A Cappella is like Pitch Perfect, right? How does that fit with barbershop bowties and striped vests?
A cappella refers to music sung without the accompaniment of instruments. This can be everything from imitating a band, complete with beat boxing drum lines, to soaring, layered, and unified harmonies. With a foundation in the barbershop style, Perth Harmony music includes the use of close, four-part harmony, with chords and voicing that enhances overtones – this produces a full sound often seeming to have more singers than you see. The barbershop art form also teaches ensemble skills to enhance and unify the parts, with a melody usually in an internal part rather than in the highest. It emphasises storytelling and visual performance so we sing without holding music and may add choreography. It’s more like musical theatre, which is why we use the term ‘chorus’. With that basis, our music choices can be pop, swing, rock, musical theatre, Christmas carols, or classical, from the 1920s to the 2020s…with not a boater hat or stripe in sight.
What does a typical year look like?
As we’ve learned, years don’t always get to be typical, but here is a guide: We start back at the end of January when we review our repertoire and often welcome new prospective members. In February we hold a weekend retreat of coaching and fun. This often leads into contest season as we prepare for national competition in May. Winter is a little quieter and a good time to build our skills and prepare for spring performances. As the weather warms up we might put on a show, accept various performances in the community, and perhaps head to a music festival. We finish the year with a fun Christmas season taking music to the community with small and larger groups singing for carol events and functions, in the streets, shopping centres or business foyers of Perth to set a festive mood, or cheering nursing and retirement homes.
What is the time commitment needed?
This is a common concern for new members which is understandable. We live in a busy world with competing responsibilities. Singing is a gift you can give yourself now to help balance a busy world. That “one day” time when you are magically no longer busy? May not ever happen. Waiting until you retire? We have many members who regret not finding this pastime sooner. How much time needs varies for what you can manage and how much you want to get out of this hobby. Perth Harmony is not a social choir with casual attendance, but it is quite doable by setting aside Wednesday evenings and a little personal time through the week.
We ask our singers to learn their music at home so that in rehearsal we can explore the music as a whole and work the ensemble skills. With vocal tracks available this can be headphones while you do chores or a soundtrack when travelling. We also encourage singers to practice their vocal and performance skills at home, just like you would when learning an instrument. How often is up to you. Even ten minutes now and then helps you learn.
Rehearsal is once a week between 7pm and 9:30pm and all singers are expected to attend. You will of course have times when you are out of town or unwell so rehearsals are recorded and privately live-streamed to help members stay involved.
Throughout the year there will also be performances as well as occasional contests and coaching sessions. We try to schedule these to be manageable for members as we appreciate the full lives with jobs and families.
I’ve sung a lot in the past. Will I learn anything new?
If you have previously sung solo, you will love what we can achieve as a group! We work on ensemble skills to maximise musicality and expression, enhance the rhythm and harmony, and then add a layer of emotional connection and visual performance.
If you haven’t experienced a cappella or barbershop before, you will discover a world of educational opportunities as we work (play!) together to build our vocal and visual skills as a team. As a performance and competition chorus there is plenty to keep singers engaged and motivated.
I haven’t sung much before. Can I do this??
The secret of Perth Harmony is that it is made up of ordinary women with normal voices doing amazing things by doing it together. We do need a certain level of musicality so you can confidently hold your part - this is a little bit genetics as well as your musical exposure and experience growing up, but it is a myth that good singers are born. Your voice is an instrument that you can learn to play - and that is what we learn together.
Do I need to read music?
Actually, no. Music reading is a great skill and will give you confidence as a musician, but it is not a requirement. We provide recorded tracks of your part to sing along with and learn from. This also helps the music readers as we can start with the same musical interpretation.
Why do I need to audition?
We are always asking what else can we do and what else can we learn. Our buzz is making excellent music. As a team sport what we can create is influenced by the singers around us - if one singer is singing wrong notes or out of tune then the group can’t progress. We audition to check that each member is able to memorise their part and sing in tune against the other harmonies so that our creation can reach its potential.
Does singing in a group use the same techniques as singing solo?
A good singer has mastery over their voice so they can apply their instrument to a variety of styles. When singing in an ensemble there needs to be an agreement on style choices so the group sounds unified. We aim for a free and consistent tone, accurate notes and intervals, connected sound, and a clean style without elements that could stand out (likes scoops or excess vibrato). We add emotion through textures, dynamics, and visual performance.
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