A tribute to Jenny

by | 19 Aug 2019 | Outside the Notes | 0 comments

Pioneer of women’s barbershop singing in the UK, Jenny Lawson, died on 6th April 2019 after a long illness.

In 1990, she founded the barbershop chorus Surrey Harmony, in Coulsdon, Surrey with just 14 singers, and under her musical directorship the membership grew to 80. In 1992, Surrey Harmony became affiliated to Sweet Adelines International. Jenny threw herself into arranging all sorts of scores into four-part harmony, as well as composing new pieces for the group.

She led Surrey Harmony to much success, including five gold medals and seven silver medals from Sweet Adelines International and seven international appearances. In the organisation’s 2009 competition, the group reached the highest place achieved by a UK chorus to that date – 15th in the world, a record unbroken until 2018.

She also sang with her quartet, Zig-Zag, winning bronze at regional competition level and a gold medal at the Sligo International Choral festival in 2004. Many close and lasting friendships formed among the singers as the years went by.

Jenny had a natural talent and a fantastic musical ear which led her to strive for accuracy and excellence for her happy group of singers. As Director, she brought her natural comedic wit to rehearsals every week, often having the chorus in fits of laughter. Her legacy of developing excellent singers has spread from Surrey Harmony with ex-members now running or being part of many other well-respected and successful barbershop choruses.

Jenny championed women’s barbershop for mainstream media through Surrey Harmony’s involvement in Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year and a televised concert at St James’s Palace. In 2017 she received the Sweet Adelines Ann Gooch Award for promoting excellence in barbershop singing.

As well as barbershop, she was a principal musician for the Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris group, singing mystical songs and playing the violin at folk festivals. She was passionate about wildlife and, at home, could often be found tending the garden, strumming her guitar at the kitchen table, or perfecting her Satie on the piano. Jenny will be remembered for her wit, compassion and irreverence.

Hobart Harmony chorus member, Jill Mills, said:

Jenny was an inspiration and my time in Surrey Harmony was such a happy time. She left a tremendous legacy and had such an influence on so many. Thanks to her, I have enthusiasm for barbershop and am now a member of my third chorus.

Long-standing member of Lace City Chorus, Alyson Chaney, said:

Jenny was an amazing musician, director and arranger and an absolute inspiration to all of us in Region 31.

Gwen Hunter-Topp from Aberdeen Chorus, said:

I remember the first time she brought the chorus along to a Sweet Adelines Convention. She was so keen to do well and bring forward the singing skills of the chorus. Of course, she did just that and Surrey Harmony became the fabulous chorus we all know and love. I looked forward to having a chat and a laugh with Jenny at convention each year as we had a lot in common.

Emma Duguid from Forth Valley Chorus said:

For five years, Jenny taught me SO much, she championed me, she gave me leadership opportunities, and she was a friend. She never wanted to be in the limelight despite her immense talent, and was truly selfless – such an admirable quality.

Di Porsche, Musical Director of Buffalo Gateway Chorus said:

Jenny was a very special person in so many ways. She was an incredible musician, music arranger, director and friend. My life has been enriched for having known her. She will be missed by so many.