The LABBS virtual ‘Storytelling in a Tag’ session by Eileen

At the beginning of lockdown, we were preparing ourselves to be deprived of our Monday evening rehearsals and all the activities the chorus would normally experience at this time of year. However, lots of people have been very generous with their talents and time, enabling us to enjoy some unexpected surprises. A few weekends ago on a Saturday morning brought me one of those.

Via the ‘magic’ of Zoom I was off to learn about a storytelling in a tag in one of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers virtual sessions. I was wondering how this would be achieved with just a few words.

For those who may not know, tags are basically the last few bars of any barbershop song, and often include an amazing ‘post’ – a sustained note – around which the other parts move. We barbershoppers love a tag, as they mean we can harmonise with each other easily without having to learn whole songs.

Our speaker for this session was Jo Braham, MD of Cheshire Chord Company, so I was prepared to glean some gems!

Jo focused on these aspects:

  • The art of storytelling: the location of the person we are engaging with, and the reaction of the listener.
  • Who are we singing to? What has brought us to that point? Picture their reaction.
  • Think of the reaction of a young child listening to a story… completely absorbed.
  • To engage our audience our performance has to be authentic.

Things which Jo suggested might help:

  • Start by speaking the words. What might they evoke?
  • Think of what comes naturally in conversation – facial expression, gestures.
  • Choose two words to stress, and say the tag.
  • Try two different words to emphasise. Note what this evokes for you. 

Jo chose for her tag from the song Girl in a Gingham Gown by Al Jolson. I am used to singing old songs in our chorus, but I think this one is the oldest so far. It dates back to 1922. You may not have heard of him, but he was a familiar voice for me in the early 40s. We sang the tag: “In a gingham gown she stole my heart away”.

Then came a difficult moment! The host told us our recordings and photograph were to be sent in after the meeting.  I have acquired some technical knowledge over the last few months, but still dither over recording. Having to achieve two tasks and submit both items on the same form, in a limited time, was not going to happen! So off went the audio with no photo this time around! Our recording of the tag can be found on YouTube here.

In my YouTube search I have also found performances of the tag by Vox Canvas, Barbershop FTC, Geraldo and Joseph Osborne. The only version of the song I have managed to find is by a quartet, Afternoon Delight, performing in 2009.

To get a little glimpse of the time this song was composed, try Old Fashioned Girl in a Gingham Gown by Knickerbocker Orchestra led by Eddie Elkins.

A helpful tip I took from Jo’s session is: When beginning to learn a new song, start by focusing on the actual score. Read the lyrics aloud to get in touch with what the song evokes. Finding the ‘performance’ aspect has to start there.

Eileen x