My first IABS convention was at Cork in 2016, with Spirit of Harmony and 4 On Demand. It's one of my fondest barbershop memories, and I've been looking for an excuse to go back to IABS ever since!
One finally came up this year, when Limelight were invited to be the guest quartet for the convention. To be invited as guests to an overseas convention is a pretty huge honour, particularly alongside the amazing ASKA quartet from Sweden, and my old friends in Hallmark of Harmony.
IABS convention is a little smaller than what I'm used to at BABS and LABBS events. Somewhere in the region of 700 delegates were there. One of the awesome things about IABS is that, while it does include competitions for Irish ensembles, it also hosts an open international competition for groups from overseas. Over the years has attracted hundreds of singers from around Europe and beyond. Indeed, this year there were 25 groups in the International Quartet Contest, and 6 in the International Chorus Contest. The standard was high too - all 3 chorus medallists achieved A-level scores (>80%), and international quartet winners The Emerald Guard posted a 79.6%.
IABS is a relatively small organisation, but the innovation of inviting international groups to compete and perform has made their convention one of the most enjoyable in Europe. For IABS members, the international acts provide a good dose of inspiration. The boosted attendance numbers probably also allow the convention to use venues it wouldn't be able to use with just the national contests, which means everyone gets the chance to sing on a big stage for a big, appreciative crowd.
One of the highlights for me was the Open Youth Contest. This was open to quartets and choruses. Silver was awarded to The ABCs: a school choir from Cork who did an absolutely amazing performance. The winners (by just one point) were a quartet from Danu Young Women's Choir in Donegal called Ceoltóirí Canóla. I heard on the grapevine that this quartet had only been singing barbershop for 3 weeks, but their performance was absolutely stunning, with a level of professionalism and polish we rarely see from younger singers.
Barbershop in schools is being actively pursued by the team at IABS, and it's certainly an example that other organisations can look to as a way of developing youth activities in barbershop.