First off, I really want to applaud your
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 2, 2009
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      Hey Jack and everyone out there,

      I don't get on the Harmonet much any more, but I
      saw this thread and was intrigued. First off, I really want to applaud
      your efforts to push this forward Jack. As the "behind the scenes" guy who
      started both the Westminster Chorus and the Youth Chorus Festival
      (along with helping the guys who started several of the current Youth
      Choruses out there), I have a unique perspective on a lot of what you
      are proposing. At just 34 I have been in semi-retirement mode the last two years
      focusing on my wife and two little kids after having given up so much
      of my life from 1992 to 2008 to barbershop, but trying to keep tabs on
      things while staying in the background for a change. I guess now that I
      am no longer active with Westminster or on the Society Youth Activities
      Committee, I will share my own opinions, and state that they are just
      that, my own. It does amazes me everyday the explosion
      occurring around the country with young people joining our ranks. I
      believe it is because they found what we did in starting Westminster,
      it is a blast
      to sing with other guys your own age, period. Knowing that, let me
      share some ideas with
      you, both answers to your questions, and some other thoughts on the
      Youth movement ....

      1. I understand your view of the generational issues Jack, and I do agree to
      some extent, but my personal opinion is that it has to do with actual
      age and "time of life" rather than generations. I think you will find
      guys more likely to sing with guys that are close to their age, but
      across some mythical generation barrier, than someone in their
      generation that may be 20 years older than them. Although I am Generation X, we had a pretty significant split of X's and Y's among
      the guys who started Westminster. I totally respect the research you
      have done, and perhaps the Millenial generation can be approached in a
      specific manner as you have suggested with great success. I am not in
      any way suggesting that the generational issues are not important to
      understand, but I don't think we should get caught up in over thinking
      how we approach recruiting young people. and my next, and probably
      biggest point will tell you why.

      2. This may sound bad, but I
      don't care what anybody says, my experience tells me with young people it's not about the
      music, it's about the fraternity. Westminster was started that way, and continues to thrive today far
      beyond my wildest dreams, even with massive
      turnover in membership from guys moving away, because guys want to bring their friends, their
      peers that are close their age, out to have a good time with other guys
      that love to sing. Making great music is absolutely important, but
      finding a home for all the young guys out their that love to sing, is
      WAY more important. Most "older" chapters today have the majority of
      their membership in the same age range, give or take say 15-20 years.
      That is why young choruses work, because the guys feel more comfortable
      having fun with their peers. Yes, many young guys start in barbershop
      in one of those "older" chapters and find the love of it, I was one who
      did almost 18 years ago now in HS, but that is not the norm. Instead so
      many young guys sing in HS, and then find themselves on the outs the
      minute they leave. They are not going to pursue a music degree in
      college, so they just let their singing go. They don't have an outlet
      to continue their love of music with their friends. In my opinion, that
      is the single biggest target audience we should have, not the guys
      still in HS, but guys who are just finished with HS, and guys that just
      finished college and don't have anyplace to continue singing. This
      coincides directly with the goal of going into the schools. Go to the
      local HS and College music programs, promote barbershop in a positive
      light, but before you leave make sure you ask for a list of recent
      graduates, it's a no-brainer. Chances are many teachers may be wary of
      having their current students time taken up with outside programs, but
      I guarantee they will support seeing their former students continue on
      with music! If those kids moved out of town to go to school, don't just
      drop them, do your part and find out if their is a chapter in the area
      they moved to that you can hook them up with. (Side note: another great
      target is guys who have "aged out" of boys choirs)

      This next thought will be controversial with some, especially the older
      generations, but I actually don't think that the word "Barbershop"
      needs to be used in promoting these Youth Choruses. PLEASE don't get upset by that, it's not a negative
      thing, it's got nothing to do with the music at all, it's just a fact
      of life with young people. The problem with the word "barbershop" is
      completely the stigma attached to it, not the music. The minute a guy
      shows up that loves to sing, they will sing barbershop songs and become
      addicted to the style. The people out their that think that young
      people won't sing the old songs, that they need new "doo-woppy" music
      have never sung with young people. Sure, guys like variety, who
      doesn't, but I have yet to meet a young guy that didn't want to sing in
      a group of other guys his own age that love to sing too because of song
      selection . Although I can't tell you what happens in rehearsal today,
      up until I "retired" all of Westminster's rehearsals were started with
      polecats so that every guy would get to learn and love them. Guys will love the Barbershop music, but I guarantee you get more young people in the door
      calling it an "Acapella" group, or a young men's chorus, than you do
      putting the word Barbershop in the title.

      the first two points together, here is the big idea I have had
      for a while, but just have not had the time to pursue; I think we
      should actually create a music fraternity called "Beta Eta Theta"
      (approximately BHS in greek), and have the new youth choruses as
      chapters of that fraternity, and that fraternity as a formal offshoot
      of BHS. Take that to the next level, how about making this the area
      that BHS and SAI finally work together on? (By the way, I think this entire email
      could be used in the women's organizations just as much as the men's.)
      Yes, I know all the politics
      between the organizations that go back many years. Yes, they are
      damaging, but isn't growing our art form more important that the crap
      from the past? Why not create a girls Sorority (Sigma Alpha something or other,can't remember my greek for the letter I right now), and have
      BHS and SAI work together to grow them. I have to be honest that I am
      puzzled why more young girl choruses have not shown up. The percentage
      of young girls that sing in HS and College, to guys is much higher.
      Knowing that, and that at this age guys and girls kind of like being
      around each other (shocker I know), could we all use this to our
      advantage? Yes, still have male choruses and female choruses that are
      separate, but that can also do things together. Why not have one major
      Youth Fraternity/Sorority Chorus
      competition every year that involves both? Why not create an
      organization that is governed by SAI/BHS/HI that works to both raise
      money and run the thing TOGETHER! Should we hold it up for
      politics? Should we hold this up because we can't figure out the best
      way to "judge" the contest? I don't think so. There are a million reasons why this would

      ...and probably the biggest one why it wouldn't other than politics at
      the "national" level, is local chapters being "afraid" of this Youth
      movement. No finger pointing here, but I know of several people that
      tried to start young choruses, but the local "big shot" chorus would
      not let them. They were afraid that the new groups would take their
      young members away so they squashed the groups before they were even
      able to start (both guy and girl groups). That is just ridiculous! Talk
      to the Masters of Harmony, talk to Denver Mile High, talk to the Toronto Northern Lights,
      they will all tell you that their local Youth
      Choruses have been a HUGE blessing, feeding young people into their
      choruses rather than taking them away. Heck even the Harborlites
      benefited from Westminster because of girls who were friends with the
      guys in the chorus falling in love with Barbershop, and looking for
      places they could participate!!! Please get over the fear, and
      open the doors to bringing more and more young people into our hobby!!!

      As to the actual set up and running of the chorus itself, I think the
      key to starting a "successful" Youth chorus is having 3 types of guys.
      I know that sounds odd, but I can justify it:

      A. First, you
      need a young "face" guy. This is the guy that just naturally has an
      ability to make friends and get people in the door. In the case of
      Westminster, that guy was Sean Devine. When I had the idea to start the
      chorus, he was literally my first call. He was new to So-Cal, but it
      was clear that all the young guys wanted to be around him, and he just
      drew people to him. When we won in 2006, I think he had literally recruited
      either directly or through friends, probably 40 of the 56 guys that
      were on the risers. The guy doesn't have to be a super star singer,
      just someone who makes everyone around him feel welcome, and want to
      come back and bring their friends.

      B. The second guy is the "music" guy. This is the guy who can
      lead the chorus musically. He doesn't have to be the director, and he
      doesn't have to be young, but he just has to be able to guide the
      musical choices, understanding the abilities of the group, and picking
      music that is appropriate. I have seen too many of these new young
      groups both quartet and chorus, trying pieces of music WAY over their
      heads. It is much more fun to ring a polecat, than to sing a David
      Wright arrangement and murder it. (Trust me, I have done both!) Also,
      if he isn't young, he needs to be willing to let the young guys have
      their say, and provide guidance, not mandates.

      C. The
      third and final is the "behind the scenes" guy. This is the guy that
      does 99% of the "real" work to make the chorus go, and is happy to do
      it. He recognizes that the chorus needs him to do the work, but that
      when it comes to getting the recognition, it may not come. This is
      really hard to find among young guys. I use the example of Sean and me
      to show my own personal folly. When I started the group I was 26 and
      although my motives for starting Westminster were right on, I quickly
      found myself wanting this chorus to bring me some sort of barbershop
      "stardom". I had already sung in the Masters of Harmony for about 5
      years and won a gold medal,
      but I wasn't the star at all. I badly wanted the spotlight and that
      desire almost killed Westminster. Ego clashes among the young guys may
      trivial, but they are very, VERY real. Young guys naturally want to be
      stars, and not everyone can be. Today, I would call Sean one of my
      close friends, but early on we had to be pulled apart a few times from
      wanting to kill each other. It wasn't
      until we realized that it was about something bigger
      than the individuals, that we were able to take Westminster to the top.
      That is why this is actually the perfect role for an older guy from a
      local chapter to take on. If a guy can be happy seeing his hobby (or
      "passion" for many of us) grow with new young blood, and be willing to put in the endless hours to help guide, but not dictate how things should be, it will absolutely
      work best. Up until just a year or two ago we had one of the guys from
      the "old" Westminster Chapter on our Board. He was incredibly valuable
      to us with his insight. A youth chorus badly needs someone to take on
      this role, as most of the young guys can't keep their heads straight
      beyond showing up, but it has to be someone who has a servants heart!

      My final point may sound a
      little preachy from a mere 34 year old, but I think people need to just get off
      their butts and do something. I totally respect and understand why Jack
      is offering prizes and incentives, those are always nice. However, in
      my opinion we talk constantly about wanting the youth movement to explode, but it
      shouldn't be about awards or recognition, it should be about saving
      this hobby we love and finding a musical home for young people that
      don't have one. No one knows this from personal experience more
      than me. Further, let's not forget, you have help! I can't tell you how
      awesome James Estes and Rick Spencer are at the Society level when it
      comes to Youth. I know perception in the past was that Headquarters
      didn't get it, that they didn't understand what it takes, but that is
      long in the past. These guys are dead on in their ideas and are a huge
      reason for the success we have started to have, but they can't do it
      alone. Further, the Harmony Foundation is working their collective
      behinds off to raise the money we need to make these Youth Programs a
      success. (Not to toot his horn too much, but the Harmony Foundation
      made an amazing choice in bringing Sean on. I have met few people that have dedicated themselves to
      this hobby as much as him, and having someone who understands
      completely the Youth movement as he does, represent the Foundation was
      an awesome choice by Clarke and his team.) Listen, lots of people talk
      about this Youth stuff, but how many are actually doing something about
      it? James, Rick, Sean, and Jack are, but are you all out their in Harmonet-land? Let's take
      that to the next level, I want to straight up challenge any of
      the young guys or girls out there that may read this. Not to offend
      anyone, but the young people in our hobby are as smart
      and talented, as a group, as the young people that are part of any
      organization, so we need to stop coddling them and push them to help out
      as well. You "youth" have found this great musical art form that I was
      privileged to find as a 16 year old in HS. At age 21 I went to the
      first ever FWD Youth Harmony Camp. At age 22 I
      came back to the second one and handed the late great Lloyd Steinkamp,
      and former FWD President John Krizek a written plan for starting a
      Youth Chorus. It took me four more years to get Westminster started, but
      it happened because I wanted more than anything to have a place where
      my friends could find the love of barbershop I had. It has changed my
      life dramatically over the last 18 years and the lives of so many of my
      friends. It is now YOUR responsibility to introduce this world to your
      friends. I promise you if you put yourself out there, and give what you
      can to create a Youth Fraternity/Chorus in your area, it will be one of
      the most rewarding experiences of your life. You may not win the Youth
      Chorus Contest (or District or International or anything for that
      matter), you may not end up a "super star", heck your chorus may never
      even get off the ground, but I promise if you put your heart into this
      effort, you will find great rewards. Finding other young people that
      love to sing, and bringing them together to make music is special
      period. Don't let your desire to be "famous" in our little world of
      barbershop get in front of what is important, saving our style, making
      friendships that will last a lifetime and music that will impact
      people. That is what happened in Westminster, that is what is happening
      with many of the new Youth Choruses, and that is why this whole
      movement can and will succeed!

      Wow, that was much more than I thought I would write. I certainly hope
      my thoughts don't offend people as I know some may have been worded
      strongly. I am prepared for the flames that may come but I really do hope that these thoughts help.
      There is no doubt in my mind if we get off our collective behinds and
      work together we can see the explosive growth of barbershop we all
      dream of.

      Now off to pick up my three year old from pre-school.....

      All the best,
      Russ Squires

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