Afterglow: Belonging, diversity, and emotional expression in barbershop singing in Wellington, New Zealand
Over the last three years, since the development of the Barbershop Harmony Society’s “Everyone in Harmony” inclusivity and diversification initiative, barbershop singing networks have increasingly broken down systems of class, gender and race. Despite a history of conservative and traditionalist musical practice, I argue that participating in barbershop music offers singers in New Zealand opportunities to express themselves and create lasting relationships in increasingly diverse social contexts. In light of this, this thesis explores ideas of belonging, camaraderie, diversity and self-expression in barbershop music in New Zealand, through ethnographic fieldwork conducted with Vocal FX chorus, based in Wellington, New Zealand. This thesis works through these ideas in three ways: I consider historical context and discuss who gets to sing, belong or contribute to barbershop music; I then explore diversity and Māori and Pacific Island influence in barbershop in New Zealand; and I conclude with a discussion of performative emotional expression in the barbershop style, and how that contributes to free and healthy modes of self-expression in a predominantly homo-social male space. These threads combine to display how ideas of belonging – both to an ensemble and to a wider, global style of music – and camaraderie are complex and culturally nuanced concepts in barbershop music contexts. Furthermore, this research displays ways in which established socio-cultural norms in barbershop contexts can be challenged by ensembles working in this musical style. Ethnography, including personal reflection through performative auto-ethnography and memory, informs much of the thesis. I draw on conversations with singers and observations of rehearsals and contests for Vocal FX to narrate many of the ways in which barbershop music works in New Zealand.