Friends, Rivals, Creative ones - Lend Me Your Ears!

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the intriguing world of Barbershop. Remember how last post I mentioned not one but two things which had pushed me to stop stalling in the blogging world? One of those things was barbershop music. As I explored the genre this summer I kept thinking how I must share this with anyone still devoted enough to follow my blog after nearly ten months of absence.

  So, my dearly beloved followers, allow me to start by explaining to any of you who are clueless, as I was when I first heard the name, what Barbershop is.

 The name actually originated from the old tradition of Barbershops being the social gathering place in a town where men would catch each other up on the latest news, discuss politics and perhaps even try out a few melodies together. Barbershop music refers to the Barbershop Quartet, an a-Capella singing group usually all male. The style is characterized by consonant four part chords.The voices are the Lead, a tenor who usually sings the melody, the Tenor, who harmonizes above the melody, the Bass who sings the root of chord, or, in non-music-theory terms, the lowest notes, and the Baritone who harmonizes below the melody. The groups are compose either of four individual singers or a larger group of singers harmonizing in the same style much like a traditional choir, this is called a Barbershop "Chorus" rather than a "Quartet." Usually the songs sung are simple and elevate a-Capella harmonies, to quote the statement made by The Barbershop Harmony Society,
    "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."

  Confusing? Maybe a little unless you studied music. Suffice it to say the harmonies produced in barbershop are distinct from any other style of singing out there and the best way to realize that is by actually listening to it. So, for demonstration purposes, allow me to present the Quartet, "Instant Classic," winners of the 2015 national Barbershop championship, singing a mushy love song very beautifully!
       Notice how the bass often holds out the tonal note below while the other singers move above him. Also notice how each voice moves independently almost in a melody of it's own while keeping in perfect harmony. This style takes a lot of skill to pull off smoothly, and I listen in awe every time I hear these singers fly flawlessly over these fast paced songs and difficult notes, not to mention key changes and keeping perfect time, all without metronome or piano to keep them in line.
  Another thing I'd like to point out is the order in which the quartet stands. There isn't any hard and fast rule on this except that the Lead and Bass usually stand next to each other in the middle because the Bass is basically the metronome and helps keep the Lead, and by extension the other two, on time, the Tenor and the Baritone are free to stand on which ever end the Quartet deems best. In this case, however, and it seems to be the most common arrangement, the order from left to right is Baritone, Bass, Lead, Tenor. I've seen it flipped, as in from right to left, but the order still remains arranged the same.
  With all this mind boggling information ricocheting around inside your brain right now, allow me to introduce you to another of my favorite arrangement from this genre, "I Got Rhythm," sung by 2016 Champion quartet, "Forefront."

     Notice how the Bass and Baritone switch places when the Bass takes the solo so that the harmony stays unified. One has also got to admire the Bass and Tenor for their tremendous lung power in holding those single notes out for a preposterously long section of time.
   So, now that you have had a taste of a couple classic barbershop pieces, allow me to share with you one very funny example of what happens when a Barbershop Quartet turns comedian. A good friend of mine introduced this one to me recently and I couldn't stop laughing through the entire seven minutes of it's duration. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you will, Lunch Break now sings "Old McDonald's Deformed Farm."
So yes, Barbershop is not only difficult, complex and witty, it can also be funny.

 Once you have recovered from your laughing fit, perhaps you should try seeing something that is a delight to the eyes as well as to the ears. Barbershop chorus's tend to add complexity to their performances by adding movement and some simple dancing into their numbers... for an example of this, my favorite is "Top of The World" sung by Ambassadors of Harmony. Remember that this is all a-Capella and the ones dancing are singing just as loud as those not.
The choreography is very smooth as well as entertaining, not to mention revealing how much fun the singers seem to be having. Chorus's like these make some modern singing groups look rather lousy, what with their precision in singing while having to keep track of the moves throughout this entire number.

 Finally, however, my forbearing readers, this post would not be complete without showing you the utter beauty of this genre. If you are at all like me, be prepared to cray, and no matter what you are like be assured that you will be moved by Instant Classic's "How Could I Ever Know."

  Thank-you  for joining me on this tour through Barbershop....I hope you all were as taken as I was by this fascinating genre, and if you were already in love with it, I hope my tour was able to remind you why you love it so much.

   It was lovely of you to stop by and I hope you will join me tomorrow as we embark on my annual tradition of the twelve songs of Christmas.

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