Harmony Brigades are events at which barbershoppers meet…
…to spend an entire weekend on quartet singing. Everybody prepares a shared repertoire of 12 songs beforehand. At the event, you can then simply pick any three people of the other voice parts and sing a couple of these songs. Then you say thank-you and find three new people, and so on. It's amazingly fun, and has really been catching on in North America. There are currently nine different Brigades in different regions, and a Women's Harmony Brigade just happened for the first time in August 2014. Here's an article in the Harmonizer that describes the experience pretty well.
Here's how the official Operations Manual of the Association of Extreme Quartetting Harmony Brigades defines the event:
A Harmony Brigade rally is an invitational weekend for barbershoppers with significant quartet experience who are vocally capable, committed to learning challenging arrangements, and who are prepared to enjoy success in rally activities. The charts are of championship caliber, somewhat challenging, and might be beyond the ability of less experienced men [and women - EHB]. It is not a chorus-oriented event, although a chorus performance of the repertoire songs is always part of the Saturday night public show.
It is really, really important that you can pick any three people and expect to have fun singing a song with them. As the quote says, this means that participants should have a pretty decent level of quartetting experience; if you're looking for a place where you can take your first steps in quartetting, there are fantastic other opportunities for that (e.g. Tim Waurick's "Quartet Experience" class at the Bing! Harmony College). But just as importantly, every single participant commits to being prepared. All of your quartet-mates on that weekend will have worked hard before the Brigade to make sure they know the songs. They will be looking to you to carry your part and to be fun to sing with. There will be an award for "the person I most enjoyed singing with", decided by popular vote. Everyone who comes to the Brigade should come with the ambition to be that person.
Because coming prepared is so important, Brigades include a number of mechanisms to ensure preparedness, some of which are:
- Run-throughs in the months before the Brigade. A run-through is a meeting of Brigade participants, usually at someone's house, where you sing through some or all of the songs. This is to give you a chance to identify and work through some of your trouble spots, and is a great chance to meet some other Brigaders before the Brigade even begins. It is a really good idea to attend at least one run-through before the Brigade, to make sure you're really as well prepared as you thought.
- A random quartet contest on the first night of the Brigade. You will be put in a quartet with three randomly drawn quartet-mates, assigned a randomly drawn song, and given half an hour to prepare. Then you'll go up on stage and sing the song for all the other participants. If everyone is prepared well, the random quartet contest can be a lot of fun for everyone.
- You will also be assigned three random songs when you arrive at the Brigade event. You will then sing these three songs with quartets of your choice for a Preparedness Checker, who will sign off that you actually know your stuff. Passing the preparedness check is a prerequisite for participation in the public EHB Show on Saturday night.
Finally, a Brigade typically includes a public concert on Saturday night. All participants of the Brigade go on stage as the "Brigade chorus" and sing a number of the songs in the repertoire. Quartets from the Brigade can audition to also appear in the show (either pre-existing ones or ones that are spontaneously formed for the purpose), and there may even be a guest quartet!