What is barbershop?
Barbershop is a particular style of unaccompanied vocal harmony that utilizes the physics of sound to maximize resonance across four parts. The characterizing features of the style is best described by Dr. David Wright:
- Consonant, four-part harmony; a cappella; solid voicings, harmonic variety; few passing tones
- Melody in second tenor; first tenor above; bass usually on solid chord tones; baritone fill
- Embellishments continually converging to homophonic chords
- Freedom with the song
- Chords tuned with an ear toward "lock and ring"
Unlike other contemporary a cappella styles, such collegiate a cappella, the style tends not to relegate other parts in favor of the primary singer (i.e. the lead). Rather each part contributes some critical role to balance each individual chord and maximize the overtones found in the harmonic series. Between the particulars of the tuning system and the progressions found throughout the style, barbershop can be seen as a highly mathematical art form--one that appeals to a technically-minded person such as me.
My first quartetting experience was back in 2002, when I brought three friends together to sing my original arrangement of Stand By Me for NBTHS's annual "Theatre Revue". This began a yearly tradition of bringing creative a cappella arrangements to the high school stage, culminating with a vocal quintet performance for the town at the the Carnivale Italiano the year I graduated.
After joining the North Pennsmen, the Lansdale chapter of the BHS, in 2009, I entered the competitive circuit, participating in multiple quartets, including 30th Street Station and Distinction. After moving to New York City for graduate school, I joined Voices of Gotham, the Hell's Kitchen chapter of the BHS, where I focused more on choral work, helping the chorus reach 6th place with its highest score to date. I also sang tenor in the quartet Daybreak and currently sing baritone with For the Times.
Though I have arranged several pieces before joining the Society, barbershop harmony has a specific set of rules which makes it an exciting challenge to use. As an aspiring barbershop arranger, I tend to focus exclusively on this style, leading to penning my first original barbershop work this past year for Gotham's annual Tin Pan Alley novice quartet contest. I continue to attend the annual Harmony University seminars to continue to hone my craft.