Barbershop Music: 4-part Harmony & So Much More...Barbershop is a style of 4-part vocal harmony music that has been around for over a century.
It was first organized in predominantly black barbershops in America and was later organized by OC Cash early in the 20th Century.
Cash's meetings would later form the foundation for the current male a capella (unaccompanied) Society for the Preservation and Encouragement and Preservation of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA, recently renamed the Barbershop Harmony Society).
This men's-only society has nearly 34,000 dues-paying members throughout North America.
Most barbershop songs, be they "Down Our Way", "My Wild Irish Rose", "Sweet and Lovely", or "Let Me Call you Sweetheart" are written with predominant chords, with each being formed by one of the four sung parts, tenor (highest, harmony part), lead (second highest, melody part), baritone (second lowest, harmony part) and bass (lowest, melody part).
Critical to any performance of harmony music is the correct pitch placement of all four parts, otherwise, the predominant "ringing" tonal buzz and lift created by such sounds is often not fully realized.
Many barbershop organizations, including the two women's-only barbershop organizations, Harmony Incorporated and Sweet Adelines International, also form large groups of barbershop singers, known as choruses, singing 4-part harmony songs en-masse.
Out of each organized chorus usually comes many quartets, though many quartets often form spontaneously and independently of such groups.
In each organization, individual districts, or areas, offer competitions to allow both choruses and quartets to see how well they can sing two or more songs under different conditions. The idea is to encourage overall quality of effective performance, not engender side-by-side comparisons.
Those who win district competitions earn the opportunity to represent their district at a larger, international level. In the Barbershop Harmony Society (on-line at www.barbershop.org), the next International Competition will be held in its new Headquarters city of Nashville, Tennesee in July, 2008.
(ED. NOTE: Since then, several competitions have been held in different cities across North America. Philadelphia, PA is scheduled for 2011, and in 2012, I believe it will be held in Canada, in Toronto, Ontario.)
28 choruses will compete for the global men's barbershop harmony title, with representatives from the US, Europe, Australia, and Canada attending.
Singing organized barbershop music often goes beyond mere competitions.
Many chorus groups raise funds for charity and donate heavily to the community, as in the case of Harmonize for Speech throughout Ontario, raising funds for speech therapy and Aphasia-related programs.
Those who sing barbershop often praise the lightness of sound, the relative ease of learning songs, and the camaraderie and sense of family being in such organizations. Many individuals have been singing in these organizations for as many as 50 or 60 years, making it possible to sing and participate in such organizations from youth until old age.