I asked 100 women – all Queens of Harmony and/or current int’l top-ten quartet members – to participate in a survey designed to offer advice to quartets still climbing the regional rankings ladder. The questions address song choice, time management, and coaching strategies as well as interpersonal relationships among quartet members and advice on how to deal with disappointment.
I will post a new question each day for the next 10 days.
Here are some of their responses.
Today’s Question is:
Q. How do you choose songs? Do coaches influence your song choice? Do you choose songs for the point potential? How much does your like/dislike for a song play a role? What is your advice for choosing songs?
A. Choose songs that highlight what you do well. Challenge yourself, but make sure you can meet that challenge. Don’t sing songs that cause you worry and strife. And don’t keep a song if it isn’t working for you just because you paid good money for it. Sometimes a song just doesn’t come together like you think it might.
A. We choose songs based on what “clicks” with our personality, tessitura, and strengths. We choose songs that give us a chance to display our best qualities while still having the depth to show versatility. Point potential is always considered for contest music which is why we always run unproven songs by a music judge or two! My advice for choosing songs is to try a bunch, it may seem like a lot of work to learn a ton of music but it is fun and will benefit you in the long run as you will find the songs that naturally work for you rather than trying to force it to work for you.
A. We choose songs based on what we like. We get opinions from coaches on contest music once we have a few choices. If we don’t like a song, we don’t sing it….there are too many songs out there to sing something you don’t like!
A. Mostly the lead chose the songs. It has to suit her first.
A. We now try to choose music based as much on the range of the song as anything. In the past, I/we would choose songs because we heard someone else do them and thought they were fun; but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will work for you! Learn a LOT and be willing to throw them out if they don’t fit pretty quickly!
A. We choose songs that we can connect with emotionally. We do take coaches’ advice into consideration, we would not consider a song that any member of the quartet strongly disliked and we certainly wouldn’t choose an arrangement that wouldn’t score well. But of most importance is our ability to connect to the story and message of the song.
A. Choose them to ring chords and suit the personality of the quartet.
A. For us, new songs usually come about during unplanned, creative brainstorming by one or two people in the quartet. Sometimes, it can just be a song that someone’s always liked and has wanted to sing. Our coaches don’t usually influence song choice, but they definitely have a say in whether they think the arrangement will work for us. Once the choice has been made, they’re always asked to give us their interp and arrangment suggestions. In our quartet, if the lead loves a song and the arrangement works vocally for the quartet, the rest of us are happy to sing anything. Advice for choosing songs – pick what you love, pick what stays in the wheelhouse of your quartet, and pick songs that will round out your repertoire.
A. In the early days we chose songs performed by Queens we liked and whose personality and voice ranges fit ours. Now we usually have songs arranged for us.
A. Choose songs that you like and that you can really relate to and can sell the emotion to the audience. It is these kinds of songs that will score well. If you don’t like a song you will not put your true heart and soul into it.
A. Personally, I pick songs that I like to sing. As a lead, if I’m not feeling the music or message of a song, then I don’t feel I can do it justice. Good singing and ringing chords win contests which should be the main focus when choosing music, so my advice would be to play to your strengths when choosing contest stuff.
A. Our lead chose most of our songs. It needs to fit her and she needs to like the song for it to work for the quartet. We have also asked our coaches for ideas. You all have to like the song and enjoy singing it otherwise it will show on stage that it doesn’t fit all or is comfortable for all of you.
A. Some songs are suggested by friends/coaches/mentors/others – we just keep previewing songs that the lyrics appeal to us. The higher we go in rankings the more we pay attention to point potential. No sense in leaving any on the table. Must be able to find attachment to song somehow to sing it. Otherwise I can’t sell it. Advice for choosing – preview many, throw out a bunch, and settle on the ones that mean something to you. Don’t be afraid to throw them away after learning them.
A. Driving BBS up-tune and the lead must love the ballad. We always check with a music judge to make sure the arrangement is going to be good scoring. We have arrangers we love and generally look to for an arrangement.
A. Anything we can ring, I love, so barbershop is where it is at. I like stuff not too many people have heard recently. Lots of looking at lists, listening to songs, reading lyrics, trying things on. Lots and lots of choices just don’t “stick”.
A. We learn lots of options for contest music at once (usually 6-8 songs), and sing through parts to see how it sounds on us. We usually sing through well over 10 arrangements before we find one that sounds really good on us. Our lead has to like it, and we also won’t sing anything that any of us really don’t like. Our coaches have given opinions about songs – and we’ve stopped singing songs because of advice from our coaches. We always keep the “contestability” of a song in mind, but also know that if we can sing an arrangement that isn’t the strongest and sing it REALLY well, we’ll do well with it.
A. Sing songs you love! If one person doesn’t like it, or it’s challenging THROW IT OUT. The point is singing songs that show off your best skills. There’s a quote that says the song isn’t the message, the state of the performer is. How is someone going to sell a song they don’t like? We go through many many songs, some are out of our ranges, some have a sound we don’t hear on us, some are too long, too short, not for the right purpose. I do have to send a big thank you out to those arrangers who send preview copies. It can literally take 2 minutes to rule out a song. We also always pay our arranger fees and per copy fee, we would never sing a song without paying for it, it’s the right thing to do. If it wasn’t for the arrangers we wouldn’t have songs to sing. The put in a lot of hours working on them, it’s like our way of saying thanks!
A. Yes, I guess we do pick contest songs based on point potential now, though we didn’t always. We tend to look for songs that stretch us and teach us new skills, and we like the song to have a concrete message that we can all get behind emotionally pretty easily. Our coaches tell us later on if the song is not working for us, but often we learn it and rehearse it quite a bit to see if it fits before we throw it away. (No coach has yet successfully recommended a song that stuck, though we’ve tried several). We pretty much have to like the song, at least we have to all be able to buy in to a common message about it enough to sell it the same way. Our best contest songs have been ones that just kind of fell into place when we started to learn it. If we found that we had to struggle to learn it, or to interpret it, then usually those songs turn out to be not worth the effort.
A. You have to love the song and then you have to make it your own. I don’t think about if it’s strong barbershop or not. If you love it you will deliver the best.
A. Pick songs that the Lead loves and stick to great arrangements. If anyone in the quartet hates a song, pick something else.
A. Song choice is crucial! First of all, the Lead has to love the song. If she doesn’t, don’t bother. Yes, choosing songs that are scoring well should also be considered. Choose songs that show off the quartet’s strong points and skill sets. Song choice is HUGE. Fortunately, I sang with (and still sing with) a lead who is excellent at picking great songs.
A. I listen to quartets and choruses at contest or I listen to quartet and chorus CDs and often pick songs I like from that. My quartet has also gotten music arranged for us by listening to songs on YouTube by jazz singers. Coaches can help with whether a song is not strong enough barbershop for contest but typically if my quartet is really passionate about a song, we will sing it even if a coach is not the biggest fan because we know the passion will carry the song further than a song we sing for “point potential.” It is very important for all quartet members to like the songs because you will be working on them a lot when gearing up for contest. If the song doesn’t stay fresh for the quartet, it will bore the audience.