What Is Barbershop?

 
Put simply, barbershop vocal harmony is a style of a cappella singing… but how is that different from your church choir? Most church choirs are accompanied by a musical instrument, whether it’s an organ, guitar, or piano there is usually some sort of instrumental accompaniment. There are also times your church choir may sing without instruments, and in those cases it is referred to as a cappella. 
 
But what makes barbershop unique? Each singer is either a bass, baritone, lead or tenor, and when sung together we create a cord, also known as "ringing a cord". That’s barbershop in a nutshell… for a more advanced explanation, wikipedia says, “[barbershop is] characterized by consonant four-part cords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture.”
 
Traditionally, barbershop music is sung in the form of a barbershop quartet. Four guys (or gals) who sing in one of those four voice parts, ringing cords. Barbershop can also be sung in "choir-like" group. 
 
Well known quartets such as Max Q, or Vocal Spectrums, and choruses like The Vocal Majority, and the Heart of Harmony are all descendants of other well known groups; The Buffalo Bills and The Dapper Dans. 
 
Barbershop singing goes back to as early as 1882 when African-American men would gather informally and sing. Later, barbershops were a gathering place, or community center for young men. To pass the time, the men gathered there would sing spirituals together, and this eventually moved out to the street to entertain the neighbors. 
 
Barbershop was originally popular from around 1900 to 1919, and then saw a revival in 1938 when a man named Owen C. Cash worked to save the art form for future generations. Cash would go on to form the “Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America”, also known by its abbreviation “S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.” This grew into the Barbershop Harmony Society as it is known as today. 
 
The Barbershop Harmony Society has grown to have over 23,000 members across North America, with over 80,000 members worldwide. As the original name promises, the Barbershop Harmony Society reaches out through programs like Youth in Harmony, and the Harmony Foundation, as well as spending over $1 million annually in order to bring the gift of harmony into people’s lives of the younger generations in; in order to preserve it’s heritage. 
 
For more information visit www.barbershop.org - below you’ll find a short video produced by the society illustrating the history of barbershop.

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