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What is Mixed Barbershop?

The Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) is a national and international men’s singing society, a “male voices only” organization. Women have Sweet Adelines International and Harmony Incorporated choruses available as “women only” barbershop singing organizations. (The closest of these is an hour’s drive away.)

The BHS has rules which preclude women singing in BHS-sponsored competitive events (although women may currently serve as chorus directors of all-male choruses at these events.) The Gold Standard Chorus as it performs in the community is a non-competing chorus, and is one of the few barbershop choruses nationwide to have women participating in the chorus as “auxiliary singers.” Our male membership has grown enough in the past few years to have an all-men's chorus that began competing again in 2016.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the BHS has only male members. In 2005, in order to remain an active chorus with all four parts, the chapter voted to allow females to sing in the chorus as “auxiliary singers,” in order to fill in some of the parts where male singers were sparse or – at some rehearsals – non-existent. The female singers are not members of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the BHS, but they are considered fully participating members of the local performing barbershop chorus, known as the Gold Standard Chorus. Many of them are also auxiliary members of the BHS. Besides singing, they hold many of the “jobs” that keep the chorus functioning smoothly.

In order to preserve the male barbershop sound, the Santa Cruz Chapter has adopted rules at the chapter level. These rules are not in any way endorsed by the BHS, but are the result of conferring with several top individuals at Society Headquarters via the auspices of the Mixed Harmony Barbershop Quartet Association. The primary rule is that the ratio of male to female voices must be no more than 1/3 active female voices to 2/3 active male voices. The chorus sings only men’s arrangements, in the men’s key; women must sing their part in the same octave as the men.

Typical vocal ranges for singers in the Gold Standard Chorus (using standard pitch names; C4 = “middle C“):

  • Tenors: From B3 up to D4.
  • Leads and baritones: From D3 (or rarely C3) up to F4.
  • Basses: From F2 (or rarely E2) up to C4.

If you’re curious about the specific numbers of men and women making up our vocal mix, get in touch with us and we’ll gladly offer some more detail.

The Santa Cruz area of California has long been known for doing things a bit differently… so it is only to be expected that we would find this rather unusual way to maintain our barbershop harmony. But it is certainly working, and we are definitely having fun, bringing lots of barbershop harmony to our schools and community, and still ringing those barbershop chords!