News

Monthly Column – August

HAVING YOUR HAIR CUT? FEEL LIKE SINGING? SILLY QUESTION?

Seriously, that’s what the young men did in America in the early 20th Century!

We are jolly lucky to have inherited their joy in singing.

That joy of singing without background music was called “barbershop” and it still is to this day.

Who started it?

Lynn Abbott, a jazz archivist at Tulane University, was an expert on early African-American popular music and gospel quartets. He discovered overwhelming evidence that barbershop was very important in African-American culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Singing without instrumental backing, known as “a Capella” is what it’s all about. Many of those who enjoyed it went on to become the pioneers of jazz.

The Basics

Barbershop harmony is believed to be one of the few uniquely American-born musical styles, alongside jazz. The simplest definition of barbershop centres around:

  • relatively simple melodies
  • in four-part harmony
  • without instruments (a cappella)
  • with the melody carried in the second-highest voice part (barbershop “lead”), a high tenor harmonizing above that, a bass singer singing fundamental harmonies (mainly roots and fifths), and a baritone filling in above and below the melody

There are benchmarks around the “barbershop seventh” chord and other common chord progressions. Within that definition lies a range of music under the “barbershop umbrella”: contest music, show music, “barberpop,” gospel, religious, and patriotic music. Too complicated?

Let’s simplify it

Most people are used to singing being Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass whether in a church hymn, chorus arrangement for theatre, Musicals etc. In barbershop, the melody is usually sung in the second-highest voice part, which we call the “lead.” A high tenor (often a falsetto voice) sings simple harmonies above that melody. The lowest voice, the bass, sings the simpler low harmonies, and a baritone fills in the tricky stuff above and below the melody. There is room for everyone!

Is this all there is to “a cappella”?

As we said, “a cappella” is singing without backing music. Thanks to movies like Pitch Perfect, a cappella singing is known more today than in the past several decades. Broadly speaking, a cappella means “without instruments, voices only.” Barbershop might be considered a part of that description, which would also include some choral singing, some doo-wop and gospel, and widely known modern a cappella groups like Pentatonix.

Is Barbershop for everyone ?

The “person on the street” conception of barbershop is usually a men’s quartet. In the real world today, barbershop singing is for all people – men, women, and kids – in choruses, quartets and mixed groups.

In every combination, people find fun and enjoyment making music together. Why don’t you give it a try?

Lyn Baines sings bass with Spangles Ladies’ Harmony Chorus, based in Los Alcázares, Murcia. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email her at: info@spangleschorus.com

Lyn Baines
Author: Lyn Baines

Chorus founder and manager, bass section leader.

We use cookies to personalise content to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. View more
Cookies settings
Accept
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active

Who we are

We are a non-profit ladies’ harmony chorus. Our website address is: https://spangleschorus.com

What personal data we collect and why we collect it

Comments

When visitors leave comments on the site we collect the data shown in the comments form, and also the visitor’s IP address and browser user agent string to help spam detection. An anonymized string created from your email address (also called a hash) may be provided to the Gravatar service to see if you are using it. The Gravatar service privacy policy is available here: https://automattic.com/privacy/. After approval of your comment, your profile picture is visible to the public in the context of your comment.

Media

If you upload images to the website, you should avoid uploading images with embedded location data (EXIF GPS) included. Visitors to the website can download and extract any location data from images on the website.

Contact forms

Cookies

If you leave a comment on our site you may opt-in to saving your name, email address and website in cookies. These are for your convenience so that you do not have to fill in your details again when you leave another comment. These cookies will last for one year. If you have an account and you log in to this site, we will set a temporary cookie to determine if your browser accepts cookies. This cookie contains no personal data and is discarded when you close your browser. When you log in, we will also set up several cookies to save your login information and your screen display choices. Login cookies last for two days, and screen options cookies last for a year. If you select "Remember Me", your login will persist for two weeks. If you log out of your account, the login cookies will be removed. If you edit or publish an article, an additional cookie will be saved in your browser. This cookie includes no personal data and simply indicates the post ID of the article you just edited. It expires after 1 day.

Embedded content from other websites

Articles on this site may include embedded content (e.g. videos, images, articles, etc.). Embedded content from other websites behaves in the exact same way as if the visitor has visited the other website. These websites may collect data about you, use cookies, embed additional third-party tracking, and monitor your interaction with that embedded content, including tracing your interaction with the embedded content if you have an account and are logged in to that website.

Analytics

Who we share your data with

Data uploaded to this website is not shared with third parties.

How long we retain your data

If you leave a comment, the comment and its metadata are retained indefinitely. This is so we can recognize and approve any follow-up comments automatically instead of holding them in a moderation queue. For users that register on our website (if any), we also store the personal information they provide in their user profile. All users can see, edit, or delete their personal information at any time (except they cannot change their username). Website administrators can also see and edit that information.

What rights you have over your data

If you have an account on this site, or have left comments, you can request to receive an exported file of the personal data we hold about you, including any data you have provided to us. You can also request that we erase any personal data we hold about you. This does not include any data we are obliged to keep for administrative, legal, or security purposes.

Where we send your data

Visitor comments may be checked through an automated spam detection service.

Your contact information

is not distributed to third parties.
Save settings