Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 505: New Mexico's Premier A Cappella Youth Chorus

A cappella singing encompasses a number of styles, including:
  • Collegiate a cappella – primarily arrangements of pop tunes with beatbox percussion and vocal sounds imitating instruments.
  • Choral – the “art music” repertoire originally written or arranged for a cappella chorus, including early music.
  • Barbershop – the American style featuring 4-part homophony and rubato rhythms that emphasizes the “ringing” of overtones in justly-tuned consonant chords.
These styles all convey characteristic and seemingly disjunct images – the college glee club, the robed choir singing in a church, a quartet of elderly men wearing boater hats – but Albuquerque, New Mexico’s 505 Chorus combines all three in an effort to introduce a cappella singing to a new generation of young male singers (The 505’s sister group OnQ provides the same experience for young women).

The 505’s story begins with the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), officially the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (the partnership remains strong: a picture of The 505 is featured on BHS’s homepage as of April). Realizing that barbershop singing was literally dying off, BHS organized the Youth Chorus Festival, allowing choruses from across the globe to compete with sets containing two contestable barbershop arrangements and a third song of any 4-part a cappella style. A group of students at the University of New Mexico formed the 505 Chorus originally to enter the festival, and decided to remain together and sing a repertoire consisting of equal thirds collegiate, choral, and barbershop arrangements. Since that first competition in 2009, the chorus has traveled to every Youth Chorus Festival while presenting a full concert season. Now under Tony Spark’s direction for three years, The 505 is actively recruiting members and selecting repertoire for the fall season and 2015’s Youth Chorus Festival in New Orleans.

I sang with The 505 for two year before moving to Boston. I especially enjoyed the musical excellence of the group and that we sang a wide range of repertoire. A cappella singing provides excellent ear-training, and my experience with The 505 gave me excellent pitch accuracy that I could apply to my studies at the Longy School of Music. This summer, I will become too old to appear in the Youth Chorus Festival, but I look forward to dropping in on the chorus during my trips home and passing on my love of harmony to the next generation of upcoming singers.

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