Youth Harmony Festival - Energizing Young Singers in Wisconsin

Youth Harmony Festival – Energizing Young Singers in Wisconsin 

What was initially a contest to identify the #1 barbershop and treble quartets in the state has developed into an event to give young men and women some new tools to enhance their enjoyment and success in making harmony.

The first festival was held at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc in 2015. It was the brainchild of Bill Schmitt, the son of Jim Schmitt who sang lead in the 1951 International Champion Quartet, the Schmitt Brothers. He said, “My dad was in High School when he was introduced to barbershop music. From there, he sang in contests and spent 45 years performing all over the world. Singing barbershop changed his life. Our family wanted to offer that same opportunity to young people today.”

Bill sought the assistance of Jack Ryback, then the Land O’Lakes (LOL) District VP of Contest and Judging, and Bob Brey, LOL District Secretary. Together they submitted a request to the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) and were awarded a grant to establish what was then called the Wisconsin High School Barbershop Quartet Festival and Contest. The idea was to offer quartets the opportunity to perform in front of Barbershop Harmony Society judges and give them positive evaluations to help improve their singing, sound, and presentation.

Initial funding for the Festival came from BHS grants,  supplemented by the Clipper City Chordsmen in 2016. The Festival now depends on choruses and quartets, as well as corporate and individual donors from around the state, to continue its mission to help young singers learn more about singing in 4-part harmony.

CHANGES in 2018 – 2020

For the first three years, the Festival was coordinated by members of the Manitowoc, Green Bay and Appleton chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society and was held at the Franciscan Center for Music and Performance on the campus of Silver Lake College in Manitowoc. 

In 2018, there was a shift in focus to enhance the educational emphasis to include Harmony University style classes on vocal techniques as well as methods to improve individual and quartet performance. In an effort to be more centrally located in the State, the newly named Wisconsin Youth Harmony Festival (WYHF) found a new home at Pacelli High School in Stevens Point. A new Board of Directors was appointed that included men and women representing barbershoppers from around the state.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we were forced to cancel the 2020 Wisconsin Youth Harmony Festival. Still, the work of the WYHF Board moved forward. We have now established WYHF as a stand-a-lone 501.c.3 organization, capable of receiving tax exempt donations.

2021 > A Virtual WYHF

In 2021 the Board courageously moved forward to establish a plan for a Virtual Wisconsin Youth Harmony Festival in the spring of 2021. 

Despite the Pandemic, with the assistance of District leadership and National staff, we carried on the tradition of WYHF:.

  • For the first time, we were able to have Certified BHS Judges from around the country to adjudicate the video submissions provided from our High School Quartets!
  • The Virtual WYHF was premiered on the BHS YouTube Channel on May 22, 2021.
  • The video of the event continues to be available for viewing at: