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Barbershop music
Cultural origins African American music
Typical instruments none (a cappella)
The Dapper Dans, a barbershop quartet at Disneyland

Barbershop vocal harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era (1940s – present), is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead. The melody is not usually sung by the tenor or bass, except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags or codas, or when some appropriate embellishment can be created. Occasional traveling may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

According to the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), "Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions."[1]

Slower barbershop songs, especially ballads, often eschew a continuous beat, and notes are often held (or sped up) ad libitum.

The voice parts in men's barbershop singing do not correspond closely to the correspondingly named voice parts in classical music. Barbershop singing is performed both by men's and women's groups; the elements of the barbershop style and the names of the voice parts are the same for both.

Contents

Ringing chords

The defining characteristic of the barbershop style is the ringing chord. This is a name for one specific and well-defined acoustical effect, also referred to as expanded sound, the angel's voice, the fifth voice, or the overtone. (The barbershopper's "overtone" is not the same as the acoustic physicist's overtone which is known as heterodyning).

The physics and psychophysics of the effect are fairly well understood; it occurs when the upper harmonics in the individual voice notes, and the sum and difference frequencies resulting from nonlinear combinations within the ear, reinforce each other at a particular frequency, strengthening it so that it stands out separately above the blended sound. The effect is audible only on certain kinds of chords, and only when all voices are equally rich in harmonics and justly tuned and balanced. It is not heard in chords sounded on keyboard instruments, due to the slight tuning imperfection of the equal-tempered scale.

Gage Averill writes that "Barbershoppers have become partisans of this acoustic phenomenon" and that "the more experienced singers of the barbershop revival (at least after the 1940s) have self-consciously tuned their dominant seventh and tonic chords in just intonation to maximize the overlap of common overtones."[2]

What is prized is not so much the "overtone" itself, but a unique sound whose achievement is most easily recognized by the presence of the "overtone". The precise synchrony of the waveforms of the four voices simultaneously creates the perception of a "fifth voice" while at the same time melding the four voices into a unified sound. The ringing chord is qualitatively different in sound from an ordinary musical chord e.g. as sounded on a tempered-scale keyboard instrument.

Most elements of the "revivalist" style are related to the desire to produce these ringing chords. Performance is a cappella to prevent the distracting introduction of equal-tempered intonation, and because listening to anything but the other three voices interferes with a performer's ability to tune with the precision required. Barbershop arrangements stress chords and chord progressions that favor "ringing", at the expense of suspended and diminished chords and other harmonic vocabulary of the ragtime and jazz forms.

The dominant seventh-type chord is so important to barbershop harmony that it is called the "barbershop seventh." BHS arrangers believe that a song should contain dominant seventh chords anywhere from 35 to 60 percent of the time (measured as a percentage of the duration of the song rather than a percentage of the chords present) to sound "barbershop."

Historically barbershoppers may have used the word "minor chord" in a way that is confusing to those with musical training. Averill suggests that it was "a shorthand for chord types other than major triads", and says that the use of the word for "dominant seventh-type chords and diminished chords" was common in the late nineteenth century. A 1910 song called "Play That Barber Shop Chord"[3] (often cited as an early example of "barbershop" in reference to music) contains the lines:

'Cause Mister when you start that minor part
I feel your fingers slipping and a grasping at my heart,
Oh Lord play that Barber shop chord!

Averill notes the hints of rapture, "quasi-religion" and erotic passion in the language used by barbershoppers to describe the emotional effect. He quotes Jim Ewin as reporting "a tingling of the spine, the raising of the hairs on the back of the neck, the spontaneous arrival of goose flesh on the forearm ... the fifth note has almost mysterious propensities. It's the consummation devoutly wished by those of us who love Barbershop harmony. If you ask us to explain why we love it so, we are hard put to answer; that's where our faith takes over." Averill notes too the use of the language of addiction, "there's this great big chord that gets people hooked." An early manual was entitled "A Handbook for Adeline Addicts".[2]

He notes too that "barbershoppers almost never speak of 'singing' a chord, but almost always draw on a discourse of physical work and exertion; thus, they 'hit', 'chop', 'ring', 'crack', and 'swipe.' Vocal harmony is interpreted as an embodied musicking. Barbershoppers never lose sight (or sound) of its physicality."[2]

Historical origins

Polk Miller's Old South Quartet, 1900-1912

The first uses of the term were associated with African Americans. Henry notes that "The Mills Brothers learned to harmonize in their father's barber shop in Piqua, Ohio. Several other well-known African American gospel quartets were founded in neighborhood barber shops, among them the New Orleans Humming Four, the Southern Stars and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartette."[4] Although the Mills Brothers are primarily known as jazz and pop artists and usually performed with instrumental accompaniment, the affinity of their harmonic style with that of the barbershop quartet is clearly in evidence in their music and most notably, perhaps, in their best-known gospel recording, "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well," performed a cappella. Their father founded a barbershop quartet, the Four Kings of Harmony, and the Mills Brothers produced at least three records in which they sang a cappella and performed traditional barbershop material.

Barbershop harmonies remain in evidence in the a cappella music of the black church. The popular, Christian a cappella group Take 6[5] started in 1980 as The Gentleman's Estate Quartet with the tight, four-part harmony by which barbershop music is known. Early on, the quartet added a fifth harmonic line, but the group's pedigree, like barbershop music, is traceable directly to the black church—and the jazzy renditions of artists like the Mills Brothers, as well.[6][7]

Organizations

Barbershop Harmony Society

The revision of a cappella singing was taken up again when a tax lawyer named Owen C. Cash decided that for the art to die out would be a shame. He garnered support from an investment banker called Rupert I. Hall. Both came from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cash was a true partisan of quartet singing who advertised the fact that he did not want a cappella to fall by the wayside. A meeting was called and at 6.30 pm on Monday, April 11, 1938, 26 men gathered on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club in the Alvi Hotel. They eventually burst into four part harmony singing. The police were called and had to ask the participants to "keep it down." The sound of their singing had reached ground level and all traffic stopped to listen, wondering where the harmonic sound was coming from.

Cash had struck a chord, albeit unwittingly, and soon, across North America, men responded in their thousands and later in the same year the "Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America" was set up, known by the abbreviation S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. at a time when many institutions in the United States were in the habit of using multiple initials to denote their function. More recently, the name was changed to the simpler "Barbershop Harmony Society."

Sharp Harmony, a Norman Rockwell painting, appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post magazine issue dated September 26, 1936; it depicts a barber and three clients enjoying an a cappella song. One may surmise that this image provided some inspiration to Cash and Hall. The image was adopted by SPEBSQSA in their promotion of the art.

Female Barbershop music and "Beautyshop" quartets

Traditionally, the word "barbershop" has been used to encompass both men's and women's quartets singing in the barbershop style. Harmony, Inc. calls itself "International Organization of Women Barbershop Singers" while Sweet Adelines International calls itself "a worldwide organization of women singers committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony."

A few women's quartets, particularly in U.S. schools, have used the term "beautyshop quartets" for women's quartets singing in the barbershop style.

Notable female quartets include:

Barbershop groups with both male and female members are known as mixed barbershop groups.[10]

Organization

Singing a cappella music in the barbershop style is a hobby enjoyed by men and women worldwide. The hobby is practiced mostly within one of the three main barbershop associations, which have a combined membership in the neighborhood of eighty thousand.

The primary men's organization in the US and Canada is the Barbershop Harmony Society. Women have two organizations in North America, Sweet Adelines International and Harmony Incorporated. Sweet Adelines, Inc was founded in 1945 by Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Harmony, Incorporated was formed in 1959 by 5 chapters that split from Sweet Adelines in 1957 over a dispute regarding admission of non-Caucasian members. SPEBSQSA and Sweet Adelines at that time restricted their membership to whites, but both opened membership to all races a few years later. All three organizations comprise choruses and quartets that perform and compete regularly throughout the US and Canada, and Sweet Adelines International also has a portion of its membership outside North America.

Organizations affiliated with the Barbershop Harmony Society and Harmony Incorporated exist in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and elsewhere. Some national and regional barbershop groups include:

A worldwide association for mixed groups, the Mixed Harmony Barbershop Quartet Association [13], was established in 1995 to reflect the growing popularity of male-female barbershop singing.

Notable artists

Quartets

A barbershop quartet is an ensemble of four people who sing a cappella in the exacting barbershop music genre.

While the form is accessible to nearly anyone who can carry their part, the best quartets are formed of singers with a very uniform sound, particularly for vowels. Mixed quartets have increased in popularity, though most are all-male or all-female in order to better match voices. Often siblings are naturally well-matched, as they grow up using the same accent. In other cases, disciplined practice over time yields consistent use of the same vowels.

In North America most male barbershop quartet singers belong to the Barbershop Harmony Society, while most female barbershop quartet singers are in either Sweet Adelines International or Harmony, Inc. Similar organizations have sprung up in many other countries.

Most barbershop quartet singers also choose to sing in a chorus.

Choruses

A barbershop chorus is a chorus that sings a cappella music in the barbershop style. Most barbershop choruses belong to a larger association of practitioners such as the Barbershop Harmony Society, Sweet Adelines International or Harmony, Inc..

In the Barbershop Harmony Society, a chorus is the main performing aspect of each chapter. Choruses may have as few as 12 or as many as 150 members singing. Choruses normally sing with a director, as distinct from quartets. It is not uncommon for a new quartet to form within a chorus, or for an established quartet affiliated with a given chorus to lose a member (to death, retirement, or relocation) and recruit a replacement from the ranks of the chorus. Choruses also can provide "spare parts" to temporarily replace a quartet member who is ill or temporarily out of town.

Unlike a quartet, a chorus need not have equal numbers singing each voice part. The ideal balance in a chorus is about 40% bass, 30% lead, 20% baritone and 10% tenor singers.

Filling the gap between the chorus and the quartet is what is known as a VLQ or Very Large Quartet, in which more than four singers perform together, with two or more voices on some or all of the four parts. A VLQ possesses greater flexibility than a standard quartet, since they can perform even with one or more singers missing, as long as all four parts are covered. Like a normal quartet, a VLQ usually performs without a director.

BHS

BABS

  • The Cottontown Chorus - three times British champions (2005, 2007, 2009) and current British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) gold medallists; three times BABS silver medallists (2001, 2002, 2004) and bronze medallist for 2003; European Barbershop Convention silver medallists for 2005 and 2009; winners of the adult section of BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year for 2008; Irish Association of Barbershop Singers international gold medallist for 2008; winning chorus at the Manchester Amateur Choral Competition for 2008; based in Bolton, Lancashire, England
  • Cambridge Chord Company – twice European champion barbershop chorus and British Association of Barbershop Singers gold medalists; "Choir of the World" International Eisteddfod 2004; based in England
  • Vocal Academy – formed in 2001, winners of British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) most improved chorus award "The Cambridge Scroll" in 2007; based in Sawtry, Cambridgeshire

Sweet Adelines International

Typical barbershop songs

Barbershop Harmony Society's Barberpole Cat Songs "Polecats" — songs which all Barbershop Harmony Society members are encouraged to learn as a shared canonic repertoire — all famous, traditional examples of the genre:

There are also several other well-known songs in the genre. Some are considered standards, such as "From the First Hello" and "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby", while others are well-known because notable quartets are associated with them. An example of the latter is "Come Fly with Me", which gained popularity through association with the 2005 international quartet champion, Realtime.

Examples of other songs popular in the barbershop genre are:

While these traditional songs still play a part in barbershop today, barbershop music also includes more current titles. Most music can be arranged in the barbershop style, and there are many arrangers within the aforementioned societies with the skills to include the barbershop chord structure in their arrangements. Today's barbershop quartets and choruses sing a variety of music from all eras – show tunes, pop, and even rock music has been arranged for choruses and quartets, making them more attractive to younger singers.

References in popular culture

  • "Lida Rose" is a song beloved to barbershoppers from Meredith Willson's musical comedy The Music Man. A barbershop quartet forms an integral part of the story, and was played by the Buffalo Bills onstage and in the screen adaptation.
  • In the movie, The Haunted Mansion, a quartet of singing busts distracts Jim Evers and his children as they attempt to find the Mansion's mausoleum by the instructions of the spirit Madame Leota.

In television

  • In the King of the Hill episode "It ain't over till the fat neighbor sings" (season 9, episode 15), Bill Dauterive joins a barbershop group called the "Harmonaholics". Dialogue from this episode makes a clear suggestion that the chorus was meant to parody The Vocal Majority chorus from Dallas.
  • In the third season's episode 12 of the popular TV show Friends, "The One with All the Jealousy", Ross sends a barbershop quartet to Rachel's place of work in an attempt to ward off a male he suspects of being interested in her.
  • In the popular TV show Scrubs, four of the employees of the hospital form a barbershop quartet which has been called "Ted's Band", "The Worthless Peons", and most recently, "Foghat". The quartet is played by the real-life group The Blanks.[11]
  • In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, episode 72 "Sleepover Suite" there is a Barbershop quartet convention at The Tipton. The main characters' mother, Carey, is constantly badgered by a quartet to become their fifth singer for a quintet, but she refuses.
  • In The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack episode "Shave and a Haircut", Flapjack and his friend Captain K'nuckles are pursued by a barbershop trio who always sang instead of speaking and finished each other's sentences in a rhythmic fashion. Of the many phrases and sentences they sang, the classic phrase "Oh no he didn't!" was executed.
  • In Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law episode "Identity Theft", Elliott, known as The Deadly Duplicator, accidentally duplicates Judge Mentok the Mindtaker. Now having 4 Mentoks, the original snaps his fingers and the 4 of them are wearing red and white vests and straw hats and break out into a barbershop style song.

In video games

  • Barbershop quartets appear as enemies in the first episode of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.
  • "the worlds deadliest barbershop quartet" is featured in Stubbs the Zombie by wideload games.
  • Trivial Pursuit: Unhinged (Xbox, PC and PS2) features a clip of 1995 International Champ quartet, Marquis. (Published by Atari)
  • The Haunted Mansion by High Voltage Software, published by TDK features the 4 singing busts from Disney's The Haunted Mansion. Ghosts are voiced by the Dapper Dans of Disneyland.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ "Definition of the Barbershop Style, from the Contest and Judging Handbook". Barbershop Harmony Society. 2002-07-11. http://www.barbershop.org/web/groups/public/documents/pages/pub_cb_00016.hcsp. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  2. ^ a b c Averill, Gage (2003). Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195116720. 
  3. ^ Muir, Lewis (music); Tracy, William (lyrics) (1910). Play That Barber Shop Chord. New York: J. Fred Helf. http://digital.library.msstate.edu/u?/SheetMusic,4874. 
  4. ^ Henry, James Earl (2005-10-26). "The historical roots of barbershop harmony". Barbershop Harmony Society. http://www.barbershop.org/web/groups/public/documents/pages/pub_cb_00167.hcsp. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  5. ^ "Take 6". Primarily A Cappella. http://www.singers.com/take6.html. 
  6. ^ Abbott, Lynn (1992). "Play That Barber Shop Chord: A Case for the African American Origin of Barbershop Harmony". American Music 10 (3): 289–325. doi:10.2307/3051597. 
  7. ^ Henry, James Earl (2000) (Ph. D diss.). The Origins of Barbershop Harmony: A Study of Barbershop's Links to Other African American Musics as Evidenced through Recordings and Arrangements of Early Black and White Quartets. Washington University. 
  8. ^ Cracker Jills (Sweet Adeline quartet)
  9. ^ Ambiance (Sweet Adeline quartet)
  10. ^ Mixed barbershop music
  11. ^ Blais, Patrick (2004-04-28). "Scrubbing out the high notes". The Stoneham Independent. Woburn Daily Times Inc.. http://www.stonehamindependent.com/archives/2004/04/28/3. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  12. ^ "Arrested Development". A Cappella News. November 29, 2003. http://www.acappellanews.com/archive/000167.html. Retrieved 8 September 2009. 

Further reading

External links








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