NEWS AND UPDATES
Gerry Darvill (1939-2018)
The Knights of Harmony have said farewell to one of their much-loved and enthusiastic veterans, Gerry Darvill. Sadly, Gerry passed away on August 1st, aged 79, with his family around him.
Gerry sang with the chorus for 26 years, and his attention to detail in pursuit of the perfect chord made him an outstanding chorus member.
His wife of many years, Olive says: ‘Gerry had a very good ear for music – and he wasn’t happy unless the right notes were sung’.
He had performed at Convention as recently as the end of May 2018 and was due to attend Harmony College at the end of August. He always enjoyed singing in the Harmony College Audition Chorus with his good friend and fellow Knight, Ron Hollis.
At the church service mourners were given a detailed account of his work with the Fire Service, his love of the Church and his music skills.
He loved to drive, so it was a good fit when Gerry joined the Fire Service as a Driver/Fireman/Mechanic in 1966. He was to spend the rest of his working life in the service.
While Gerry loved his work, he loved his music even more. He came from a musical family where there was singing, piano, drums, violin – and Gerry on the banjo. Olive says his love of singing Barbershop gave him so much pleasure, and he really enjoyed his Thursday evenings rehearsing with the Knights. It gave him so many friends.
Many of those chorus friends turned out in full Knight’s uniform to pay their respects at his funeral on August 21st. It was a privilege to perform two of Gerry’s favourite Barbershop songs: I’ll Walk with God and You Raise Me Up.
Fellow Knight Chas Owen, paid this tribute: “Gerry was a kind and generous person who would always go out of his way to help others“. We will miss him.
We send our sincere condolences to Olive and family,
Rest in peace, Gerry.
Tag Along Thursday
A change of season and time to do something new.
Come and find out what the Knights can do.
Don’t let it “Fall” off your calendar – come and join us this September.
The White Hill Centre, Chesham, HP5 1AG on Thursday, September 20 at 7.45pm.
For more information, please contact:
Contact Chas on 07762 089818 / 01296 668985
email us at: Members@knightsofharmony.org.uk
How does a young man of 18 talk to his grandad who’s fast approaching 80? How does a dad connect with his kids? How do you bring families together? The answer, it seems: singing. In this occasional series we’ll talk to three Knights whose families have found a way to bridge the age gap. Harmony really does begin with music. In Part One, meet Chas, Stuart and Chris Owen. Grandfather, father, son. An age gap spreading more than 60 years. They share a past. But they also share a passion: Barbershop. If it were football they loved (and Stuart does), then it’s likely that age would mean only one of them would still be playing. Not so with singing. All three are keen and active barbershoppers. Chas sings Bass with the Knights. He was a late starter – 47 when he switched from singing amateur opera after 10 years of listening to wife Lynne rehearse at home with her award-winning barbershop quartet Tapestry. Stuart, who’s 44, was raised in a household where – from the age of three – gold-medal singers regularly stayed and sang some of the best barbershop in the country. He’s now a leading barbershop coach, and wife Helen sings in the UK’s most successful quartet ever (Finesse), having reached the dizzying heights of 3rd in the world. So was it inevitable that 18-year-old Chris would follow in the family footsteps two years ago? He admits it was ‘a factor’. But, more importantly he says: “I like it”.
Cool and special
Did it involve any bribery or arm-twisting? “A bit of both really.” he admits cheerfully. “I decided to give it a go after years of being asked by my dad if I thought I’d sing in a chorus one day. Plus I eventually ran out of excuses not to!” Has singing with his grandad and dad made a difference? “I guess… it’s a cool thing to do together. It’s given us something special’ Chas, who retired as a manager from the electricity board 22 years ago, agrees: “It’s normally hard for a grandfather to relate to a teenage grandson’s thinking,” he says. “But having a common hobby makes conversations that much easier”. Stuart says he was, in fact, ’gobsmacked’ when Chris told him and his mum he fancied singing in a chorus. “I think with so much barbershop going on in our lives we always felt it was likely to happen,” he says, “But it’s fabulous to have the memories”. The memories he refers to are special indeed. Last year the three generations of Owens picked up Silver Medals at the BABS Convention when they sang together, through Project Horizon, with Sheffield’s Hallmark of Harmony. Stuart is already a multi gold-winning medallist in both quartet and chorus. But for novice Chris – and 33-year veteran Chas – is was a first. “It was really special,” Chas says. “The silver medal last year was my one and only award”. Newbie Chris agrees: “I won a silver medal in my first ever contest – which I like reminding dad about now and again. Hopefully there’ll be more medals to come”.
Best Year Ever
For Stuart, it was one of his finest days. “To say I was proud beyond measure is an understatement. Seeing my son on the front row ‘doing the moves’ was so special I could hardly sing through emotion.” “I’ve sung with Dad in chorus for many years – including the Knights – but last year I finally ‘got’ what it meant to be Dad for all those years.” “To come away with a silver medal and see Dad’s face looking as pleased as punch to – finally – have a chorus medal after so many years of singing was the icing on the cake.” But Chris wasn’t going to let his dad wallow in glory for too long. “I was very quickly brought back to earth by my son.” Stuart says “He came up to me after the results and said, and I quote: ‘So dad, where did you come in your first chorus competition’. Grrrr!” Nonetheless, Stuart sums up the achievement simply as ‘one of the most special – if not the Most Special – year I’ve ever had in Barbershop’. The Owen family live in Cheddington, close to Aylesbury, where Chris is studying for his A-Levels. He loves playing guitar and bass guitar in a band with his schoolmates. He’s a big Marvel film fan. Do friends and family take the mickey out of him because of his Barbershopping? “They all think it’s cool and are very supportive,” he says. For Chas, singing has always been part of his life. “I was brought up in South Wales where everybody sings. I had three sisters and they all sang, mainly as soloists.” As a teenager it was basketball not Barbershop he loved. He was selected for Wales for four years, including Olympic trials for the 1964 Tokyo Games. He ‘retired’ from playing when he got engaged to Lynne and ‘had to start saving’. “In those days the only thing you got was the honour. All other things such as track-suits, boots and travel came out of your own pocket”. Lynne is an accomplished singer in her own right – a LABBS quartet gold medal winner and an assistant director in the UK’s top women’s barbershop chorus, Amersham A Capella, which she joined the year it started – as Chiltern Harmony – in 1982. If Chris needed inspiration from his family, he clearly has it in bucketloads. As well as his mum and dad, grandma and grandad being singers, so are his other grandparents. And his 15-year-old sister Katie too. For dad Stuart its a ‘hobby’ that takes up almost all of his spare time. He sings at least twice a week in Quartet, Mixed Quartet and Church choir. He rehearses ‘at least’ one weekend a month, coaches quartets and his colleagues in the Royal Harmonics’ chorus, and travels upwards of 7000 miles a year in pursuit of ringing chords – not including flights to the USA. His best-ever job: a year as a professional Barbershopper at EuroDisney.
Harmony and hackles
Even with so many years experience of singing by so many family members, it can’t always be sweet harmony in the Owen households, right? What if one of them feels the need to comment on another’s singing? Chris says: “I accept it because they tend to know what they are talking about…although sometimes I will correct dad on his words”. Chas takes a similar line: “I think they all sing better than me so I don’t comment. I don’t complain as they are mainly trying to help. “However, I let them know if they overstep the mark.” Stuart admits it can cause occasional awkward moments: “Hmm… this is tricky. Over the years Helen and I have learnt that we simply can’t coach each other, as the moment one of us suggests that the other isn’t doing something quite right the hackles are up and things instantly become frosty!” “For our children this has been quite difficult as they have always felt pressure to live up to our standard. But they needn’t worry. They are both better singers than us.” And how does he feel to be on the receiving end? “I’m not sure I can really repeat what I say if I get ‘comments’ from a relative,” he laughs. “Unless, of course, it’s a positive comment. Then I like them!” This year Chris has decided to carry on singing with Hallmark of Harmony. The barbershop legacy continues.
Kirsty Bui has more than a trained ear for the human voice. It’s her passion and her career.
She works at St Mary’s Hospital, one of London’s major trauma centres, as a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. Part of her role includes helping people take care of their voice, make the most of it – and fix it when things go wrong.
She loves singing in choirs – and enjoys bringing her clinical skills and knowledge to her hobby.
Kirsty’s also used to dealing with emergencies. So when the Knight’s annual Retreat programme fell apart, she stepped right in with a fascinating two-hour programme about the voice.
But it was her segment on ‘Busting Barbershop Myths’ that really caught the Knights’ attention.
She says: ‘I came up with an idea for a section based on some popular misinformation that I had heard from barbershop singers and other singing groups.
‘I wanted to make it fun – but I also wanted to help steer the Knights towards the best way of using and taking care of their voices’.
Here are just some of the barbershop myths Kirsty ‘busted’, in her own words:
Myth 1: ’Barbershoppers only drink beer, they don’t need to drink water.’
‘Sadly, guys, you need to be aiming to drink two litres of water every day to keep your body properly hydrated. This will mean that your body can properly lubricate your vocal folds and keep them happy while you sing.
‘Caffeinated drinks and alcohol are both dehydrating as they are diuretics, and therefore should be taken in moderation and with regard to your water consumption.
‘Other drinks, such as fruit juices and flavoured waters, often have a high acidity content and can therefore cause problems with reflux. We all reflux, but with a high-intensity abdominal activity, such as singing, acidic food and drink will impact the delicate tissues of the throat. If possible stick to water.
Myth 2: ‘Barbershoppers need ‘special’ water to sing best (e.g. hot/cold)’
‘Water can be taken hot, cold, or at room temperature. The temperature of the water doesn’t impact on your vocal folds directly, as they don’t actually meet—if water were to meet your vocal folds you would likely cough (a lot). It’s the same feeling as when food goes down ‘the wrong way’, and that’s because it would be heading to the lungs.
‘Some people find that ice-cold water can cause spasms in the throat. If this happens to you then drink what feels most comfortable.
‘The only safe way for water to come into contact with your vocal folds is by steaming, and I highly recommended this. You could do this daily, on the odd occasion, or just before you perform. You don’t need anything special; the old fashioned bowl and tea towel works great. The best thing is that you can’t really over-do it—but five to ten minutes at a time is probably ideal.
‘Ever wondered why you sound better when singing in the shower? It’s not just the beautiful resonance of the bathroom tiles, but all that lovely steam – and probably a splash of naked inhibition.’
Myth 3: ’Barbershoppers need only worry about their voice on contest day.’
‘Sadly, not true. Good vocal care and vocal technique should be ingrained in your rehearsal routine so that they are intuitive. This allows you to really focus on other aspects of your performance—such as your performance!
‘There may be some additional aspects that you include just before you compete. What do you normally see A-level quartets doing before they perform? You will probably find them drinking plenty of water, getting an early night, and not talking or singing unnecessarily. I know it sounds boring, but once the performance is over they are probably the first in the bar celebrating with the knowledge that they gave it 110%.
‘Of course, one of the most important things to remember when you get off that stage, just like when you finish a rehearsal, is to ‘cool down’ your voice—it’s as important as warming up. (You never see athletes just sit down after they finish a race, they always cool down.) It allows you to re-set your voice back to its normal speaking level after performing some rather impressive vocal athletics. It doesn’t have to be complicated—it can be as simple as doing your warm up backwards.’
Myth 4: ‘Barbershoppers shouldn’t eat dairy before they sing.’
‘This is a theory that I have heard from singers for many years. The truth is that there is no concrete scientific evidence for this. For some people there appears to be a correlation between dairy products and mucus production—limited evidence suggests that this could be due to an unknown allergy to the casein protein in dairy and could be combatted by eating low fat dairy products instead.
‘The majority of people appear to eat dairy products without a problem. Therefore, eat dairy products before you sing if you like them, but if you already know that you are lactose intolerant then steer clear!
‘It is much more important to give yourself a rest after eating before a performance or rehearsal due to symptoms of reflux. Try not to have a highly acidic, spicy, or heavy meal just before you sing, and try to eat more than two hours beforehand.’
Myth 5: ‘Barbershoppers don’t use vibrato in their singing.’
‘Voiced sounds are produced from vibrations of the vocal folds, which create sound waves. Therefore we all have natural vibration when speaking or singing.
‘All singers produce a “vibrato” as notes are created from “rapid and slight” variations in pitch above and below the note you are aiming to sing. It is therefore not possible to sing without vibrato. Attempting to do so would be impossible and likely cause vocal strain from excess muscle tension.
‘Some people—such as opera singers—sing with a very “wide” vibrato; however this doesn’t work well for the barbershop style due to its negative impact on beautiful, ringing chords. A “wide” unintentional vibrato could be due to weak breath support or poor technique.
‘Singers should always sing with their own natural “free” voice following, of course, the direction of the chorus director. For example, singers often “warm” the ends of phrases with a slightly wider vibrato once they have locked into the final chord.
‘Enjoy singing, however you do it. It’s what we’re all here for!’
If you would like to hear the other myths Kirsty busted or want to know more about vocal health and technique, Kirsty and her husband Sean (Chorus Director of the Knights and Royal Harmonics) are both available for group coaching.