Tips on Finding and Establishing a Quartet
How Can I Make Myself a
Better Potential Quartet Singer?
When and if you do find a quartet, you want to be able to jump in with both feet. If you've already worked on improving your voice and making yourself a better singer, the more attractive a potential quartetter you'll become to other quartetters. Some ideas on how to do this:
Especially if you're new to Sweet Adelines, buy a couple CDs of international champion quartets or the latest international convention quartet CDs. Listen to them not just for your enjoyment, but also pay close attention to how the parts fit together and feed off of each other. After all, why not learn from the best?
If you can't find all the members of your quartet from within your chorus, then you'll want to know some songs other members are familiar with so that you can try singing with members of other choruses; having regional songs down-pat is a good way to prepare for this.
Although most quartetters are flexible enough for their voices to match with a variety of different people, often times the qualities or timbres or colors of the quartet members' voices are just too different for the sound to come together as a balanced ensemble. This should be evident very early on and you need to be honest enough with each other to say something if that's the case. This isn't the time to worry about hurt feelings it's the time to look into your crystal ball and be honest about whether this foursome has a future or not.
If after singing together once or twice you're just not sure whether your four voices are meshing, find a musically knowledgable person in your chorus. Have them listen to you sing and ask them to honestly tell you whether or not this combination of four has potential or if there are certain voices that aren't blending or will need to adjust in order to blend. This could be your director or assistant director or even a trusted section leader. If you don't all sing in the same chorus, consider taping your quartet and bringing it to that person instead.
In addition to having a good blend, a quartet needs to agree on where they're headed and what they want to accomplish. Do you want to compete or do you want to focus on performing and shows? Are you quartetting for the fun and social aspects of it, or because you want to put your nose to the grindstone and work as hard as possible to improve your craft? You need to discuss these things right away in your quartet experience to make sure you're all on the same page and headed down the same path.
Usually, if you don't know the other members of your quartet well at the start, you soon will and you'll be great friends. But occasionally you may quickly find that you're singing with one or more people whom you just don't get along with. If you find this is happening, you'll want to quickly evaluate whether you're willing to put up with and work through these difficulties or if the differences between you are too great to overcome.
It may not happen right away, so don't jump into the first combination of four you sing with (unless that foursome really happens to work well!). It's better to wait and find the right quartet for you that has a good blend of voices and personalities than it is to try and force a foursome that isn't "clicking."
I've finally found a quartet, but we're all new and we don't know what to do!
Before you ingrain any bad habits you'll have to undo later, find someone to help guide your quartet in the right direction. This could be your director or another coach within your chorus or if you'd rather find someone else, ask another quartet who they use for coaching and/or ask a member of the regional faculty to help. 22 Karat Gold (association of regional quartet champions) is also a great resource for coahing and mentoring quartets.
Your coach/mentor may be able to recommend some simple, straight-forward songs for you that you can purchase and use to get your feet wet and start working on. Failing this, international also has a list of sheet music available that they publish, and this usually includes clues as to whether the music is an uptune or ballad, and the level of difficulty of the song.
Find out how the members of your quartet usually learn their music. Do they read music and/or play the piano? Do they usually learn by ear and/or a learning tape? Before you can really work on your quartet's sound, everyone first needs to be solid on their part. If you have at least 1-2 members in your quartet who learn better by ear, you may want to investigate purchasing learning tapes (there's several sources out there for this), or finding someone in your chorus who can help you make a tape.
Before you audition for performance readiness for your chorus, have a coaching session with someone who can give you some pointers on what you need to tweak and improve, and have them give you some honest feedback on whether you're ready to move forward and audition for your chorus and/or perform for the public.
Once you've learned a few songs and you've had someone else listen to you and things are starting to move along, it's time to think about registering your quartet. In order to do this, you'll need to find a name (or series of names), and fill out a quartet registration form all of which is available on the international web site. There is also a quartet registration fee. Once international processes your registration, your official quartet name will be approved, and you'll get a packet of all sorts of "goodies" from international.
I recommend registering early for a brand new quartet, simply because this packet contains some basic guidelines for quartets, as well as an exhaustive list of music available from international or from specific arrangers, and may also include some fliers on other materials you can purchase to help your quartet improve, or fliers with information on upcoming "Queens College" workshops for quartets.
Once your quartet starts buzzing along, you'll soon find that there are expenses to quartetting from registration fees to paying for music to buying costumes to paying for coaching. Although you could handle this by all chipping in equally every time an expense comes up, this could get to be a confusing hassle before too long. If you notice that the expenses are beginning to mount, it may be easier to have your most fiscally responsible quartet member go to the bank and open a separate checking account either in her name or the quartet's name that exists solely for the purpose of paying for quartet expenses; or for depositing payment from any paid performances you may do. That way, you can all chip in a designated amount every month (or as the need arises), and you won't have to worry about how to split $67.29 four ways!
Often, it's easy in a quartet situation early on to get distracted by the "little" things that quartets do like buying costumes or finding matching shoes or making business cards or learning that one challenging song that's really hard but your lead has been dying to sing it for five years. Although these are some of the cool things about quartetting, they suddenly become a moot point if the quartet isn't singing well and can't seem to string a package of songs together.
How Do We Know When/If We're Ready to
The answer to this question will be different for each quartet. If you're not sure or you're disagreeing on your readiness, discuss it with your coach and he/she can probably help advise you. In general, if you're hesitating because you feel as though there's not enough time or you don't know the music well enough then that's probably a good reason NOT to compete.
However, if you've known the song for a few months and it's coming along but you just don't feel like it's "perfect" yet and you're nervous about competing then you may want to bite the bullet and just jump in with both feet. As I've heard many successful quartetters say in the past what's the worst that could happen? Even the most seasoned quartetters still get nervous so that's not something unique to new quartetters.
Another option to consider is competing for evaluation only. This option allows you to experience the competition along with all the competing quartets and get a feel for what it's like but you don't have to "worry" about where you place or what your number score is, because you won't be assigned one. The only difference between competing "for real" and for evaluation only is that you'll be asked to sing at the beginning or end of the competition, and that you'll get only a grade level with your evaluation sheets not a number score.
In the end, this is a decision you all must make together and only your quartet can make the final determination of whether or not you feel "ready."
Of course, this predicament can sometimes come up in the context of just one or two members, and other times everyone in the quartet kind of comes to the conclusion that the quartet has run its course. The first thing to do in either situation is to all sit down together and talk it out.
If it's just one member who wants or needs to leave for whatever reason, talk through it with her to make sure that she's made her decision. After that, it will be up to the rest of you to figure out if you want to keep on going and find someone to replace the member who has left, or if it's not worth continuing the quartet. If you're having a hard time deciding what to do in this situation, you may want to "sleep on it" and get together with your remaining quartet members at a later date to discuss it some more and/or talk with your coach about the situation.
If you decide to keep on going and try to find a "replacement", start brainstorming on possible candidates. Discuss them with the remaining 2 or 3 of you, and start approaching them from there. If you cant think of anyone or youre not having any luck finding anyone that "fits" with your quartet, contact me as the regional quartet promotion coordinator, and I can give you a list of potential quartetters who sing that voice part. Another little tip make sure you get the outgoing quartet members music from her to pass along to the new member so that youre not making illegal copies or having to pay for the arrangement all over again.
If you do decide to disband as a quartet, hopefully you will all be able to remain friends and keep in touch. Obviously, you won't be seeing each other quite as much but quartetting does start a special bond between you and your fellow quartetters which can lead to some great life-long friendships. Disbanding a quartet isn't easy, but staying on good terms with each other is worth the struggles you may face whenever the time comes to "hang up the pitch pipe."