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Author Topic: Love that Old Barbershop Style  (Read 2281 times)

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Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Love that Old Barbershop Style
« on: March 20, 2012, 03:12:18 AM »
.. intro / precursor to ramblings ..

Shall I begin with a sort of AA vibe?

Hello, my name is 'Nita, and I sing barbershop music.

Replace the embarassment and meloncholy with pride and a suffusion of sheer joy, and there you have it.

I suppose I should give a summary of my group and myself so readers can better appreciate what, exactly, I deal with.

I sing in a small barbershop chorus in my home town.  Our numbers generally range between 15-20.  Our ages range from 8 to 87.  I suppose the group is predominately Catholic, though there are other denominations of Christianity present.  Add one Wiccan and one agnostic.  Politically, it's a pretty even mix of democratic and republican.

On a more personal level, I am married with two lovely children.  I work full-time.  Within the group I wear quite a few "hats".  I am President of our chapter, choreographer, assistant director, tag master.. well, you get the idea.  As of late, I've taken on show committee chairperson for our annual Spring show.  I also started my first competing quartet and, due to the ailing health of our other members, was drafted into two pick up quartets to sing in the aforementioned Spring show.

And hopefully, from this point forward, things will be more clear as I ramble on!

.. what is barbershop? ..

In simplest terms, barbershop music is four-part a capella (no instruments) in close harmony.  From there, it gets a bit technical.  Barbershop relies heavily on dominant and secondary seventh chords - so heavily, that a barbershop song is identified by having at least 33% seventh chords.  At this point, doubtless someone will point to wiki and say "Noooo, this says 35%!"  And I would have to return with a cheery "Fuck off" :) Going by current judging standards as decided by the Barbershop Harmony Society, I'm right.  So there.

Barbershop was popular in the late 19th, early 20th century.  I'm sure everyone could guess where it was born.  In a time where the music industry thrived on sheet music sales, upbeat and easy-to-learn tunes were popular.  They were also easy to harmonize with, and thus a musical tradition was made.

If video killed the radio star, then radio killed barbershop.  Once recordings were possible and jazz swept the nation, one of America's original art forms quickly became obsolete.  In 1938, two men from Tulsa, OK spearheaded an effort to revive barbershop.  They gathered on a rooftop with a few friends and diehard a capella enthusiasts, and began singing.  It's been said that people stopped on the streets to listen.  Thousands of men responded across the country to this movement.  Later that year, The Society was founded.

The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America - or, S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A - is actually a very clever name for that time period.  A sort of lampoon on Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the many agencies known widely by their initials.  It was quickly shortened to Barbershop Harmony Society, as it is now known today worldwide.  For legal reasons, however, the long-winded and official name remains.

In 1945, housewives tired of sitting at home while their men sang formed Sweet Adelines (now Sweet Adelines International).  In 1954, five chapters broke away from Sweet Adelines in a dispute over a "caucasion only" policy to form Harmony, Inc.  Sweet Adelines is inclusive, while Harmony, Inc. affiliates with Barbershop Harmony Society and many barbershop groups overseas.  This basically concerns judging; Sweet Adeline judges are trained differently and score on a different system than the other large groups.

I'm a biased member of Harmony, Inc. ;)

That concludes your brief history lesson and my first blog!  What follows is a list of resources and a video, so enjoy.

Harmony, Inc.
Sweet Adeline, International
Barbershop Harmony Society
All sites have locators that will point you to a group in your area!

 Bohemian Rhapsody A Cappella




« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 03:18:20 AM by Brazen Endeavors »

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2012, 12:23:14 AM »
.. woes of a barbershop singer ..

The piece above is so much fun!  Unfortunately, it was published through Sweet Adelines and is only available to their members.  But I've got their number - I located the email address of the arranger and she is quite willing to sell directly.  The arranger's fee will probably be lower, too.  Take that!

In all seriousness, being so active requires herculean efforts in activity and dedication.  Some weeks I invest as many hours into my group as I do in my job, with far less perks.  Time spent learning and perfecting music, choreographing songs, rehearsals. . . That might be expected.  Add to it planning fundraisers (we are non-profit), campaigns to increase membership, networking with our local Chamber of Commerce, and more.

And then, a scenario I have been dreading has finally come to pass.  These past few years have already been tumultuous.  A number of our members are older, having problems with their health or that of their spouses.  Our group leader in the baritone section had an anuerism two years ago and had to resign.  Our director has a paralyzed vocal chord and is now incapable of singing.  She spent this past week in the hospital for other health issues.

I was surprised at how very calm I sounded when I was told.  How easily I said, "I'll be directing Monday.  We still need to practice."  To this point, I had only been in charge of warm-ups, and now, quite suddenly, I was faced with the daunting task of planning and executing an entire practice.

Thankfully, Monday passed by without a hitch.  Despite certain issues of pain and sleep-deprivation on my part, I tackled my first time as "director" with all the youthful vigor I still have in possession.  The results were incredible.  Everyone responded so openly to my own enthusiasm, and they performed better than I've seen in the past year.

There are reasons and criticisms, of course.  With her impaired vocals, our director usually plays parts on a keyboard.  However, it's been a crutch as of late, and she has remained there almost exclusively,  Her efforts are usually focused on the leads (mostly because the other parts have talented individuals who can learn their music themselves). She has also been very lax about people usingtheir music, which means they spend very little time trying to memorize a piece.  Unfortunately, this has fostered a rather unhealthy dependence on two aids they shouldn't need.

On Monday, I allowed them neither.  There was no keyboard, there was no music.  Chords were tuned by ear, parts were drilled into their skulls.  It was hard work; I could see the moments of frustration on their faces.  In the end, however, everyone left feeling distinctly more confident.  One member even called me today to express her thanks.

There is a more fundemental difference.  You see, I was never formally trained in music.  Honestly, I can hardly peck out notes on a piano.  To compensate, I have developed a very keen ear for music and, since theory sometimes goes over my head, I train myself tonally.  Our director was formally trained and to this day offers vocal and piano lessons.  She's admitted that she "always has to play it" before she can sing it.  To put it plainly, my methods simply work better for a capella groups.

My biggest woe is this:  For quite some time - and especially now - many members have been pushing for me to step in as director.  But our group was founded over twenty years ago, by our current director.  I can only guess as to how very painful it must be to lose your ability to sing when it has been central to your life (though if I don't cut back on smoking, I will probably discover this sooner than I think).  My guilt would be insurmountable if she was coerced into retiring.  The threat is very real, as someone mentioned approaching her husband to convince her to take time out for her health.

I remain ambiguous on the situation, beyond insisting we let her continue on as long as she desires.  I know I would hate for my passions to be ripped away.

This is depressing.  We need something to lighten the mood.





 FRED - I Got Rhythm

Offline Drakan

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 01:35:13 AM »
If I may ask what genre of music does your barbershop choir normally sing?

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2012, 02:21:16 AM »
Ahh, genres within genres!

Really, the appeal of barbershop is that so many songs can be arranged to fit the style.  I mean, really?  Bohemia Rhapsody?

That said, we sing a very wide variety.  Ballads, pop, rock, gospel, musicals, folk..  well, I'm sure you get the gist.

Our focus this season is for our show, Steamin' Down the River.  A reference to the steam boats of the south, of course.  Given the region, many songs have a jazz flavor to them. 

Thank you for the question, and your interest. I appreciate it!

Offline TheDreadPirateRoberts

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2012, 01:49:14 PM »
That is awesome that you do Barbershop! I have always loved listening to a Capella music and would love to give it a try one of these days! Hope things work out for the best in your group.

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2012, 02:07:15 PM »
Thanks!  You can always check out the Barbershop Harmony Society's website and see if there is a chorus in your area.

Offline TheDreadPirateRoberts

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2012, 02:54:52 PM »
Thanks!  You can always check out the Barbershop Harmony Society's website and see if there is a chorus in your area.

I probably will once I actually have some time I could spare for it.

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2012, 10:04:45 PM »
>.> Make time!  It keeps you sane.

So, I had a dream today where I met Dick van Dyke.  He was with the Vantasticks.  Well..  I'll write more on that later.

Psyched, though.  We had a coach come Monday and work with the chorus.  He about creamed himself when he heard one of my quartets and jumped at the opportunity to coach us further.  He said I had an unbelievably commanding stage presence.  So we will meet with him the next two Sundays and really whip our contest quartet into shape!

And that's all for now.

Offline Ember Star

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2012, 01:28:30 PM »
Wow! I just learned so much I didn't know! I'm a little lacking in music history except for the music of the late 50s through the earlier 70s. You know, hippie stuff. Lol. But I've always had a love for music of all kinds and simply adore singing and dancing (in private) even though I think my singing voice is awful and my dancing skills are less than good. At least I have fun with it.

Offline DemonLord FuriousPyro

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2012, 01:34:45 AM »
Hey :O hey! Hey! I-I know yous guys! Lol! Sorry Nita hope all turns out well for you and your group :)

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2012, 02:22:32 AM »
Can I freak out yet?

I spoke a bit about our director's health problems.  Well.. it seems we can't escape a very vicious cycle.

Following our director's release from the hospital, one of our leads was admitted.  She had blood clots in her lungs.  She's my age, too, which just makes me realize my own mortality.

Last night, our matriarch - our very dear, very sweet 88 year old "Trixie" was admitted to ICU after suffering a major stroke.  She is paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak.  They have not managed to lower her blood pressure yet.

"Trixie" is an inside joke, a nickname for our lady.  She is so full of fun and life that we gave her a pole dancing alter ego.  She was scheduled to debut in her first quartet with me in three weeks time.  We even named the quartet "Trixie and the Pips". 

My chorus could definitely use any positive thoughts and prayers anyone cares to direct our way.

Offline DemonLord FuriousPyro

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2012, 03:52:49 AM »
You definetly have mine hun. Life is fragile but I don't want you worrying about your lungs because someone your age is having issues with theirs. Age aside you two probably have totally different eating habits and life styles. Above all though keep positive thoughts :)

Offline Ember Star

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2012, 11:48:33 AM »
Wow. I certainly hope things don't turn out as bad as they seem. I'll be thinking good thoughts and passing the love down

Offline Sapphira

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2012, 09:52:30 AM »
So sorry to hear about the health problems hitting your quartet so bad. Sending positive energy and prayers your way for sure.

~ Sapphira

Offline TheDreadPirateRoberts

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2012, 10:36:42 PM »
Definitely sending positive thoughts and energies your way hun. I know you'll get through this ok. And hope your other members make speedy recoveries! I know what its like having people close being very ill as my Great Grandma has been very ill of late and just when it seemed getting better she came down with pneumonia and is back at the hospital:( 

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2012, 11:02:08 PM »
Thanks, everyone. I plan on visiting Trixie tomorrow, so I'll have a better idea of what's going on.

Roberts..  sorry to hear about your GG.  Prayers to your family.

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #16 on: April 06, 2012, 04:35:36 PM »
I feel as if this month is flying by.

For those interested:  I saw "Trixie" yesterday.  She was still in ICU and very tired, so I kept my visit short.  If I concentrated and she ennunciated, keping to short phrases, I could understand her fairly well.  I doubt her capacity to recover and rejoin us at her age, but the woman is a tough little bird, so I discount nothing. 

Tonight a very talented director and Music judge is coming in from Atlanta.  Our quartet gets some quality time with her, then we'll hit the hay and reconvene tomorrow at 9 A.M. with the rest of our chorus.  Aside from her talent, she's simply an amazing woman in so many ways.  I always enjoy the few times a year we can get together.

I'm sure everyone has their little niche where they can "geek out".  Get my husband around some of his buddies and its "WoW" this, "D&D" that.  My friend fits in this niche for me, and more than once we've gotten drunk while discussing music theory.

"So I was watching this one quartet, and their song choice provided about 30% barbershop chords." Note: Seventh chords are considered barbershop chords.

"Huh.  Isn't the minimum 35%?"

"It's 33%, but if you can stretch it..."

Yeah.  Might not make sense to the casual passerby, but that's the sort of thing we talk about.

Currently getting ready to completely pwn my music!

After this contest gets out of the way, I'll talk about more than myself.  Promise ;)

Offline Ginyuki Mondai

Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #17 on: April 13, 2012, 09:45:36 AM »
Wow... what an amazing little story to just stumble upon here. I'm new, and just came across your name... I love your writing style.
Now, beyond all my random spazz talk, I'd like to say that i wish you the best. I hope Trixie feels better, and I'm sure she will, she seems like a wonderful lady by how you talk about her.
I've always admired people that could reach that ultimate harmony that Barbershop singers can somehow do so effortlessly. You definitely deserve some kudos for being so talented. :)
Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors!

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #18 on: April 13, 2012, 11:31:10 AM »
Wow... what an amazing little story to just stumble upon here. I'm new, and just came across your name... I love your writing style.
Now, beyond all my random spazz talk, I'd like to say that i wish you the best. I hope Trixie feels better, and I'm sure she will, she seems like a wonderful lady by how you talk about her.
I've always admired people that could reach that ultimate harmony that Barbershop singers can somehow do so effortlessly. You definitely deserve some kudos for being so talented. :)
Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors!

Oh, hey, thanks!  I have a fiction story somewhere in the Non-adult section, too.

Always nice to hear some kudos ;D

I'm still praying for Trixie and her recovery.  She's still in the hospital for blood pressure management.  Once she's stable, she'll be transferred to rehab.

Good luck on your approval!

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #19 on: April 13, 2012, 09:13:15 PM »
I don't even have words right now to encompass the depth of my emotions..

Trixie just passed away...


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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #20 on: April 18, 2012, 02:51:49 AM »
..memories/old and in the making..

Annually, in April, I have traveled upstate to attend the Area Contest and Convention, or AC&C.  Like any other large group, we are divided into regions - or areas - with each chorus serving as an independent chapter.  Choruses and quartets that make a qualifying score may choose to advance to the International Contest and Convention held in November.

This time of year fills me with equal parts of dread and joy, along with a heaping helping of stress.  I'm glad when it arrives, I enjoy when I'm at contest, and I am so very relieved when its over.  Right now I'm full of jitters, knowing I'm one night of sleep away from leaving half of my family behind; even if it's just one weekend!

I remember two years ago quite well.  Our theme was "Return to Margaritaville".  The chorus had done admirably, placing second.  It was my first year doing choreography, and our presentation score was the highest it had ever been!  In a chorus with 20 years of history, I considered it quite the accomplishment.  And even if my dress was tight on stage - me being five months pregnant at the time - it was hardly noticeable, and I could almost breath. 

Our after party was fantastic.  The after-after party was better.  Even if I had to remain sober, I enjoyed everyone else getting progressively more drunk as we whiled the night away singing random tags and occasionally woodshopping a song (woodshop - to improvise barbershop style harmony).  We sing beneath a dome just off of the lobby, which really catches ringing fifths (another term -- when four parts lock a chord, it produces the sound of a fifth note).  This dome is at the foot of a grand marble staircase.  The effect is very beautiful.

Suddenly, a young couple stopped at the top of the stairs.  She was in a flattering, virgin white wedding dress.  He was a dashing figure in a tux.

They stared at us.

We stared at them.

Suddenly, someone shouted "Heart of my Heart!"  The pitch was blown, and some fifty of us burst into song, wooing this freshly married couple with a classic barbershop ballad.  We sang four love songs at their request before the wedding night hearkened. In someone's wedding album is a lovely picture of the couple standing in the middle of this staircase, surrounded by women in straw hats and Hawaiian shirts.

Last year things were distinctly different. 

I prepared for the trip as per usual and made arrangements to carpool.  I arrived on Thursday, attended the usual boring meeting, and afterwards sought out friends among other choruses.  At 9 PM, my husband called to tell me that his father - a terminal cancer patient - was unresponsive.  He was already at a Hospice house, thankfully, but they did not expect him to live through the night.

Now, trips cost money, and this one had been particularly pricey since I paid for my baby sister to accompany me.  My husband, at first, insisted that I stay since I had already paid for everything.  I insisted, more firmly, that the place I needed to be was home, for the benefit of both him and his father.  I told him I would rent a car to go home, if need be.

Luckily, a friend of our was available to drive my car the four hours north.  He arrived Friday morning, and I returned Friday afternoon.  Against all odds, Papa was still alive.

My husband had been Papa's caretaker during his two year battle.  He said plainly that he and his father had already had their talks and there was no reason for him to visit Papa when he was already 'gone'.  So, just after my arrival, I began to sit with Papa in shifts, tag-teaming my brother-in-law.

I cannot begin to say just how much the pair of us butted heads when it came to Papa's care.  My brother-in-law assumed that it was the amount of medication Papa was on that caused him to become unresponsive, and that if we weaned him off of it, Papa would miraculously awaken.  We're talking about a man that took 30 to 60mg oxycodones every three hours, with a 15mg chaser if it didn't take effect fast enough -- and still operated normally.  This was around the clock, too.  My husband had to administer it crushed, via g-tube, through the night.  Pain medicine did not effect this man very well. 

He was also still receiving nutrition via g-tube.  It took a LOT of fighting with my brother-in-law before he agreed to discontinue it. 

I feel it necessary to explain that I work with the elderly, work frequently beside hospice, and have witnessed end of life stages more times than I care to count.  It was obvious that Papa was at his end of life and ready to move on.  He also made it abundantly clear that he did not wish to linger in a vegetative state, which is why I was adamant that his nutrition supplements cease.  It was only prolonging a life he did not want.

In any case, that Sunday I planned to relieve my brother-in-law after lunch and stay with Papa through the night.  At about 1, he called to speak with me.

"I think I get it now," he said.  I was cautious, of course, but prompted him to continue.  He explained his feelings; that Papa knew the end was coming and didn't want to burden us, so he made the decision to enter a Hospice House; that he was ready to let Papa go join his wife.  I was supportive and agreed to everything, relieved that my brother-in-law had finally come to terms with it.  I told him I was leaving soon and hung up.

Five minutes later, he called again.  "Papa passed away while I was on the phone with you..."

Isn't it amazing how it works?  Papa held on three long days, just waiting for his son to be ready to let him go.  Call it divine intervention, or an example of indomitable human spirit.. either way, it moves me every time I think about it.

I called my sister, who remained at the convention to its end.  She informed me that we were disqualified.  Apparently, we needed 12 people in the chorus.  My leaving dropped our numbers to eleven.  Oh well. . . I was exactly where I needed to be.

This year brings another death of someone near and dear.  The loss of Trixie has affected my chorus, as a group, so very deeply.  Her funeral was Tuesday (as I write in the wee hours of Wednesday morning), on the anniversary of Papa's death.  Her mass started the very same hour, at 1 PM.  It has been a very rough day...

Still, I have things to look forward to. This year will be the last year my baby sister accompanies me to AC&C.  She's graduating soon, going off to college.  It's also the first for my 8 year old daughter, an avid barbershopper in the making.  It's a first for me, too -- my first time competing in a quartet.  All in all, I feel so very blessed for the friends I've made, the support we always give eachother, and the opportunities provided to make memories with family so very dear to my heart.

Thursday morning starts a very long, very exciting weekend.  Wish me luck.


This is how we roll at AC&C.  2010 - Return to Margaritaville.  Note the Hawaiian shirt pinned to mah belly; my little man was stylin' before he was born!

Offline Brazen EndeavorsTopic starter

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Re: Love that Old Barbershop Style
« Reply #21 on: April 30, 2012, 11:13:46 PM »
Ah.. been so busy since that trip.

In short:  My quartet, FLAVors, scored the novice award.  Three of our four were newbies - myself included.  We were satisfied with our scores; the judges marked us in areas we already knew were weak.  Not bad after only 4 months together.

Our chorus scored low, which we expected with all the craziness lately.

Our show on Saturday went well.  We're glad it's behind us and spent today redirecting our focus to this new fiscal year.

Learned tonight that another member of our chorus passed away.  This one was a surprise.  Following so soon on the heels of Trixie's passing, I think we're all pretty much floored. :/

And that's all for tonight.  Apparently, we still need positive thoughts.