The Mystery of MUS

Let’s just admit it. Not one person in a million really understands the music category. (If I’ve already lost you – stop reading now. This post is not for you.)

The secrets of MUS are impenetrable to the typical barbershop singer, yet they are hiding in plain sight. I double-dare you to read it. The Music Category description starts on page 43 and skulks its way to page 58.  It is at once absolutely specific and full of detail, and reveals nothing. For most of us, slogging through that text is like having a detailed street map, but with no “you are here” dot, and no arrow pointing North. And all the street names are in Italian. You stay lost.

If you’re a barbershop competitor, perhaps you’ve had this experience at your post-contest evaluation session with the MUS judge. You walk into a small hotel room. A man with thick glasses shakes your hand and pulls out his judging sheets. What will he talk about? Your singing skills? Your musicianship? Your song choices? Dominant 7ths? The bloody circle of fifths?? It’s impossible to say. I heard someone call it “The God Category” because you can say absolutely anything. I mean really, who’s going to call you out?

But folks, I’m sorry to have you tell you this, but we need to know. We need to know. If we care about our art form, our audience, our music or (frankly) our scores, we NEED to know. So, what shall we do?

As it turns out, my life plan involves becoming one of those nerdy men, those acolytes of the arcane truths that make barbershop work. In reality they are our brain trust, the keepers of the style. And as our best arrangers, they are the ones who drive us forward, simultaneously honoring our roots. I can think of no more challenging and virtuous, musical path, and I will take that three-year journey!

And my plan is to drop breadcrumbs on the way, here on this blog, so other brave souls can follow without too much personal risk. Enjoy!


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