Tonight was the first performance this year from Durham University’s only barbershop group.  Founded in 2017, Full Score is a relatively new group comprising of 18 talented singers, who have to go through difficult auditions every year to be a part of it. Because of this high standard, Full Score has enjoyed lots of acclaim and celebration, including six shows at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – all of which sold out.

It was a cold, rainy evening but St. Oswald’s Church was very warm and welcoming. The atmosphere suddenly picked up when the choir came onto the stage to riotous applause, sopranos and altos in all black and tenors and basses wearing red or blue braces and bow ties. To kick off the evening, they sang a very adventurous and energetic arrangement of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, complete with colourful, modern harmonies which spiced up the music. The ensemble weren’t afraid to get into the music, and they clicked and swayed to the beat, manufacturing a very breezy and carefree ambience. The intonation was almost pitch-perfect, and the confidence oozing from the group definitely heightened the spectacle.

‘You can definitely tell how much the choir love performing with each other, and the sense of community that has been fostered in the choir’

Next they performed an arrangement of Go the Distance from Hercules, which was a change of pace and tone from the previous song, being more melancholy and reflective. This was also wonderfully performed, the basses particularly standing out with their strong leads. After this, they moved on to more traditional barbershop fare, with the classic After You’ve Gone filling the church with resonant barbershop harmonies, the voices all gelling supremely well together. The song was fun, light and bouncy, and performed with lots of enthusiasm.

After this there was a men’s quartet, performing Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat from the musical Guys and Dolls. The three solos were charismatically performed, with plenty of gusto and volume. In particular, the third soloist managed to sound mellifluous and striking in the high tenor range, rounding out the song with a superb high note. There was plenty of showmanship on display here, and the energy in the room was palpable.

After the 15-minute interval, the group came back on with a much more sorrowful and quietly intense piece, Losing My Mind. There were many tense and pleasantly painful harmonies which the choir sung at a slow pace to wring every last drop of emotion out of, and this approach went over well for the audience, who were extremely vivacious in their applause and cheer at the end of the song. There was also a very good dynamic range, with a loud, powerful ending with lots of intensity, but also quiet, contemplative parts with tightly-held harmonies.

 

‘the professionalism of the ensemble was outstanding, the voices were incredible, the music choice was varied, and it was a great night’

The women’s quartet was another highlight of the evening, with great cohesion between the four singers and wonderful, sparkling high notes. The showmanship was also very prominent, and the quartet worked very well together, almost completely at ease with one another. Next, the full choir returned to sing a more environmentally-minded song, The World for Christmas. This was more brooding and quieter than what had come before, with soft interludes packed with emotion. The message of the song came across very well from the singers, and the words were impressively brought to life. Finally, a bombastic, energetic rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely was sung, with vivid, colourful harmonies and fun dance moves to top it all off. You can definitely tell how much the choir love performing with each other, and the sense of community that has been fostered in the choir: everyone is singing and dancing with each other, having a lot of fun, rather than just reciting songs. All the stops were pulled out for this finale, which ended with a wonderfully loud and powerful high tenor note at the end, which was perfectly executed.

All in all, the professionalism of the ensemble was outstanding, the voices were incredible, the music choice was varied, and it was a great night. I would recommend Full Score to anyone who enjoys barbershop music and close harmony singing, or just to anyone who wants to see singing done extremely well.

Govind Nair