Tuning Up – The Emotional Ups and Downs of the LABBS Barbershop Quartet Prelims

My experience as a singer about taking part in a singing competition.
Red Velvet on stage at LABBS Barbershop Quartet prelims June 2023
Posted By Mary Williams – Choir Leader, Singer & Blog Writer

With adrenaline coursing and pulsating through my veins, I stepped out from behind the backstage curtain into a room filled with people cheering and clapping at the barbershop quartet prelims. Their eyes locked on us. My friend confidently led the way before me, and my two other friends were trailing behind. I could feel them around me, and we were as one.

My heart raced with uncontrollable excitement, stoking a wild flame that threatened to unbalance me. I was consumed by an earnest desire to deliver an exceptional performance for my quartet pals and the anticipating crowd. The moment was ripe, poised for us to transform our weeks of rehearsal into a live spectacle of song.

The stage was exclusively ours for the next five minutes – our canvas to paint our tale in vivid musical colours. This was our moment to shine and tell our story. As silence fell over the audience like a thick expectant blanket, we could feel their bated breaths awaiting our first notes and words to flow from us. The air was charged, a blend of anticipation and emotion, a taste on my tongue, a shiver on my skin…

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I went to LABB Barbershop Quartet Prelims.

The last weekend in June 2023, I was at LABBS Quartet Prelims in Coventry with my barbershop quartet Red Velvet. We were one of over 30 brave quartets who had signed up to participate in the contest for the Ladies Association of Barbershop Singers.

Being realistic, we knew we would never stand a chance to win the all-day singing contest on Saturday (or get anywhere near this year!). We hoped for a nice 60-something score.

Whatever the result- it’s a fantastic chance to get valuable stage experience you can’t replicate in any rehearsal situation.

Then on Sunday, we got a full day’s worth of singing coaching from the judges to help us improve based on our performance. 

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This marks ten years since I first stepped on the stage in my first quartet as someone who knew very little about barbershop music with friends from my choir

Over time, I’ve slowly improved, learning and growing by throwing myself into the community and experimenting with the capabilities of my voice.

Who knows where I’ll be ten years from now?

I know where I am aiming, yet real life throws unexpected curve balls with an element of luck.

Sharing my barbershop experience.

Perhaps who you know and hang about with has a magic effect and makes you a better barbershopper? I envy those whose families are involved in the barbershop genre or whose close friends and lovers are gifted with the skills to inspire and guide you.

I can only imagine how it might be to have a family who doesn’t cringe and, with glazed eyes, change the subject rapidly when I mention the “B” word. Therefore, I try not to inflict it on them. I am sure I am not the only one…

So I take my singing journey in “Barbershop Land” as it comes. I am always wide open to the possibilities.

In fact, in the last five years, I’ve been far less active in LABBS quartets, and it’s nice to be getting out there again. Who knows who I will meet at these events? And for those I already know, I’ll connect a bit more. 

Beyond the competition and singing, I’ll become a better person from the experience. This is the unseen benefit.

I’m improving my listening to others and learning to say less. You have to be mindful of others’ heightened emotions over the weekend. Thinking before you speak – being helpful and putting others before yourself is a quality that is essential when you are in a tight-knit group such as a quartet or choir.

I also have to listen to myself. 

On Sunday, I felt fragile and exhausted. Mentally drained from the leadup that began on Thursday.

Usually, this is something I keep to myself so as not to burden others, and I am prepared for the up and down emotions of these experiences.

I am usually a resilient person who doesn’t let things get to me. 

But on Sunday, my tears fell in public in our training group – and they were bubbling behind my eyes all day during moments of reflection.

To me, this singing thing really matters, and it matters more than a lot. I’ll usually play it down, and maybe it may look like and say that I don’t care but take my word – I do. I want to do the best I can with what I have. 

And here I am today, bearing my soul in a blog post the morning after the weekend before.

These Barbershop Quartet competitions both terrify and thrill me in equal measure.

They test me in more ways than the music. And I gain so much from the singing experience.

I cannot speak for anyone else as I haven’t walked in their shoes but having done it a few times on and off over the last ten years, I’ve learned to embrace this and spot the patterns of behaviour.

It’s emotional singing in a barbershop quartet contest.

From feeling anxious standing at the side of that stage to floating on top of the world when I come off. To the fear of judgement and working out how to help people around me who may be struggling. To my own tears and insecurities when I wonder if I will ever be “good enough”?

And here I am. The all-familiar “meh- what’s next?” part of the process sat at my computer typing this on Monday morning after the previous weekend.

But would I change it? No. Never. 

Roll on next time.

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Take care,



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