The past few years have seen significant change in the worldwide barbershop harmony community towards the removal of barriers to entry into this historically men-only singing society. The expansion of barbershop as a genre that includes and embraces all people, regardless of gender identity or other attributes, has grown across the world and challenged the long-held divisions that have characterised the barbershop community during its history.
Since its humble beginnings in Perth in 1985, the Australian Association of Men Barbershop Singers (AAMBS) made a change of identity to Barbershop Harmony Australia (BHA) in 2012. This was followed by the introduction of Mixed Harmony in 2014.
Over the past 35 years, BHA grew to become an Australia-wide community of male and female singers who gathered together to sing four-part harmonies in quartets and in choruses. And while membership of BHA was open to all men and women who love to sing, full membership was only open to men.
Societal expectations of equity, diversity and equal opportunity continue to gather momentum and influence the thoughts of young and old alike. Within BHA, the voices of members and associate members that have raised the issue as far back as 1995, continued to advocate for a more egalitarian approach to the movement that respects the contribution of all people and calls for the organisation to facilitate this through constitutional and structural change.
Monday, 13 December 2021, saw a monumental and significant change to the way our Association, Barbershop Harmony Australia, will operate into the future.
With an overwhelming level of support from its members, BHA membership is now open to any person who is in sympathy with the objects of the Association.
I do not think we can understate the magnitude of this vote. Historically, our AGM has attracted votes from around 25% to 30% of our members. After two years of consultation, discussions, meetings, surveys and information events, your National Council was thrilled to see so many men vote today – a record 55% of total membership. And that percentage voted 92% in favour of changing the membership structure to be completely open to anyone sharing in the Objects of the Association.
This decision has changed the face of BHA forever. But it is important to note that although Barbershop Harmony Australia can now extend membership to all; regardless of background or identity, our Mission remains the same; to embrace harmony and the perpetuation and promotion of singing in the barbershop style.
Importantly, a key finding of the membership engagement undertaken by BHA supported the capacity for clubs to make their own choice on membership and the ensembles that they wish to perpetuate. In other words, the decision by BHA to allow fully inclusive membership does not require clubs to change their current membership or the current composition of ensembles associated with that club. Each club retains absolute choice and control in this regard.
However, knowing that any club that does wish to broaden its barbershop environment now has the full support of BHA to do so – which can only result in a more vibrant, longer-lasting Association for many more years to come.
We still have a lot of work to do over the next few months to bring this historical vote into action. We acknowledge that change can mean uncertainty for some. And we wish to address the uncertainties our current or future membership may have around identity, inclusion and equality. It is paramount to BHA that we create a safe, supportive space for anyone who wishes to sing barbershop.
And it is now our expectation that all members, current and future, will embrace this ethos, and welcome new members in with open minds, hearts and voices.
BHA stands proudly for equality, diversity and inclusion. Inclusion means everyone – keeping BHA safe for all. We will soon be providing sets of manuals, instructions for clubs and individuals to help out in this regard.
As your President, I am once again compelled to state how incredibly proud I am of how far BHA has come since its inception 35 years ago.
And you can all be proud of what you, the members, have built. Take pride in your BHA. Take pride in the BHA Brand.
To everyone who has been involved in this important discussion over the last few years, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for being a part of this historic time for BHA. Thank you for helping us to understand what drives our members, to understand the different issues and topics that affect such a diverse membership, and for helping us to learn what we can do to better support you.
We will continue to strive for a culture of excellence, of pride in our brand, of sharing, of leadership, of education, of participation, and of community-building.
BHA is far more than a group of unrelated singers who happen to like barbershop music – it is a nationwide Association of friends, of family, dedicated to Enriching Australia Through Harmony.
And today, our circle of family and friends became much bigger.
Barbershop Harmony Australia