Charles has been singing barbershop harmony for 30 years. Charles is the
Music Director of the SF Cable Car Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society
(formerly known as SPEBSQSA), tenor of Time Be Four quartet and most
recently tenor in The Music Man at Diablo Light Opera in Walnut Creek.
For those unfamiliar with its history, barbershop music developed in
the South and Appalachia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where
the barber shop in every small town was the local gathering place for
men to get a shave, haircut, or bath (as many folks there and then had
no running water). While waiting for their turn, it was common for folks
to entertain themselves by singing. At this time, popular songs written
by European composers coming to America were bringing their more classical
format of 32-measure melodies moving around the circle of fifths with
the tonal center in the middle, which made ear harmonizing easier than
it was with earlier popular music like shape note hymns from The Sacred
Harp. Ear harmony of this period and location also draws from black musical
traditions, whose African close harmonies and embellishments melded with
these European melodies to form this new style of music.
Because most every barber shop had a small boy
doing cleanup and drawing bath water, it was common for this boy to
sing in harmony above the melody.
If there was a man with a deep voice, he would usually sing the roots
and fifth of chords, and if there was a man with a good musical ear,
he would find the missing note in the four-note chords commonly implied
by the melodic line, whether or not it was above the melody, and voila,
you had "barbershop harmony", with a melody in a middle voice
and three harmony parts, one above, one below, and one filling in the
missing note wherever it happened to be.
In the early 20th century many vaudeville shows
had a barbershop quartet but the advent of radio and the more complex
melodies of the 1930s helped
push recreational singing into a rapid decline. A few men who remembered
the fun they had back then formed the Barbershop Harmony Society (previously
known as the SPEBSQSA) in 1938. Ten years later, women decided to join
the fun and formed the Sweet Adelines. Both of these organizations have
migrated away from a primary focus on maintaining the traditions of the
past and towards using this musical style as a vehicle for musical education.
Both of these organizations still sing single-sexed for vocal range and
historical reasons, but there is a growing movement towards "mixed" quartets
as well, and this workshop teaches in the "mixed" range to
allow everybody to participate - The ear training and methodology are
the same for both sexes, but written arrangements now used for more modern
music are voiced differently for each sex to provide for the best vocal
qualities of each.
For more information on joining a chorus:
Male voices: www.sfcablecarchorus.org (San Francisco)
Male voices: www.ndchorus.com (Hayward)
Male voices: www.barbershop-harmony.org (Palo Alto)
Female voices: www.sfsoundwave.org (San Francisco)
Female voices: www.missionvalley.org (South Bay)