BOWLING GREEN, O.—Bowling Green State University continued its longstanding tradition of excellence in vocal performance this July when The Sunny Boys placed second in the collegiate quartet division at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Convention in Toronto, Canada — despite the far-flung group members’ having had to rehearse together largely online, through Skype.
The annual competition draws over 10,000 present barbershop singers, many of whom are choral directors from around the world. In addition, thousands of others watch the competition through online streaming.
BGSU student Nicholas Gordon helped form the quartet with bassist Christian Diaz, tenor Edward Mejia, and lead Alberto Rico.
Sunny Boys’ coach Douglas Wayland, an assistant professor of voice in music performance studies, has coached other winning groups, including BGSU’s 2011 first-prize winning quartet, Prestige, of which Gordon was also a member. Wayland received the 2012-13 Distinguished Faculty Award, and has helped promote appreciation of barbershop quartets.
For a quartet to compete at the international level, it must get through the difficult preliminary qualifier round, which is held in dozens of districts throughout the U.S. and in other participating countries. Although barbershop singing began as an American genre, it has become international. Winners have come from Sweden, Canada and New Zealand. Quartets are scored based on three categories: singing, musical, and performance.
The only member from BGSU, Gordon met Diaz while working and singing together in Disney World, Fla., last winter. Diaz knew the other two men from previous singing experiences. Before long, the quartet read different pieces and saw potential.
According to Wayland, one of the key ingredients of putting a successful quartet together is having four exceptional voices that can blend well.
“Our blend was so promising that we decided to stay together and compete,” Gordon said.
Despite their talent and musical rapport, The Sunny Boys faced obstacles in their rehearsals. With the members living in different states, the only solution they found to rehearsing was through Skype. They were only able to rehearse in person a few days prior to the competition, with the help and direction of Wayland.
Luckily, all four men had extensive barbershop experience. The three non-BGSU members had been in a quartet called “Spanglish” that received third place in the collegiate division in 2010. Wayland was confident the quartet had prepared adequately.
“When you work with students who come with that kind of experience and preparation, you only have to tweak and make suggestions to fix minor problems — just like a conductor who works with an orchestra that is already musically prepared,” he said.
The Sunny Boys won the most points in the singing category and only lost 30 out of a possible 1,800 points.
Gordon spoke fondly of the support Wayland has shown him through the years. “Doug has been there for every single one of my competitions. He’s traveled to California, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida and now Toronto in order to support me,“ Gordon said, “He realized early on that I had a deep passion for barbershop singing and he’s helped me sing it in the healthiest way possible.
“We had no idea what the outcome would be, and we couldn’t be more proud of our accomplishment. Barbershopping has taken me to so many places I never could’ve imagined.”
The group was also fortunate to receive financial support from Pro Musica, a Bowling Green organization that helps student musicians travel to outside performances and conferences.
“With the incredible support of Pro Musica, I have been able to keep barbershop in my life and it has helped me grow exponentially, not only as a musician, but as a human being,” Gordon said.