Sound Hypothesis’s main focus for the past few months has been finding a new baritone to replace our beloved Arun, now a qualified doctor. We are delighted to have now finished auditions and we welcome Hugh Blayney into the Sound Hypothesis fold! We’ve found time for a little arranging, some website development and we’ve loved getting together to watch online broadcasts like BABS Live, the Ringmaster’s concert and the BHS AIC Show.

There’s also been time for reflection. As a quartet we’ve always prioritised vocal health: with our choice of coaches (John Newell), our approach to rehearsal (30 minute warm-ups), and our style of singing (eradicating bad habits wherever we find them: for example, an artificially darkened sound or unnecessary “twitches” while breathing). In lockdown, though, I’ve noticed that this spectre never goes away. The Alexander Technique speaks of “habitual patterns of misuse”, and their unfortunate tendency to get worse over time, rather than better. I’m sure we all recognise quirks in our favourite performers that seem to get more pronounced with each gold medal. This is not inevitable, but to avoid it we must continually renew our commitment to vocal health, so that we might sing for as long as possible. The legendary tenor of the Suntones, Gene Cokecroft is a model of longevity - he still sounded sublime on the 50th anniversary of his gold medal, in 2011. You only need to listen to the Suntones’ recordings to surmise that he prioritised ease of vocal production above all else.

Vocal health isn’t just something to worry about later in life. It’s when we are young that habits for a lifetime are formed. In our twenties, as we in Sound Hypothesis all still are, our voices can take quite a beating and (almost) recover the next day to sing a contest set. Sooner or later, however, it catches up with us, and the thing we love most will become a “problem” or, worse still, a thing of the past.

So how do we address our vocal health? We are so lucky to be barbershoppers in 2020! There are fantastic pedagogs such as Jordan Travis (check out his sessions on BABS Learn) in the USA, and many in the UK too, who are really making waves and challenging the status quo. So, get a coach, and above all seek ease. If I could be so bold, I’d like to add my own two pennies’ worth. One piece of the puzzle I believe to be missing from some (but by no means all) practitioners’ approach is the importance of “use”, as distinct from alignment or posture. We must be careful that the barbershop world doesn’t find itself “beautifully aligned”, but stiff as a board. Sound Hypothesis’s approach (which has brought us a more freely-produced sound) has been to combine good alignment with “release”, “ease”, and the aforementioned patient eradication of habits. Lockdown has made us all realise how much we love singing. Let’s make the right choices now to preserve our voices for the decades to come!