A potted history of Harmony Federation on the occasion of our fifth birthday 9th June 2017....
Harmony Federation has its origin at IABS Convention October 2011 when some members of the existing men’s choruses in Ireland - SeaSharps (Portmarnock, Dublin), Tone Cold Sober (Sligo) and The Polyphonics (Cork) - were inspired by the performances of international mens’ choruses, most notably The Cambridge Chord Company. A dream started to take shape…. “Ireland is a small country…. why not create Ireland’s National Men’s Barbershop Chorus drawing together the best of what we already had, and grow from there!”
The aspiration grew also from IABS itself. Liz Nolan, then IABS chair, was very supportive of getting ‘more men singing’ — recognising that there were just more women on the risers all the time than men! Liz offered to do all she could to support us and spread the word.
By February 2012, networking had got under way with Bootcamp coming up. This resulted in practically a full attendance of all three choruses – a great opportunity to get our heads together over a pint. The buzz of singing the Bootcamp songs as a combined chorus clinched the idea.
Brian Smith, Micheál Mac Giolla Ri and Frank Quinn took on the organising task and a June 9th target date was set for our first rehearsal. We recruited Pete Nugent from Bristol as Director for the day and 32 guys attended, mostly from the Portmarnock, Cork and Sligo groups but also some former IABS members who previously sang with the Chordbusters (Skerries), Sugarloaf Assembly (Bray Co Wicklow) and the Mellowchords (Castleknock); and a few non-barbershoppers from Blue Heaven (Templeogue) and The Baytones (Galway).
The success of the first day led Brian, Micheál and Frank to take on the task in earnest of building a National Barbershop chorus. Pete agreed to continue as our Director, and he generously offered his services free of charge for the first year. We quickly went from strength to strength, moving to the more posh rehearsal venue of Citywest Hotel by September, and by now we had dreamed up the name “Harmony Federation” – very apt given our roots in the various corners of Ireland.
A website was also under way.
Our first IABS Bootcamp as HFed was a whizz with Pete on the coaching team, and we recruited more members from that. Pete was away then for a few months in 2013 and Jon Conway stepped in as Director for our first public performance at a Barbershop event in Sligo in June, and later that year we competed at the Sligo Choral Festival with Micheál as Director. By October, Pete was back for Convention in Waterford and by now we were making our mark in the wider Barbershop world.
In February 2014 we had a very successful recruiting day, and by May we were ready for the Cork Choral Festival. We reached the pinnacle of our membership numbers at that point (50+) when the Polyphonics generously relinquished competing in the popular songs event (which they had won the previous year) so they could sing with HFed. This was followed by IABS Convention in Ennis. Earlier that year IABS gave us a big vote of confidence with a development grant of €4K.
By now, Brian, Frank and Micheál had managed the project for more than two years. Once we became firmly established we held our inaugural AGM in November 2014 and elected our first committee of Brian Smith, Michael Boyle, Jim Ryan, Colm O’Rourke and Pat Noonan, chaired by Brian.
The following year proved a bigger challenge for the committee than had been anticipated, as Pete departed for other musical opportunities. Temporarily without firm musical leadership, we lost some members initially, but undaunted, we forged ahead with another recruitment day led by the great Paul Davies (former Director of Cambridge Chord Company which had inspired us originally).
We also concentrated on maintaining our repertoire, including a series of regional rehearsals. Douglas Kelly (Polyphonics) added to our game by stepping in as Director for a few months while we awaited a certain Linda Corcoran of Bristol’s Great Western Chorus fame to become available later that year. In the meantime we competed in the Navan Choral Festival under Douglas’ directorship, and while we weren’t quite highbrow enough for the competition that we entered, we definitely won on the clap-ometer with a standing ovation for our rendition of Fat Bottomed Girls!
In August we didn’t know what hit us when along came Linda and we started noticing that we were singing better than ever under the effervescent energy of her directing. She had made the mad-cap decision to enter us in the IABS international chorus competition before she had even met us, and with just three rehearsals she had us as ready as we would ever be with a brand new “green” look.
This was another clapometer victory – accompanied by whoops and cheers from the audience after a sacrilegious selfie under the stern eye of the judges, as Linda hobbled from the stage with a swooning Sean Martin dragging out of her leg, besotted from the strains of Elvis’ Love Me.
By AGM in February 2016 the organising side of things had bedded down with the addition of Hugh McBryan organising membership, Paddy Gillard on wardrobe, Peter Smith on chorus management and John Quinn on publicity. Pat Noonan had set up an effective system to protect our repertoire and ensure copyright compliance, and we were on a sound financial footing under the careful eye of Michael Boyle. Brian stepped down as chief bottle-washer after his three-and-a-half year stint of thick and thin, and with the ship in good shape handed over to John McCarthy.
There followed a year of thoroughly enjoyable monthly rehearsals. Linda brought our singing and performance to a new level, and we restored some of the membership numbers that we had lost during the challenging times of 2014/15. Most importantly, our standard of singing and performance went from strength to strength, and there was a noticeable increase in the number of guys turning up to rehearsal with songs learned without needing the dots. This made space for Linda to shift the focus from learning to performance.
Three highlights that year were: the Sligo Festival where we won our first trophy (and the craic that night was legend!); IABS Convention in Cork when we wowed the audience once again with Sunshine and Laughter and more un-conventional antics; and a humdinger of a Christmas party in Bray organised by Matthew Roche, with Frank Quinn and Brendan Keenan leading the sing-song into the wee hours. 2016 also saw the launch of a new website.
Our current active membership of 41 includes 11 of the original 32 – Colm O'Rourke, Joe Hughes, Gerry Farrell, Frank Quinn, Pat Noonan, Micheál Mac Giolla Rí, Sean Martin, Brian Smith, John McHugh, Chris Trotter, and Brian Woods. This year so far we have well and truly set a new standard. Up to now our doors were open to anyone who had a mind to join, but such is the standard of those who have lasted the pace that we now have an audition for newcomers (not too daunting though!).
The craic is still mighty but the singing is mighty too. We’re more and more feeling the benefit of singing well just for the pure enjoyment. Long may it last!