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Where it began...

In 1986 BABS Chairman Peter May saw a need to discuss international barbershop singing organisation and development with executive officers of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Harmony Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).  Strong links going back many years already existed between judging panels, and international visitors regularly attended the Society’s annual conventions – sometimes as competitors.  He proposed a meeting and Peter and Don Amos (then BABS life president) met formally with the Society’s hierarchy at the Hartford Conn. International Convention in the summer of 1987.

At the same time Darryl Flinn, then Society president, was thinking about the wider international dimension of SPEBSQSA activity. The Society had its ‘Future 2’ Committee (which was looking ahead towards the year 2,000) and the BABS initiative was seen as complementary and progressive. The meeting in Hartford was fruitful and resulted in the convening of an international working group to explore ideas.  The groups  was called the World Development Council and comprised a member each from SPEBSQSA and its two affiliate organisations (BABS and SNOBS).  The Council met later that year in England (Dr. Bob Johnson, Don Amos and Stig Apelman).

The World Development Council’s remit was to look at international development of barbershop singing and try to put together a vision for the next five years. The group reported in December 1987 and as well as general expansion programs for men’s barbershop singing, it commented specifically on funding issues and suggested a future funding arrangement spread across the three participating associations.

In January 1989, Don Amos was invited by SPEBSQSA to give the keynote address at the Society’s Hawaii midwinter convention. Amongst other things, Don’s message to the Society about the international development and co-ordination of barbershop singing was basically, “If you (SPEBSQSA) don’t get hold of this and take a lead, it will happen anyway!”  Maybe it was not coincidental then, that in the same month Ed Waesche was tasked by SPEBSQSA with driving a newly named World Harmony Council (WHC). Ed began drafting out some of the main issues the WHC would need to tackle in progressing the development of men’s barbershop harmony singing in the world and, once again, the funding of programmes was central to nearly all discussion.

International organisations soon identified representatives to join in the discourse and a widely representative group met for the first time in Bournemouth, England at the 1989 BABS’ convention. That meeting was followed in July by another one in Kansas City and a further meeting in San Francisco in July 1990. BABS had nominated past chairman, Peter May as its representative to the WHC.  It was at the San Francisco convention that local Californian Bob Bisio (later to be chairman of the WHC) created the very first international show which raised cash and very quickly became the WHC Jamboree, an annual feature of subsequent SPEBSQSA conventions.

The format and make-up of the WHC had been on an ad-hoc basis but included representation from all groups which were active or Society-affiliated barbershop organisations. At the annual meeting in Britain in 1992 there was attendance from the Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) for the first time and this was followed in New Orleans the same year with representatives from Harmony Incorporated, LABBS and Sweet Adelines International.

Joint male/female participation was repeated (Harrogate and Calgary 1993) and continued thereafter.  In 1990 and again in 1993, the WHC discussed the questions of formalising the group’s constitution and activities (e.g. finance group, show sub-group etc.) with responsibilities being spread around the representatives.

The World Harmony Council had been under the guidance and chairmanship of two Society members in the early years. Firstly, Ed Waesche (renowned composer, arranger and later SPEBSQSA President) who pulled the fledgling group together when worldwide representatives met at the 1989 Kansas City Convention. In 1994 Ed handed over to Bob Bisio who, until then, had spent much of his WHC time and energy conceiving and organising the very successful World Jamboree shows during SPEBSQSA convention weeks.  Peter May carried out secretarial duties.

The WHC continued to make annual financial grants to its members from the proceeds of the previous year’s International Jamboree Show.  At the 1994 Pittsburgh WHC meeting, application was made for the European barbershop groups (male and female) to receive a block grant in the annual funding allocation so that European needs could be better identified and met with a more accurate application of the grants available. Don Amos was appointed as WHC (Europe) chairman and was tasked with managing, guiding and mentoring organised barbershop development in Europe from the world-wide perspective. Peter May handled all minute-taking and secretarial responsibilities for the European group which first met at Heathrow in October 1994.

The result of the first meeting was research and development of a Europe-wide initiative for Training-The-Trainers (TTT). Work on this was driven forward by a small task -force under the guidance of Anneke Weeda -leader (Holland Harmony), Kjell Lindberg (SNOBS), Liz Dohring (BinG!) and Toni-Ann Penketh (LABBS). The task-force did a magnificent job and at a meeting in January 1997 the core group, then Anneke, Kjell, Toni-Ann and Rod Butcher (BABS), produced a TTT plan for implementation in September 1997. The real benefits of training the trainers soon started to be noticed.

The WHC has continuously carried out a programme of international funding. All income to support that funding has either come from voluntary donations (Canada Tri-City chorus originally gave a setting-up donation of $7,000), or from the receipts of the annual World Jamboree show at international conventions.  The development and funding effort was initially directed at Europe and this was followed by strong support for Australia and New Zealand (1990/94).

The Ad hoc arrangements for coordination and finance matters within the WHC led the council at its 1996 Salt Lake City meeting to consider some formalising of its activities and Peter May was asked to lead an international review covering WHC activities, coordination, development and support opportunities.  After a two-year review involving every known barbershop organisation, he presented the final report of The Universal Review of Barbershop Organisation (TURBO) to WHC members during the 1998 SPEBSQSA international convention week in Atlanta.  As a product of all participating WHC member organisations, the TURBO report and recommendations were accepted unani­mously.  It included newly structured Articles of Association and clearly defined aims. TURBO also restructured the World Harmony Council group by providing for the three executive officer posts of president, 1st vice president and 2nd vice president to take up office on 1 January 1999.  Bob Bisio had indicated his retirement from the WHC and new executive officers were elected:

President: Peter May, 21-year BABS member and past BABS Chairman had been a founder-member of his local barbershop club in Guildford, Surrey in 1978 and had experience of most administrative, chorus and show jobs in the club.  He had been part of a review team which restructured the BABS organisation in the 80s and a team member of the BABS’ Club Officer Training Scheme.

1st Vice President Kjell Lindberg (SNOBS), started singing barbershop in 1981 with the Ronninge Barbershop Chorus, nowadays known as The EntertainMen (6-times SNOBS champions) Kjell was president of SNOBS from 1992-1997, was a member of the TTT (Training-The-Trainers) group for WHC-Europe and also a SNOBS presentation judge having attended the SPEBSQSA Category school in 1995 and 1998.

Kjell was most proud of his idea to create an international judging panel for the 1998 European Open Barbershop Championships in Stockholm where he officiated with 14 other judges from SPEBSQSA, BABS, Sweet Adelines International, LABBS, Harmony. Inc, and SNOBS.

2nd Vice President Alan Gowans from Calgary, was Vice President for Events in the Society’s Evergreen District, a 40-year member and served on the Evergeen District Board for 11 years, holding the office of president in 1994-1995. Alan had been the General Chairman of the 1993 Calgary International convention which attracted a huge attendance of over 11,000!

The reformed World Harmony Council was as committed as ever to its mission and aims which were stated as:

(a)    to encourage and support the perpetuation of the four-part a cappella barbershop style of singing in the world;

(b)    to encourage and support the formation and development of barbershop harmony singing organisations in the world;

(c)    to provide international liaison and information dissemination among barbershop harmony singing organisations;

(d)    to encourage and support the development and exchange of new ideas and initiatives relative to the barbershop harmony singing art.

A further development for the WHC in 1999 was to draw its philosophy and operations closer to SPEBSQSA by creating a Memorandum of Understanding which would unify world-wide barbershop development aims and, more practically, commit the Society to direct support of the WHC by formally becoming the custodian of the Council’s financial assets.  The MOU was achieved with groundwork by Peter May and WHC representatives world-wide and was very ably assisted from the legal point of view by Jim Warner, the Society’s resident legal adviser.

By the time of the signing, Ed Waesche had become SPEBSQSA president and it was fitting that he and Peter should be the MOU signatories on 29 June 1999.

WHC annual Jamborees continued to draw good audiences at the Society’s annual convention and healthy fund generation enabled WHC to maintain a successful annual grant scheme to its members.

In 2002 a milestone event took place within Harmony Foundation Inc. This was a formal agreement creating the World Harmony Endowment Fund with world-wide barbershop development and support aims similar to those of the WHC.  The basis of the Fund was a paid-up life policy for $25,000 on the life of, and donated by, Patrick Kelly – a life-long exponent and supporter of the world-wide barbershop movement. The World Harmony Council took responsibility for maintaining a World Harmony Endowment Fund Committee with powers to make grants from the Fund.

At the Louisville WHC meeting in 2004 Peter May retired from the post of president and moved to fill the position of 2nd Vice President with the main responsibility for overseeing the Society’s handling of WHC money. Mike Donnelly (Australia – AAMBS) became 1st Vice President but it took some time to identify and formalise the appointment of a new WHC president. Fortunately, Mike was elected WHC President at the 2007 Denver meeting.

WHC Jamborees continued to raise substantial sums of money and this income was sustained over years by event producer Henrik Rosenberg from Sweden.  Henrik became WHC 1st Vice President in 2009 and continued to do great work in producing the international annual jamboree.

After and approach from a longstanding barbershop quartet in Madrid (The Investigators) in 2008, Peter May visited the city and had discussions with the quartet which was interested in setting up a national Spanish barbershop association.  This was quickly achieved by some dedicated work from the quartet leader and the new Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers (SABS) was admitted to World Harmony Council membership in 2009.

The Barbershop Harmony Society (formerly SPEBSQSA) had, over many years, discussed its aims for developing barbershop singing across the world but no positive long-term initiative had emerged.  By 2011 however, a BHS Global Policy Committee concluded  that its role in, and long-term commitment to, the world-wide propagation and preservation of barbershop harmony would best be fulfilled, primarily, by working through the World Harmony Council.

The Society stated its aims to liaise and participate in the activities of the WHC in order to facilitate the engagement of appropriate Society resources in support of the Council’s mission and aims.  This new and formalised arrangement gave rise to the WHC making positive steps towards world-wide development and the creation in 2013 / 2014 of its SING-B initiative (Strategy for Identifying New Groups – Barbershop).

With annual grants to member organisations and the World Harmony Endowment Fund over many years the year 2014 saw the total disbursements from the WHC fly past the half-million dollar point – in fact, the total reached $501,514!

After 28 years of being involved in many ways with the concept, formation and development of the World Harmony Council, Peter May retired from the post of 2nd vice president having held executive posts for 16 years. At the WHC meeting in Las Vegas in 2014, Alan Goldsmith (BABS) was formally elected as 2nd vice president. Alan is also chairman of the new WHC initiative to widen the development of barbershop singing throughout the world.