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Magic Choral Trick #181 The Big Barbershop Ending

Though I’m directing this at Barbershop Choruses, these same rules apply, no matter what kind of music the chorus is singing.

In the Big Barbershop ending, the melody line (the Lead line) typically has a very long sustained last note – usually Doh or Soh. The Baritone often has a crunchy, downwardly resolving suspension at the very end, and the Bass typically has a couple of moves, then settles on the Root of the final chord. The Tenor line does its usual flutey augmentation of one of the harmonics.

The Big Barbershop Ending requires a feeling of intense drive to the end, then just when you think that the sound can’t get any richer, fuller or bigger – there’s a crescendo on the last note. And the last chord should feel like it could go on forever.

Here’s the recipe:

Leads – as excited as you may be, you need to hold down the volume of that last long sustained post. A gradual crescendo over the course of the note should take you from about a 3.5 (out of 5) to a 4 at the onset of the last chord. (For other choirs – that’s about a strong mf, crescendoing to an f) The actual amount of sound that each individual makes depends on the size of the voice, and the loudness at which they can maintain good quality sound.
Leads – you also need to become really good at staggered breathing, because there’s no way you’ll be able to keep the quality steady at this volume for the up to 15 or more seconds that this will take.
Clean clean clean vowel, relaxed tongue, and forward placement are all needed here. And when the director asks for that final crescendo, be ready to take it up a notch to a volume level 5! (ff)

Baris – All the same vocal quality things that the Leads are doing. You’ll be busy with a number of moves, but now that the Leads are out of the way, you can shine. And on your final swipe – Take Over!

Basses – Don’t Let the Baris Take Over! But save something for the back end of the last chord.

Tenors – You’ll be busy with a number of note moves too – probably right in synch with either the Basses or the Baris. As the volume increases towards the last chord, you can allow your sound to become more pingy and bright. And don’t forget to save something for that final crescendo.

That big final chord will be solidified and made brilliant by:
– Perfect tuning – a nice locked in 5th, so that whoever is singing the 3rd knows exactly where to put it.
– A very clean clean clean and matched vowel
– Toes Down Though the Soles of the Shoes or Cloud Lifting

When this is right, we never want it to end.

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