A Brief History
Around the turn of the last century in the United States, the local town barber’s shop was often a central place for guys to hang out and wait for a shave or a haircut. With little other forms of musical entertainment – no radio or i-pods in those days – they’d often sing for their own amusement and some would join in harmony. The style evolved over time and a number of quartets emerged and became part of the music hall scene and Vaudeville.
It wasn’t until 1938 when a chap called O C Cash met with some friends and set up an organisation of like-minded singers, and so the ‘Society for the Preservation & Encouragement of Barbershop Singers in America‘ was born. (How they loved long titles back then!) The society has grown in popularity since, although now called ‘The Barbershop Harmony Society‘ it has around 25,000 members and can be found here
In 1945 the Sweet Adeline organisation was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their membership has grown internationally, with now 23,000 women singing barbershop music around the world. More information can be found here
In 1974, an organisation formed in the UK called the British Association of Barbershop Singers. Now affiliated to the Barbershop Harmony Society, they have 60 choruses and many quartets throughout the UK. More information can be found here
It wasn’t long before the women wanted to enjoy singing in this exciting engaging style too, and in 1976 the Ladies’ Association British Barbershop Singers was formed. Now with 50 clubs around the country, the Association has around 2000 members nationwide and can be found here
The musical style is traditionally unaccompanied or ‘a cappella’ and in 4 part harmony. The melody or ‘lead’ part is dominant as the 2nd voicing with a harmony predominantly above known as the ‘tenor’. The ‘bass’ line provides a foundation and the ‘baritone’ part completes the overall sound, interweaving harmony between the other 3 parts.
Music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies whose tones clearly define a tonal centre and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard metre.
Singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords in just intonation while remaining true to the established tonal centre. Artistic singing in the Barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble.
Presentation of barbershop style uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. Delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement.