Excellence in the Making
2002: A Multi-generational Experiment
In March, 2002 a group of five young barbershoppers met to discuss forming a new chorus. The dream: build a chorus led by and filled with other young singers, as a means of inspiring more young men to sing barbershop harmony.
Led by new director Terry Ghiselli, the Founding Five approached the old Westminster chapter with an idea. Since the Westminster chapter’s membership had dwindled to eight active members who had not competed in a decade, how would they feel about letting a group of young guys create their own chorus under the chapter’s charter? The leadership and current members happily agreed and offered their support in any way possible. A new experiment was begun – guided by elders, driven by youth–the revived Westminster Chorus planted the seeds for a new era of Barbershop Harmony.
2005: Becoming a Force
The next years brought growth as the chorus both benefited from and struggled with its defining attribute: youth. Young singers learn music quickly and thrill audiences with high-energy performances. By the same token, young singers tend to lack operational experience, which created a few growing pains with organization, attendance, and funding.
Nevertheless, Westminster endured, learning to execute on and offstage. By District contest of 2005, the chorus, now 45 strong, left the audience stricken with the magnitude and purity of their collective voices. It was the first demonstration of the now-signature Westminster sound. The chorus won the District contest and the accolades of local and international barbershop organizations.
2006: Potential, Realized
Westminster's next achievement culminated at the 2006 International contest in Indianapolis, Indiana. Under the direction of Royce Ferguson, 56 Westminster singers dazzled and inspired the audience with their stirring rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” followed by the thrilling up-tune, “South Rampart Street Parade.” The performance was met with a humbling, unending stadium-wide standing ovation. The excitement was palpable throughout the audience.
Westminster was awarded the second place Silver Medal, coming in only 17 points behind the indomitable 160-man Vocal Majority chorus from Texas. With this success, Westminster carved out fresh joy in the society. This band of young singers represented the future of the art form, creating space for evolution and preservation of the barbershop medium for generations to come.
2007: International Success
After realizing its potential and humbling fan support, the chorus set out to chase the great Barbershop Society dream: a chorus Gold Medal. New leaders emerged and new singers joined eager to compete at the 2007 convention. Westminster was better organized and better prepared than ever.
Knowing that they'd need to challenge the status quo to achieve their goals, each member of the chorus committed to excellence. Westminster leadership brought in talented mentors and coaches to guide the chorus in rehearsals and hone the Westminster sound. After a year of hard work, the chorus arrived in Denver, duly reverent of their worthy competitors. Sixty-three Westminster men took the stage and began their competition set with the newly arranged ballad, “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.” The performance was honest and heartfelt and spoke to the lessons learned from the wise mentors who had brought them to this pivotal moment. The contest continued with a medley of American tunes, “Strike Up the Band” and “Everybody Step,” choreographed with an thrilling progression of stomping and stepping.
When the moment came to announce the new 2007 champion chorus, the stilled tension in the stadium exploded in shouts and gasps – an exact tie for first place! Both the Westminster Chorus and the Ambassadors of Harmony chorus had received a 95 out of 100 score – marked by twelve total judges. After an excruciating minute, the MC announced that in such cases, the win goes to the competitor who scored higher in the ‘Singing Category.’ Westminster scored higher. The bright, clear Westminster sound had prevailed – Westminster Chorus became the 2007 International Champion.
2008: Enter Justin Miller
2008 began with a new director, Justin Miller, guiding the championship chorus onward. Since the Barbershop Harmony Society mandates that the champion chorus may only compete every three years, Westminster would return to the 2008 International stage in Nashville not to compete, but rather to offer their best wishes to current competitors and celebrate their champ year with a ‘swan song’ performance package.
To keep momentum during this layout year, chorus leadership set out to host a chapter show unlike any other to date – The Fantasy Quartet Show. Rather than following the traditional show format of including a famous quartet to participate, Westminster invited barbershoppers to participate in an online survey to choose their favorite gold medalist Lead, Tenor, Bass, and Baritone of all time. The resulting audience-selected quartet assembled and joined the Westminster spring show, which was also the first ever video/audio webcast of a BHS chapter show, delightinging live audiences and those who watched online.
2009: On the World Stage
In July 2009 the chorus traveled to Wales, UK to compete in the prestigious Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod Festival. The Westminster Chorus was named the 2009 ‘Choir of the World’ Pavarotti Trophy winner. Click Here for more info.
2010: High Score
In 2010, Westminster headed to Philadelphia, PA with hope of earning its second gold medal. The chorus was set to go head-to-head with the historically formidable chorus, The Vocal Majority. For their contest set, Westminster performed a breathtaking arrangement of "It Only Takes a Moment" from the musical Hello Dolly to thunderous acclaim. The uptune, "Mardi Gras March" was originally intended to be "When the Saints Go Marching In" with just a few lines of Mardi Gras lyrics. In rehearsing over time, the song morphed into a Mardi Gras-focused iteration, which felt authentic to the singers. They performed "Mardi Gras March" with true passion, and the results reflected that outpouring. With a score of 1457 for the ballad and 1475 for the up-tune, Westminster gathered a total of 2932 points out of a possible 3000, or a 97.7%, a new scoring record for the Barbershop Harmony Society. This became the highest score ever scored at an International competition and the score still holds strong today.
2013: Pushing the Envelope
Having won the honor of International Champion twice before, the Westminster Chorus the took a risk in 2013 by choosing songs that examine what it means to be a Barbershop chorus. The music team turned its sights on one of the most difficult and powerful pieces in the history of Musical Theatre – “Soliloquy” from Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The song tells a story about a man finding out that he is going to be a father, sharing his hopes, dreams, and fears with the audience. Many Westminster members had recently started their families, so the message was particularly poignant for the chorus. To create a multifaceted narrative, Westminster selected a light-hearted up-tune, "Get Your Happy Days On," that was meant to represent the perspective of a jaunty fellow just before he received news of fatherhood described in the "Soliloquy" narrative. Westminster was the contest favorite heading into competition, but hometown favorites, Toronto Northern Lights, earned the victory by a margin of 2 points, and Westminster walked away with a silver medal.
2014: American Choral Directors Association
In 2014, Westminster was invited to participate in the Western Division Conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Santa Barbara, CA. Utterly humbled and honored to be invited, Westminster happily accepted. It is fairly unusual for a Barbershop ensemble to participate in ACDA events; unfortunately some members of the Choral community look down upon the Barbershop art form. By participating, Westminster hoped to move the needle towards improving the reputation of Barbershop singing amongst unfamiliar audiences.
Chorus leadership believed the best way to demonstrate the power of barbershop singing was to not only sing barbershop music at the best level possible, but also to sing choral music with quality comparable to the best choirs in the world. In order to accomplish these hefty goals, they enlisted some of the best choral composers working today to develop the performance pieces. First was “Tenebrae,” by Richard Burchard, then “Gagòt” by Sydney Guillaume, followed by “Sure on this Shining Night,” a beautiful choral piece by notable barbershopper, Jay Giallombardo. After this offering of choral music, Westminster introduced the audience to barbershop music with their most recent contest piece, “Get Your Happy Days On” arranged by Aaron Dale, and concluded with their signature rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” arranged by Grammy winner Ben Bram.
Westminster entered the arena with the modest hope of a warm reception from the historically reserved crowd. Instead the chorus was overwhelmed with the ovations, including standing applause after the final bow that swelled in strength as the final members exited the stage. The reception from the choral community was overwhelmingly positive.
2015: Seize the Day
After earning the silver in Toronto, The Westminster Chorus was hungry to win another gold medal and reclaim the title of International Chorus Champions. The music team searched diligently for music that would inspire and fuel the chorus. Focused on the concept of identifying and achieving your dreams, Westminster selected “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella for the ballad, and “Seize the Day” from Newsies as the up-tune. David Wright and Aaron Dale, who arranged winning contest pieces for Westminster in 2010 and 2013, were called upon to pen arrangements that would once again, motivate the members to do their best work.
To broaden Westminster's artistic acumen, chorus leadership called upon coaches and pioneers from across the society. They turned to friendly rival, David McEachern, from Toronto Northern Lights to share his vision for presentation and theatricality. Acclaimed vocal coach and champion quartet singer, Tony DeRosa, flew in for a singing coaching session to help deepen the stellar “Westminster Sound.” Arranger Aaron Dale brough artistry and musicality to higher levels. Other coaches included Dr. Chris Peterson, Dr. Greg Lyne, and the architect of the “Westminster Sound,” Royce Ferguson.
Westminster flew to Pittsburgh, PA for the 2015 International convention and one of the most anticipated rematches in Barbershop Harmony Society: The Westminster Chorus verses the Ambassadors of Harmony. The choruses last saw each other in competition in 2007, the competition in which a tie for first place was broken by the score in the Singing category, and Westminster was awarded the championship.
After two truly awe-inspiring sets from both groups, it was Westminster's Broadway-caliber performance that prevailed. The combination of their two songs earned a score of 97.5%, which though it fell short of breaking the high score record set in 2010, solidified Westminster in the canon of barbershop greats.