Sean Bui is a busy man – and he just got a whole lot busier.
Sean’s the new chorus director for the Knights of Harmony. Or, to put it in simple terms, he’s the guy who’s undertaken to stand out front and to teach us to sing and perform better than we’ve perhaps ever done before.
This in addition to the four other choirs – classical, church and Barbershop – that he also conducts.
Sean is an accomplished musician who, as well as leading choruses, composes, teaches and edits music. He’s also raising his two young kids. All this at just 28, and he takes it all in his energetic, enthusiastic, good-natured stride.
Sean’s background is mainly classical and he’s a relative newcomer to Barbershop, having stepped in to direct the already successful Royal Harmonics’ chorus as recently as March 2016, just two months before BABS Convention. And from their results so far, things appear to be going very well for him and our good friends in Windsor.
Is he daunted by agreeing to take on the Knights?
“No, actually I’m not, not at all“, he says. “When I took on the Royal Harmonics I was absolutely daunted because I knew nothing about Barbershop and I thought, my god, what have I done?”
“Then I went to my first Convention and it was<em> amazing. I absolutely loved it and I thought: Wow, how did I not realise this was here“.
Barbershop, he says, is rather like any other type of choir – just a different style of singing and one he ‘really loves’.
Novice no more
At the beginning of October Sean sang lead with the First Edition quartet in the IABS contest in Cork. It was their first time out and he came away with a Gold Medal. He’s clearly not a novice any more.
“After working with the Royal Harmonics, I understand Barbershop,” he says. “I feel I have the confidence to know what I’m doing.”
Sean, who has an MMus in Advanced Musical Studies from the Royal Holloway University, started playing the piano at 7. At the age of 9 he began singing with the Berkshire Boys’ Choir and ‘just fell in love with it’.
“Suddenly,”’ he says, “the whole world of choral music just opened up to me“.
At 17 one of his compositions was performed by choir and orchestra in public for the first time. “It wasn’t an amazing piece” he says. “but I guess it was for someone of 17 to have gone and written it. Composition has always been an emotional outlet for me“.
Of his new job leading the Knights he says: “If the guys are willing to put in the effort, we will get better. The only way we are going to get better is to be challenged – there’s no quick fix“.
That means, in part, going back to the basics of good singing – the breathing, the positioning of the sound in the mouth, the technique.
But Sean is also aware of one other key component of his job. Barbershop singing, he says, “is also about you guys having fun.”
He wants the Knights’ to measure their success not by their BABS national competition rankings – we’re currently 12th – but by the points the judges award us.
Why? Because the judges’ scoring offers a truer reflection of progress, whereas rankings reflect the performance of the other choruses around you.
Of his own easy-going style he says: “I always hope that I give my best to the chorus as I always want what’s best for them,”
“This is what I do, every day, and I thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoy it.”