The Cost of Joining a Barbershop Chorus

Photo credit: Wicker Paradise, CC BY 2.0.

Shortly after moving to New York, I started stalking a local audition board almost daily, trying to find a choir to join. I sang in choirs all through high school and college and was itching to flex my musical muscles again. More than that, I found moving to a new city, even a bustling metropolis like New York, to be incredibly isolating. I knew a handful of people in town, but yearned to be a part of something other than my job. Most of my friends in college and high school came from choir. I figured I’d use the same strategy to make new friends in NYC.

I spent about a year and a half searching for the right group. Then, last June, I auditioned for a women’s a cappella group and joined their ranks. After years of singing classical music with concert choirs, often accompanied by a full orchestra, singing with this new group was pretty exciting. Finally, songs in English that I actually recognize! While our repertoire comes from a variety of genres, we’re primarily focused on barbershop harmony and are a chartered chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide organization of female barbershop singers.

Aside from the Disneyland Dapper Dans and the West Brovinas on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I wasn’t really aware of the barbershop scene until I joined up. There’s a whole culture around barbershop that defines everything from how you sing to how you socialize after a performance. It keeps me busy, too. As soon as I joined, my schedule quickly filled up with rehearsals, gigs, workshops, volunteering opportunities, and social events.

These things add up quickly. As my more experienced barbershop sisters have told me, singing—with no instruments!—is not an inexpensive hobby.

General Costs:

Sweet Adelines International Youth Membership: $50/year

This entitles me to all educational, performance and competition benefits provided by SAI. This also includes a subscription to the adorable Pitch Pipe magazine. My international dues will double next year after I turn 26.

Chapter and Region Dues: $16 a month ($160 so far)

Our dues cover our SAI charter renewal, music fees, rehearsal space rental, quarterly coaching sessions, and more. Again, my dues are slightly reduced thanks to my age.

Snacks for various events: $30

Self-producing a gala or open house can be expensive, so we all pitch in by donating snacks and drinks for our attendees. I usually bring cookies.

Candles and gift wrap from our Yankee Candle Fundraiser: $55.52

Dues don’t cover everything, so we’ll hold the occasional fundraiser to fill the holes in our budget. I got some delicious-smelling candles and gift wrap, and the chapter got 30 percent of the sale.

Costumes: $79.95

My chorus allows us to choose our own costumes (provided they fit with our established aesthetic) instead of having one designated dress for the entire group. Luckily, I was able to create my costume for this year’s contest using items from my own closet, but I did have to buy a new pair of (very sparkly, very cute) shoes. More traditional costumes can cost up to $100.

Regional Contest:

Round-trip train from New York to Albany: $77.40

A few of the women in my group are carpooling up to Contest, but I chose to take the train up to contest this year so I could arrive on my own schedule. Plus I’ll get some coveted Amtrak points and have some time to nap before 36 hours of singing.

Hotel: $78.50 for two nights

Splitting a room with three friends definitely helped bring down the costs of our stay.

Pre-Contest Breakfast and Awards Banquet: $62

The region hosts a buffet breakfast and dinner banquet the day of Contest as a way to celebrate the singers and raise some money for future events. Participation is optional, of course, but I figured it would be a good way to carbo-load ahead of our performance and celebrate after with the girls.

Group photo: $12

I’m a sucker for keepsakes.

New false eyelashes: $5.50

The bright lights of the convention center stage can really wash you out and full expression is key in a barbershop performance. As such, false eyelashes are a big part of our contest look. I don’t wear falsies often, but I’ve learned how to apply them without blinding myself. Luckily, I only have to keep them on for a few hours.

TOTAL: $610.87

I’m still just starting out in the barbershop world, so I haven’t joined a quartet or attended other events like the International Competition yet. Like many hobbies or social activities, costs tend to grow as you get more involved in the scene. Joining my chorus was one of the best things I’ve done for myself since moving to New York, though. Our weekly rehearsals have kept me grounded when my life felt like a giant tornado of stress and the girls in my group are some of the most wonderful people around. They’re the flowers of my heart, as the song says, and I look forward to seeing their smiling faces and singing in harmony.

Charlotte Dow writes, sings, and hangs out in theatres in New York City. Follow her on twitter @charlotteatepie.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.