There are several views of how, where and when Barbershop singing started.
Click HERE to read about a number of interpretations.
There is a 12 minute video that gives a good overview of what Barbershop singing is all about; it provides a few samples of quartet singing as well as choral singing. To view this video click on the image on the right. Please do note that since the video was made the US umbrella organisation SPEBSQSA has been renamed to Barbershop Harmony Society
Here is another video you may want to look at
Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied harmony singing. It falls within the general category of “acappella” singing, from the Latin meaning “in the chapel style”, which simply means using voices to create both the tune and the accompaniment.
Barbershop is always sung by single voice groups – either all male or all female – and the singing is in four parts, named after the male voices who traditionally sing them. These names are used even in women’s choruses. The parts are:
Lead – sings the melody
Bass – sings the lowest notes, providing harmony below the lead
Tenor – sings high descant-like notes, providing harmony above the lead
Baritone – sings extra notes in the chord, either above or below the lead, which helps give barbershop its special quality.
The diagram below shows an overview of the typical voice range of the four parts in a men’s quartet or chorus.
Barbershop is typified by very close harmony, and the interval between the highest and lowest notes is generally less than two octaves. Vowel-sound matching and vocal blending are used to make chords “lock and ring”, creating extra harmonics which help make the style so exciting. Barbershop also uses such features as echoes, key-changes, and swipes and scoops, often borrowing from jazz and blues music. And unlike most conventional choirs, barbershop typically incorporates visual elements, with choreography designed to add to the entertainment.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BARBERSHOP
Here is an interesting brief video about barbershop singing history (click on the Image)
Scholars believe that the roots of barbershop singing lie in the informal music-making of Shakespearian England in the 16th and 17th centuries. This music, often harmonised in four parts, was brought to America by the early settlers, where it gradually combined with some aspects of African-American music in the southern states.
By the late 1800s, the barbershop style as we would recognise it today had begun to take form in the USA. As the name implies, it seems to have started in barbershops, while people were waiting their turn for a haircut or shave. The barbershop soon became the place to hang out, and once the barbershop had shut for the day, young men continued singing in the streets – hence the alternative names of “kerbstone” or “lamp-post” singing – or moved into the pool halls and saloons. By the early 1900s, barbershop had become immensely popular, and no minstrel or music-hall show was complete without a Barbershop Quartet.
The influence of barbershop music on other forms of popular music has been profound. Frank Sinatra sang in a barbershop quartet before he became famous as a solo singer. The vocal quartets of bands such as those of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller were also greatly influenced by the barbershop style. In the second half of the 20th century, close harmony was the hallmark of pop groups such as the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons.
In 1938 the Society for the Preservation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States (SPEBSQSA) was formed. This has since evolved into a worldwide network of men’s and women’s clubs for quartet and chorus singing and competing. Capital Chorus is affiliated to the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS), which provides access to the professional voice coaches and training that are required to maintain the group’s high quality of singing. Total national membership of BABS is around 3,000 and the number of members has been growing steadily in recent years.
Performance ability is judged each year at a national competition – a highlight of the Barbershoppers’ year! Capital Chorus won the award for best small chorus in 2007. In 2009 we won the Award for the most improved Chorus. You can visit the website of the national barbershop organisation BABS by clicking here.