Today is an auspicious day in the calendar, as we’re to honour the original boy band concept – the barbershop quartet. Turns out it has nothing to do with having your hair cut. Scandal.
Today, April 11, is Barbershop Quartet Day, and it’s probably a safe bet you didn’t even know that was a thing. But you know about boy bands, right? Well, Barbershop Quartets were the original boy bands – but they have a great deal more to offer. Four singers, usually but not exclusively men, singing a cappella and in complicated harmonies: it takes talent and lots of hard work.
We asked Sydney barbershopper Tony Sykes to explain the appeal of this music. Tony has competed at the Barbershop Harmony Society International Contest in North America, as well as contests across Australasia. He was the tenor of the 2003 Australian champion quartet Freefall and currently sings baritone in the mixed barbershop quartet Alter Ego. He’s also Tenor Section Leader of Sydney Harmony.
“Distinct from other styles of a cappella and choral music, barbershop’s unique combination of voicing and specific homophonic chord structure allows the singers to tune chords and helps generate overtones – creating what is known as “expanded sound”. This is how sometimes a barbershop quartet can sound like there are five, six or even more voices singing at the same time. It’s a wonderful thing to hear but to be part of that foursome – it’s an amazing and indescribable feeling!
As much as barbershoppers enjoy performing to audiences, you’ll find most just as happy singing with three other guys in a corner of a room or in a corridor, “locking and ringing” a handful of chords over and over again for the sheer joy of it. Barbershop harmony is addictive, but this is an addiction to cheerfully embrace.”
Tony recommends listening to American BQ Signature, Sweden’s Ringmasters, New Zealand’s Musical Island Boys, and Australia’s Blindside – the current Australian champions.
To get you started, here’s the Etta James hit At Last getting the barbershop treatment from Signature. Encompassing soul and R’n’B, this American barbershop quartet is leading the genre into the future while keeping authentic links to the past.
Now try Blackbird, The Beatles’ ballad, performed by Ringmasters:
And don’t forget the Be Sharps. Even The Simpsons has its own barbershop quartet:
Happy Barbershop Quartet Day and wishing you all a Sweet Adeline, sweeeeeet Aaaaadeliiiiiiiiine!