Senior Project Research Paper Rachel McFarland 2011-2012
McFarland 1Rachel McFarlandMrs. Corbett7th Period AP Lit11-18-11 The History of Barbershop Singing The barbershop style of music is a unique genre when in comparison to other types.According to Gage Averill, a barbershop quartet is “an a cappella vocal group comprising oftenor, lead, baritone, and bass voices, which performs in a style featuring a flexible tempo, apreponderance of dominant seventh chords, ringing harmonics, characteristic arranging devicesand a focus on the popular songs of an earlier period in North American history” (Gage 8).Throughout the ages, barbershop music has been shaped and perfected into existence from theearliest styles of music to the early African American slaves and has been preserved through thehelp of several organizations for both men and women. Four different voice parts blend together to form a barbershop quartet. In barbershopsinging, any song can be sung by the quartet as long as they can harmonize to it. The melody in asong is sung by the second tenor, or lead. The lead is the most important part; he holds the entirequartet together by giving a base melody to every tune. The highest voice part in the quartet isthe first tenor. The first tenor sings constantly above the lead and needs to have a high range tobe able to sing comfortably. Opposite the first tenor is the bass, the lowest part in the quartet.The bass must have a low range to add more depth and resonance to the group. Although all ofthe voices are important, one of the most vital parts of the foursome is the baritone. Baritoneshave the most challenging harmonies of the group, weaving in between the tunes of the otherparts. Because the harmonies are so tight, the baritone is barely heard within the four parts until
McFarland 2he makes a mistake, making himself stand out from the others. Although one voice part maysound more important than another, each part is necessary to the composition of a barbershopquartet. The challenge of the quartet is to always blend and smooth out the parts to makes theclose harmonies sound pleasant to the ear. Although barbershop music is commonly thought of in relationship with the late 19th andearly 20th Centuries, its earliest origins, and music in general, are set in the 11th Century ofchanting in unison and octaves and in the introduction of the perfect fifth in the Gregorian era.Even more harmonic opportunities were developed as early as the 14th Century with churchmusicians introducing major and minor triads. However, the seventh chord, made up of the first,third, fifth, and seventh positions in a scale, was discovered by classical composers in the 16thand 17th Centuries and ended up causing the greatest impact on the barbershop style. Barbershopharmony bases itself off of the “vernacular close harmony traditions of the early 19th Century”(Gage 8). The seventh chord allowed for the greatest harmonic variance and became thetrademark sound for the style of music. Another major influence to barbershop music is by African American musicians. Afterdeveloping in Elizabethan England, the musical style made the jump to America during the1700s, though it reached its height in popularity during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.African Americans enjoyed singing in quartets while working as slaves in the south; the quartetssang “the weird, organically blended harmonies that first distinguished the group-singing ofplantation slavery” (Abbott 144). Over the years, this unique sound became popular inbarbershops owned by blacks. The barbershops were good places to social and rehearse andperform music, leading to the title of “barbershop harmony.” For quite some time, finding “awhite barber was unknown in the South.” (Abbott 144). However, quartets soon became popular
McFarland 3throughout America, causing a rise in participation in harmonizing by the male population andwhite men began joining in on the singing as well. Barbershop singing finally “reached its zenithin America in the ‘60s and ‘70s, after the phenomenal success of the musical and 1962 film TheMusic Man” (Nash). However, after it peaked, barbershop slowly began its route to extinctionthroughout the United States, kept alive only through the efforts of numerous preservationsocieties. Barbershop has been kept alive through the ages most obviously by the efforts ofSPEBSQSA, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop QuartetSinging in America and also referred to as the Barbershop Preservation Society or theBarbershop Harmony Society. The organization was founded by Owen Clifton Cash and RupertI. Hall alongside 24 other men; the initial meeting on April 11 in 1938 expanded three weekslater to a meeting of over 100 members, and spread to Oklahoma, Kansas City, St. Louis, andfour other cities in July of the same year. The next year, a “national convention” was held atTulsa Central High School for 150 delegates nationwide to compete in their quartets and showoff their talents. The Society moved their headquarters to Kenosha, Wisconsin before relocatingto Nashville, Tennessee in 2007. Each year, the group holds a convention along with a number ofcontests; in addition, it publishes a bimonthly magazine, The Harmonizer, to spread the word tothe nation about its purpose. The organization continues to promote barbershop singing; overforty thousand members nationwide are provided with musical arrangements of modern andclassic songs, vocal training, and advice on choral and quartet organization. The BarbershopPreservation Society is also in coalition with MENC, the National Standards for MusicEducation. In 1971, MENC approved a barbershop quartet category in its competitive festivals,causing it to gain partnership with the society while allowing music teachers to gain “excellent
McFarland 4vocal production and ensemble techniques, ear training, presentation methods, increased maleparticipation, and a path to meet some of the National Standards for Music Education” (Fehr). Alongside the Barbershop Harmony Society, a similar organization was created forwomen’s involvement with barbershop music. Sweet Adelines, now known as Sweet AdelinesInternational, was also founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 13, 1945. The assembly hasmembers on five continents, composing over 1200 quartets and 600 choruses. Their purpose is to“[advance] the musical art form of barbershop harmony through education and performance…[and] to support both the common repertoire and public singing goals”. (SingAmerica!’sHarmonizers 20). Like the Barbershop Preservation Society, Sweet Adelines hold an annualconvention and several contests throughout the year, publishes a magazine every quartet calledThe Pitch Pipe, and “supports the Young Singers Foundation, which offers scholarships forvocal music students and a variety of grants” (Barbershop Quartet Singing). Because of racialdiscrimination and over other political matters, a separate women’s organization, Harmony, Inc.,split from Sweet Adelines in 1959; it centers in Fredericton, N.B., Canada and each yearpublishes a new volume of its magazine, The Key-Note. These organizations may be their ownentities, but their goals are the same: preserve barbershop singing in America for generations. Barbershop style music has been found to be a helpful tool in teaching music. Because ofits strong core sound, teachers use the music to demonstrate to students “the relationship betweenmelody, harmony, and chord formation” (DeGroot). Each vocal part presents a different aspectof music theory to students, with the lead singing the harmony, the tenor harmonizing above themelody, the bass mostly singing the root or the fifth, and the baritone completing the chordswherever necessary. Barbershop can also be used to communicate a unique style of music tostudents just discovering the world of music, allowing them to understand “the unique full or
McFarland 5‘expanded’ sound that is characteristic of barbershop harmony” (DeGroot). Based on the basis ofchords in this particular musical style, adolescent boys particularly enjoy barbershop becausethey have the ability to comfortably sing one of the voice parts no matter what stage of vocalchange they are in. The music can also act as a “really fun confidence-builder” to the young boyswho may feel awkward at such an age; it allows them the chance to sing without stressing aboutsounding perfect and also attracts them into the world of quartet singing (DeGroot). Barbershop music can be taught through a number of techniques, and although thetraditional number of singers is a quartet, the number of people on each voice part is unlimited.One technique for warming up and getting into the mood to sing is to utilize a tag or a coda. Atag can be defined as “a short, freely composed bit of music, usually four to eight measures,found at the end of an arrangement” (DeGroot). Using these tags, teachers can warm up theirstudents while also introducing them to barbershop music. Educators are encouraged toincorporate barbershop music into their warm ups to give students practice with sight-readingand mini-performances and, most importantly, to introduce them to barbershop and to help keepthe style alive. Over the centuries, humanity has given rise to countless different musical styles. One ofthe most unique yet, barbershop singing, had a short existence as a popular style; however, it stillsurvives in the voices of America. Barbershop quartets allow any voice type of any gender toparticipate in the joy of singing and, throughout the years, have developed within America tobecome an extraordinary musical style that any person can enjoy. Works Cited
McFarland 6Abbott, Lynn. “’Play That Barber Shop Chord’: A Case for the African-American Origin of Barbershop Harmony.” Wilson Quarterly Fall 1992: 144. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <http://bit.ly/u7uPLm>.Averill, Gage. “Barbershop Quartet.” Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 2. 2003. 8-10. Galileo. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://bit.ly/p2DC4o>.“Barbershop Quartet Singing.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/52893/barbershop- quartet-singing>.DeGroot, Joanna. “The Educational Appeal of Barbershop Music.” Teaching Music Jan. 2009: 53-55. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <http://bit.ly/tlzPnJ>.Everett, Dianna. “SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America).” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/ encyclopedia/entries/S/SP007.html>.Fehr, Rosalind C. “Barbershop Society Is a Hermonious Partner.” Teaching Music Apr. 2005: 19. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <http://bit.ly/uA9qgY>.Frank, Stanley. “You Take the High Note.” Saturday Evening Post 19 Aug. 1944: 14, 15, 36. Galileo. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://bit.ly/nr9OuW>.Nash, Alanna. “Barbershop: In Perfect Harmony.” EBSCOhost. Galileo, Sept.-Oct. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://bit.ly/nr9OuW>.“SingAmerica!’s Harmonizers.” Teaching Music Aug. 1997: 20. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. <http://bit.ly/rSkawy>.
McFarland 7Woodall, M. Thomas. “Barbershop Quartets.” Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. Ed. Gary S. Cross. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004. 63-66. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. <http://bit.ly/uQ1Rj7>.