Instant Classic, the new international quartet champions

On July 4, 2015, my four best friends in barbershop became the new international quartet champions, having won a fierce competition featuring over 50 qualifying quartets, among an organization including tens of thousands of singers.

It's been an absolute joy watching them over the years, as friends, singers, and role models. Their contributions to the Barbershop Harmony Society extend far past quartet singing. These fine gentlemen have also directed a local, internationally-ranked chorus; led youth harmony camps; arranged and recorded innovative, new music; judged competitions outside of their home district; and taught educational courses at Harmony University. Beating the odds was just the start of what will surely be a long, productive, and rewarding barbershop career--all while pursuing full-time careers of their own.

In the barbershop international contest, sometimes you have "winners" and sometimes you have "champions". The men of Instant Classic are true champions. Congratulations, David Zimmerman, Theo Hicks, Kohl Kitzmiller, and Kyle Kitzmiller. I wish you nothing but the best as you continue reinvigorating this hobby we love so much.

Into the Woods tags

In barbershop, there's a concept of a "tag" which is essentially a coda to a given song that restates the theme, often over a sustained note (known in the style as a "post"). It allows for some harmonic variation and clever chord progressions, and it's just plain fun to "chord worship", as you hold particular chords until they tune just right. In the social barbershop setting, tags provide an opportunity to capture the essence of a song in a few short minutes (of teaching and execution), allowing any four people to make some harmony without significant learning.

Recently, I penned my first tags, inspired by one of my favorite musicals (now a film), Into the Woods. I had some friends coming from out of town to see my barbershop concert, and it seemed like a novel way to combine the two.


Giants in the Sky

I also wrote a longer, more ambitious version, meant to capture the different motivations of the ensemble cast (while incorporating a post)...but I realized it was too ambitious for people unfamiliar with the form (and the need to learn several notes and words at once):

Barbershop has a long history of using movies from musicals as an inspiration (for example, this amazing rendition of 76 Trombones from The Music Man). Into the Woods is perhaps too difficult to use as source material given the often simple harmonic content of Sondheim's music, but tags still offer an opportunity to capture the ideas in a snippet and experience the nostalgia of a favorite song. 

If you ever get the opportunity to meet some barbershoppers, I highly recommend singing a tag or two!

The Chipotle salad

The Chipotle chicken salad bowl used to be my favorite guilty pleasure. Sure it had some "bad stuff", but I figured there was plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and healthy things to go around.

Until I visited
Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 775Cal from Fat 465
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g78%
Saturated Fat 18g90%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 185mg62%
Sodium 2160mg90%
Total Carbs 34g11%
Dietary Fiber 4g16%
Sugars 21g
Protein 46g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Chicken (4oz),Tomato Salsa,Corn Salsa,Cheese,Sour Cream,Lettuce,Chipotle Vinaigrette

Click Here to view

I used to think I was intelligently cutting corners by forgoing the tortilla, but it looks like you'd need to try harder to get a healthy meal out of a visit to the No. 6 healthiest fast food restaurant.

So what is the healthiest burrito you can construct? I played around with the calculator and considered each category:
  • Wrap? No thanks. That will set you back 15% saturated fat and 25% sodium, unless you opt for mini hard tacos.
  • Rice? Let's skip that too, just to keep the carbs down. But as people suspect, the brown rice fairs better than white, though by negligible amounts.
  • Beans? Black wins over pinto by a hair (more fiber, less sodium). We'll need some filling here, especially if we cut the meat.
  • Protein? I used to think chicken was the healthiest of the bunch, but actually steak looks the best overall. Same inevitable 10% fat and saturated fat, but with half the cholesterol and 13% less sodium. It even has 25% more protein.
  • Salsa? Medium trumps mild (tomato) and hot (red) with half the sodium content. We need some sort of sauce, so we'll go with this.
  • Extras? All the "good stuff" that's really the "bad stuff". Forget your cheese, sour cream, and chips; you don't even want to know their fat content. The salad dressing is surprisingly bad for you, with generous amounts of fat and sodium to go around. The guacamole fares better, but 20% fat and 10% saturated fat don't make up for its 24% fiber (and price hike). In short, you'd have to skip them all.

So besides a larger bill, what does this leaner steak-and-beans salad bowl with mild salsa get you?

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 330Cal from Fat 75
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 65mg22%
Sodium 800mg33%
Total Carbs 28g9%
Dietary Fiber 12g48%
Sugars 5g
Protein 38g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Black Beans,Lettuce,Green Tomatillo Salsa,Steak (4oz)

And what if we pass on the steak altogether for a tasteless bean-and-salsa salad?

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 140Cal from Fat 15
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 0g0%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 480mg20%
Total Carbs 26g9%
Dietary Fiber 12g48%
Sugars 4g
Protein 8g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Black Beans,Lettuce,Green Tomatillo Salsa
(Of course, at this point, why even bother ordering?)

I guess I'll have to think twice before visiting Chipotle.

Happy birthday, barbershop!

Well, specifically, the Barbershop Harmony Society.

In honor of this special day (April 11th), my chorus organized a webcast featuring choruses throughout the New York area and free to view worldwide. This special presentation also included the international barbershop quartet champions (four guys, all younger than I), who were featured on the Today Show and an impromptu performance in Times Square.

I could gush over how amazing it was, but instead I thought I'd offer tweets from the rest of the world -- an audience that included over 110,000 people from all 50 states and 10 countries.
I think this is the 1st time my son is hearing men (instead of women) singing barbershop. 
He's mesmerized. #bhs75 - @erinccpi   #bhs75 loving the webcast! - @bassman_michael 
Great opening to the webcast by @RingmastersQtet - if you're not watching , you're missing out! #bhs75 - @HarmonyInc 
#bhs75. Ringmasters rocking the stage! -@Fuller6544  
Enjoying the webcast so far! #bhs75 - @zedramaqueen 
Voices of Gotham killing it on the live webcast #BHS75!!! ! - @MusicCityChorus  
Watching @flatironfour tear it up for #bhs75 online - @QuartetLead 
loving the bhs webcast! #bhs75 - @ValCeeCee 
This is so great to watch! Can't wait to hear sweet Adeline's :) #bhs75 - @singmusic4life  
@voicesofgotham Fantastic performance, gentlemen! Gotham City is in good hands... who needs Batman?!? #bhs75 - @dekesharon 
We need to do more of this, just get everyone together, sing, reminisce, honor this craft, for free, and shared around the world! #BHS75 - @Cmicorcoran
...And that was just a sample of the trending topics.

I'd say it was an overwhelming success, and I'm glad I got to be both part of and behind the event.

Barbershop outreach

The key to barbershop youth outreach is finding a constructive way that makes the style not only approachable but desirable.

A vocal style that has taken youth by storm is the "collegiate a cappella" style, which many find appealing for its solo-driven nature and flexibility in application. For a given cover song, the music "arranger" can pull from practically any genre, past or present. This makes it fairly easy to promote and convince without much effort -- you already know what it is and how it's done before you even hear it.

Barbershop is tricky. It's much deeper and richer in historical roots and music theory, so it's no surprise that the easiest way to explain it has traditionally been to just "sing a tag". Factor in the polished rules, established society, its musical proselytes, and it can seem daunting and far too structured at first glance, resulting in the stigma that surrounds the art form.

For so long, I've looked toward collegiate a cappella with disdain, believing it lures potential singers away to a simpler style focused on all the wrong elements. But it occurs to me, that this other style accomplishes exactly what it intends to do, and we can use that to our advantage. Collegiate a cappella aims to faithfully recreate a song using the voice as instruments, whereas barbershop aims to capture the spirit of a song and enhance it using the distinctive elements of its style. They're not actually opposing forces, and they can work together.

Perhaps the Barbershop Harmony Society could use quartets in outreach that perform songs -- initially sung in the typical solo-accompaniment collegiate a cappella style -- then transformed with the richer harmonies and homophonic texture found in barbershop. Anyone focused on that singular stardom can immediately witness how a quartet can make everyone a star together, how the group is stronger than any individual member. Not only would this add a level of accessibility, but the noticeable contrast could promote barbershop simply for what more it offers and the ease by which it offers it. Of course, you could still throw in a polecat and a blockbuster song.

In the end, I think we forget that barbershop is a simple style that we've enhanced it over the years. Like collegiate a cappella, it started off with woodshedding, but like other genres, it has evolved into so much more. Even with all of its rules and structures, at its core, it utilizes four-part harmony that isn't strictly choral (it is, after all, a style, not a genre). Yet it possesses other elements by consequence, those that actually make it easier to grasp, from the sound of individual parts to the overtones it produces as a whole.

We know a simple tag can serve as the gateway for singing barbershop music. But this approach could convince others to sing music using barbershop. Introducing others to the fundamentals and what they can do with it -- as is the spirit of singing a tag -- will make them come back to the one place they can learn more: the Barbershop Harmony Society. And when they come back, you've succeeded in your outreach.

Producing reinforced falsetto

Lately I've taken an interest in learning how to produce the countertenor reinforced falsetto, frequently used by the highest voice in the barbershop style. I've noticed people (incorrectly?) refer to it as "head voice", which I distinguish as the lighter, airy voice (even with full support).

My understanding about the male voice is that it has several registers, some of which overlap.
  • Vocal Fry: the ridiculously low register that has a popping or crackling quality (since it involves producing notes at the low end and beyond the low end of tonal sounds). This is outside of the scope of this post, but I wanted to make note of it.
  • Modal voice: the chest voice which overlaps with your speaking voice, usually topping off around E4 (E above middle C). This voice feels like it resonates in the chest or throat.
  • Head voice: a higher voice that takes over around E4. This equally powerful but less effort-intense voice feels like it resonates in the head and not in the chest, but it is not falsettoIt can sound indistinguishable from modal "chest" voice, so I consider it the upper part of one's "full voice".
  • Falsetto register: a generally higher voice that overlaps with the range of head voice and sounds like a flute. Though it can overlap with about an octave of chest voice, it has a light, breathy, or "hooty" quality, depending on the vowel target, and it requires less physical effort to produce. Barbershoppers seem to call this "head tone", since it too feels as if in your head, though it lacks the strength of full voice. 
  • Countertenor (reinforced falsetto) voice: the other "false" voice with a significantly stronger ringing voice (earning the name "reinforced falsetto"), which overlaps with head, falsetto, and the upper part of modal voice. It is used predominantly by singing countertenors and overlaps with the female alto range. However, I'm led to believe it is produced quite differently from falsetto to attain that "Mickey Mouse"-like sound. The voice feels as if it is produced in the back of the head and resonates at the very top, as if above the head. This is what barbershoppers simply refer to as "falsetto".
  • Whistle register: the ridiculously high voice that lies above head and falsetto, sounding much like a whistle. It's more apparent in children and females, though males have it too. This is outside of the scope of this post, but I wanted to make note of it.
I am most interested in the countertenor voice, which is the one register I should be able to access as a tenor but haven't tapped into since joining the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Here are some links I've come across that have been helpful, though I still have plenty to figure out.
I also found some interesting reading at The Counter Tenor: Vocal Issues and Answers.

If you're wondering what I'm aiming for, here are some characteristic videos, featuring well-trained singers around my age:

Here are some examples with guys around my age:

The Ocarina of Time manga

If you consider yourself a fan of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you may enjoy the manga adaptation made by Akira Himekawa and endorsed by Nintendo. With a game hailed as one of the greatest of all time, setting a template for many games to come, one might wonder: exactly what could such a comic bring to the table?

The answer, as with much manga source material, is dialogue and backstory -- though unlike, say, novels, you don't get the same depth and details that a book can offer. So to save you the trouble, I thought I'd summarize those additional details here (though if you're interested, you can always go to your local bookseller and pick up your own copy).

Note: The manga did take some artistic liberties with some plot points. I chose to include those that weren't blatant contradictions to the plot of the game. As you proceed, think of the points below as a summary of "deleted scenes."

Warning: Spoilers to follow.

  • Link's mother, having fled a burning village, ultimately collapses in front of the Great Deku Tree, imploring him to take care of her newborn son.
  • Gohma, in desperate search of the Kokiri Emerald, curses the Great Deku Tree, urging him to summon the young boy.
  • The antagonistic Mido (armed with the Kokiri Sword and intent on earning Saria's affection) accompanies Link (with the Fairy Slingshot) in exploring the Great Deku Tree. After Link defeats Gohma, Mido offers the Kokiri Sword to Link (in addition to Saria giving the Fairy Ocarina) to aid him on his quest.
  • In Castle Town, Link meets a young girl (not unlike Malon) who offers to show him the way to the princess if he plays with her for the day. They go around playing games, shopping, and exploring. At the end of the day, two Gerudo thieves attack the young girl. Link fends them off, but when they flee, he loses track of her. Disappointed, he follows her earlier directions and sneask into the castle courtyard. There he discovers the girl is none other than Princess Zelda.
  • Before sending Link off, Zelda gives a blushing Link a kiss on the cheek. Navi begins teasing him about his ladies throughout his adventure.
  • While loitering about Kakariko Village, Link rescues a baby dragon Volvagia, which learns to say his name. 
  • When Link finds Ruto, she reveals that she ran away because her father was arranging for her to marry another Zora. After rescuing her from Jabu Jabu's belly, Link laments about how his father figure (The Great Deku Tree) passed away. Touched, she offers her sapphire, and informs him that is now her fiancĂ© (which Link doesn't understand).
  • Once Link returns to a burning Hyrule castle, Impa flees will Zelda, who tosses the Ocarina of Time. Startled by a threatening Ganondorf, Link drops his Fairy Ocarina which Ganondorf recovers, mistaking it for the Ocarina of Time. Link proceeds to the Temple of Time, where he awakens seven years in the future.
  • Later we see Ganondorf crushing the Fairy Ocarina, enraged for having been tricked by the young boy.
  • Following the time skip, a defeated Stalfos spirit communicates to Ganondorf, revealing that the Hero of Time has shown himself.
  • Deep within the Fire Temple, Link confronts Volvagia, his pet dragon from childhood. He hesitates to slay the dragon and Sheik steps in to save him. When Link regains consciousness, Sheik motivates him to confront Volvagia again. During the second fight, Link tries to get through to Volvagia to no avail. But when he slays the dragon, it softly utters his name before dying in front of a devastated Link.
  • We then see Sheik kneeling in front of Ganondorf, revealing the details of the most recent battle. Sheik tells Ganondorf about Link's low spirits and advises that he should strike now. Ganondorf also inquires about Sheik's search for Zelda, reminding that Link and Zelda must not find each other.
  • Link travels to Kakariko Village where Impa confronts him and subsequently scolds him for traveling so far without proper supplies. Link appeals to Impa so that she may train him to become a better fighter, and the two train for several days.
  • While drinking from the Kakariko Village well, a black shadow materializes as Dark Link and challenges him to see how strong he's become.
  • Following his battle and the completion of his training, Impa proudly pierces Link's ears and presents him with earrings as part of a coming-of-age ritual.
  • In Ganon's Castle, Ingo apologizes to Ganondorf for losing Epona. As punishment, Twinrova brainwash the ranch worker, and Ganondorf commands him to go back and defeat the Hero of Time. He also tells Sheik, also present, to go with him and questions why a Sheikah would serve him and not the Royal Family as the tribe had in the past. Sheik simply reveals the tribe had no leader until Ganondorf came and leaves.
  • Following the brawl with Ingo and Malon's rescue at Lon Lon Ranch, Link, resting on a rooftop, gets approached by Sheik, who instructs him to go to the Haunted Wasteland to search for Zelda. Sheik disappears before Gerudo show up. Link destroys the cursed jewel that keeps Ingo spellbound. After holding off the Gerudo for a bit with help from Malon (and her pitchfork), the two ride Epona and leap over the fence to escape the ranch.
  • The Water Temple battle suggests that Ruto was acquainted with Morpha, the temple boss.
  • Arriving disguised in Gerudo village, Link gathers supplies. At an open shop, a disguised Twinrova catch his attention and tell him to find his destiny at the Spirit Temple. After he leaves, Sheik arrives, who they tell to follow him. However, they question whether Sheik is secretly aiding the Hero of Time, which Sheik denies.
  • Once Sheik departs, Twinrova summon Nabooru to help Sheik and determine if he is a traitor.
  • During a sandstorm in the Haunted Wasteland, Sheik rescues Link and offers to guide him through the rest of the way to the temple. While traveling and setting up camp, the two have conversation which reveal several details.
  • When Link inquires about the eye symbol on the outfit, Sheik reveals the eye was originally the symbol of the Sheikah, but they added the tear when the Royal Family betrayed them. Link asks if Sheik still bears a grudge, which Sheik denies. Link explains his story and discovery of being the Hero of Time. From his perspective, he just left Zelda, but he wonders how the years have changed her and feels uneasy to see her again. Sheik attempts to confort Link and dismisses it, saying it's hard to be a hero.
  • Link has a nightmare about fighting off an army of Stalfos and upon waking up, Sheik reveals that in the Haunted Wasteland phantoms prey on travelers during the night. In the morning, a Gerudo party surround Link. Distracted, Link gets knocked out by Sheik and awakens unarmed in a Gerudo prison within the Gerudo Fortress.
  • Following the fight with Nabooru, he flees from Gerudo guards and encounters Sheik blocking his path, holding his Master Sword and Hylian Shield. Throwing the weapons forth to Link, Sheik signals the desire to duel. As Link prepares to battle, Sheik instead turns on Twinrova behind him and then flees with Link. Twinrova pursue them and delivers a near fatal magic blow to Sheik. While trying to help an unconscious Sheik, Link notices the crest on Sheik's hand. Together, Link and a rescued Nabooru fend off the other Gerudo, allowing Link to escape on horse with Sheik.
  • When Sheik reveals himself as Zelda, Link learns Zelda's backstory. While on the run, Zelda decided to disguise herself as one of Ganondorf's male minions until Link returned. Impa made her appear as a Sheikah descendant. They share their tender moment, but Ganondorf then captures Zelda, revealing how she let her guard down but he knew she would appear if he let the hero wander around.
  • Following the final battle and reunion with Zelda, Link wants to stay with her and rebuild Hyrule. She says she must send him back and close the gateway between them. Link argues he fought for her, not because he was drawn to conflict, but she asserts that this time period doesn't need a hero and he needs to return to the forest. Link kneels and vows that he will protect her and Hyrule no matter the time nor place. As Link ascends to the sky, Zelda says her goodbye and tells him: "I love you."
So there you have it. With this, either you'll be inspired to read the manga or go on knowing the additional backstory. It's too bad none of this made the game, as I think some of these details really add depth to the characters (though I question some of the manga's awkward choice in presenting the details).

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment!

Source: Zelda Informer