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HCDC Keynote Address by Ed Watson

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The Best Of Barbershop: HCDC Keynote Address by Ed Watson

Beanie Babies

Before I begin…too late! I’ve already begun. Okay, then, let me begin by saying that this is my first year at HC/DC, and as a first year student (Don the beanie…) I am honored to be addressing so many of barbershop’s finest, both faculty and student body.

My first day on the payroll, July 4th, 2005, I noted in Salt Lake City that I was surrounded by the greatest Barbershoppers I had ever known or heard of. Indeed, the theme of this HC/DC is “The Best of Barbershop” and so many of our best are here with us now, some physically and many more mentally and, in some cases, spiritually. One great thing about barbershop is our respect for those who have gone before, and the accumulation and continued use of their works and their joy by those of us lucky enough to be here to use them today.

(Remove the beanie…) Now I know I made some people happy, and others unhappy by putting on that beanie just now, but there are reasons for everything I say and do and that was no exception. If I made you happy by wearing it, I would ask you to consider why we are not wearing beanies this year, and to see that it might not be the most welcoming thing we could do. Sure, you can’t cater to everyone or you’ll end up pleasing no one. I understand tradition and reverence for the past. I really believe that it’s your hobby…you decide. If your jaw got a little tighter when I put it on because you thought that problem was settled or you didn’t like it in the first place, I ask you to consider how many of our revered traditions are under assault today by different sources, and how this is a HOBBY, a respite from the everyday cares and strife of life and work. It’s your hobby…you decide.

Why are we here this week?

What is it that brings many of you back year after year? Now, some of those I would be addressing are NOT here this year, because this is not St. Joe and they weren’t going to come if any single thing gets changed and they’re going to quit or they’ve already quit and by gosh they’re going to show us a thing or two. Since they are not with us any longer, at least not here, I am really and literally preaching to the choir, so “hooked” on HC/DC that you came back even though there were no beanies, even though it cost more, even though it was in Ohio, not St Joe. Or maybe you came back in person to tell me that you were never coming back again. Or maybe you wanted to sing “just one more tag.”

Whatever the reason, you’re here and I appreciate that. I’m sure you will experience the Best of Barbershop while here, and you will gain knowledge, insight, craft, and fun. I GARE-ON-TEE it. So, by the end of this week, I would appreciate it if you would ask yourself the following question: “Should I have stayed home this week?” I’m pretty sure I know what your answer will be, but it’s your hobby…you decide.

Singing a TAG.

Before I outline the main points for today’s speech, I think we’ve gone quite long enough without ringing a few chords. In my estimation nothing rings better than that delightful summation of a song in eight bars or less, (if constructed properly), known to Barbershoppers everywhere as a TAG. If you are a reader, please get yours out now. If you sing by ear, or already know it, please tune to the following e-flat. (Sing the "All Mine" tag by Ruby Rhea.)

(After the TAG.)Thank you for that. Here are the things I hope to address today:

1. "Something appealing, something appalling."

2. We are a not-for-profit.

3. Why are we here?

"Something appealing, something appalling."

For those of you not lucky enough to see the Manhattan Big Apple Chorus in Salt Lake City, I will summarize one of the many highlights of their second number, “Comedy Tonight.” On the line that went “Something appealing, something appalling,” they held up first a sign of the old logo, (appealing) then the new logo (appalling). The next few lines of the performance were drowned out in the cacophonous laughter and applause from the audience. Why?

There can be no doubt that the new logo and the new name are lightning rods for the forces in our Society resistant to change. And they are very powerful forces; let’s face it, our Society was built on the premise of resisting change. We’re still singing songs written 100 years ago! Let me share with you just a tiny portion of the letters and e-mail I have received in the short time I’ve been Executive Director:

From Escondido, CA – addressed to no one in particular, and this was all that was written on the page - “You may, in your infinite wisdom, call it whatever you bloody well please! But I shall remain a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Incorporated!!!”

From a former International President – addressed to me, (again, this was the sum total of the correspondence) “Welcome aboard. For your first priority, please restore our SPEBSQSA logo. Something appealing!!” And that was all it said.

Or how about, “Dear blankety-blank. Get your blankety-blank head out of your blankety-blank, and bring back the blankety-blank blankety-blank before I quit this blankety-blank organization. Blankety-blank girl scouts blankety-blank-blank. Yours truly.

Before you think I have gone over to the dark side, let me tell you my first instinct was to dislike the changes as well. I was nobody special, just another long time member, another Joe Barbershopper with a very sweet spot in my heart for every tradition, every secret barbershop society, and every rule and contest regulation there was. I liked the stiff contest rules because I got a great thrill out of bending them without breaking them. I didn’t want anybody messing with the logo or the name, because it was MY logo and MY name.

Based on the feelings I held when the changes were made, I know that there are many, many Barbershoppers out there just waiting for me to decree from on high that the new logo and the new name, and the no-beanie rule, and all the other things they don’t like, are OUT and we’ll go back to 1950…ah, the Buffalo Bills!

But it’s not going to happen. First of all, Society policy is set by the Society Board of Directors, not by me or the staff. More importantly, I now know WHY we changed the logo, and WHY we changed the name. And I’m going to tell you, and you will tell all those who care, in a nice way, of course, and we can get the word out and move on. For there are many more important problems to tackle, and I have larger issues to face and bigger battles to engage.

But let me tell you why we changed our name and our logo. And remember, we still own the old name and logo, we are not that progressive! Here’s a true story that perfectly exemplifies what the Society Board had in mind when they made those changes.

Just last week, I was called by Mr. Harold Brown, the publisher of many newspapers across the country, including the Kenosha News. He invited me to dine with him at a local restaurant. We had a nice lunch, at his expense, and we chatted about many things, including publicity and the location of the headquarters. During the course of the meal, I happened to give him my card. He, a dispassionate, neutral observer, a successful businessman and completely unaware of the logo controversy and near panicked state of our membership, commented off-the-cuff “Oh, nice logo,” and put the card in his pocket.

That was it for me. I understood the significance of that moment, and the wisdom of designing our name and logo for the external public, not the internal membership.

  • 85% of the public recognize the words “Barbershop Harmony.” 85%! Ask a PR person how often you get that kind of name recognition.
  • 5% of the public recognize the name S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. That’s after OVER 65 years of being a charitable, non-profit organization.
  • Our membership has declined from 37,000 in the 1990s to barely over 30,000 today. And I do mean barely. And the median age is increasing, even with all we do with YMIH and the Collegiate Quartet Contest.

It would be fiscally and morally irresponsible to ignore those facts and continue doing things as we have been, for if you continue to do what you’ve been doing, you’ll continue to get what you’ve got!

So that’s why we changed the name and the logo.

We are a not-for-profit organization.

Everything we do, we do for you. Many people complain about ticket prices, or convention hotels, or the cost of HC/DC, or the dollar amount of annual dues. But there is no profit at the end of the year, no dividends to shareholders and no fantastic bonuses to the CEO. Michael Eisner made $622 million last year. I told the CEO search committee I’d settle for half of that in cash.

So if there is no profit, why do we constantly look for money? Why don’t we give stuff away in the Harmony Marketplace? Because the revenue from dues, Harmony Marketplace, and conventions is where we get the money for education (HC/DC), conventions, music programs, and everything International provides to districts, chapters, and members.

I pledge to you, there will be no squandering of Society funds. I have made it a habit over the last 30 years to spend the taxpayers’ dollars as if they were my own. Each Barbershopper’s dollar spent will be spent as wisely as we can spend it.

Most of the effort expended to make all of our events as fantastic as they are come from volunteers like those you see here today. The dollars spent are minimal, because no salaries are involved. This is the Best of Barbershop. And it comes from the heart.

What can you do to make it better? Could you volunteer more, could you help spread the word about why we do what we do? Is it worth your time and effort? I say yes, but it’s your hobby…you decide.

The 2005 board and the 2006 board and I will be working very diligently to update (change?) our vision of the Barbershop Harmony Society of the future. To understand that vision is imperative, because we cannot move toward it if we don’t know what “it” is. If this kind of thing interests you, volunteer your time and efforts, it would be most welcome. If it doesn’t interest you, please continue to have fun and sing, perform, laugh, create, enjoy, sing, compete, and sing some more; do all the things that you can to make the chapter experience better.

Why are we here?

I don’t mean here this week. Hopefully, you are here this week to learn, to experience, to sing tags and to have a good time. Matter of fact, let’s do that right now. (Sing the TAG again)

I mean, why is there a Society at all? Didn’t OC and Rupert really just want to get away from the cares of everyday life and sing for the heck of it?

If you have your membership card with you, old or new, (yes, there have been complaints about the new cards as well) please take it out and turn it to the back and read along with me:

“The Society aspires to preserve for its members and for all future generations of prospective members the sacred right of men to seek haven from the burden of their daily cares through indulgence in old-fashioned vocal quartet harmony…”

Now that’s a pretty good mission statement, if you ask me. Well, that’s why I’m here. I’m here to recreate for myself, and for my children, the evenings when I used to listen to Dad, as he packed his lunch for the night shift at the steel mill, and he’d whistle “Mockingbird Hill” or sing “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.” When Uncle Don and Dad would sing and Dad would take the high tenor, while Mom played piano. They’re all gone now, the people and the days, but they’re still here (point to head) and here (point to heart) and I want those things for my kids as well.

Although I like ALL music, and especially a capella harmony, I’m here to assert that Barbershop Harmony is special, and right, and clean, and decent, and something I can be proud of, and share with my preacher, my kids, and my wife. And it rings in my ears so sweetly when it’s done correctly. That’s why I’m here. That’s the Best of Barbershop. That’s who I loved and what I love and why I love it. But it’s your hobby…you decide.

So, that’s it for now. I’ve got more, but I’ll save it for another day. Too much jawboning and not enough singing, if you ask me.

In summary, I’ll remind you that:

  • “Something appealing, something appalling" is really “Something that’s going nowhere, versus something for the future.” We can do a better job next time, and we will. But let’s get past it, okay? It’s your hobby…you decide.
  • I pledge to you to husband the Society’s resources. You pledge to renew on time.
  • Why are we here? We are here to sing, to learn to be better and better at it, and to create something larger and better than ourselves. So let’s do so…THAT’s the Best of Barbershop!

Thank you and good night.

--Ed Watson

Poughkeepsie Newyorkers * 110 Overlook Road * Poughkeepsie NY * US * 12603