Once in a while, the librarians at CPL get a special treat, we get serenaded! My husband belongs to the Barbershop Harmony Society, and on special occasions like Valentines Day, his Barbershop Quartet will often stop by the library and sing.
Barbershop music is a uniquely American art form. While its songs can seem old fashioned and simplistic, the arrangements are actually quite technical and precise. While all Barbershop music is A Capella music, not all A Capella music is Barbershop music.
The defining characteristic of the barbershop style is the “ringing chord”. This is an acoustic effect achieved by blending specific notes. In Barbershop harmony, four singers combine their voices in such a way as to produce a “fifth voice”. This is also sometimes referred to as “expanded sound”.
How did the Barbershop style come about? In the late 19th century, barbershops often served as gathering places for men. What we now think of as barbershop quartets actually started with African American men socializing in barbershops; they would harmonize while waiting their turn, vocalizing all different types of songs. Later on, white minstrel singers adopted this new style of unaccompanied, four-part, close-harmony singing. It became quite popular, and in the early days of the recording industry their performances were recorded and sold.
There is now an organization devoted to preserving this truly American art form. The Barbershop Harmony Society (otherwise known as Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America), has hundreds chapters all over the US, encouraging most anyone with the desire to learn to sing Barbershop. In Connecticut alone there are 9 chapters: Danbury, Enfield, Hartford, Manchester, Meriden, New Haven, New London, Norwich, and Waterbury/Derby. Check out the Barbershop Harmony website if you are interested in learning more about Barbershop music.