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What Is Barbershop?

Put simply, barbershop vocal harmony is a style of acappella singing, which means we sing without being accompanied by instruments.

How is it different from my 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 four voice parts in barbershop; bass, baritone, lead, and tenor. When each voice part is sung together a chord is rung. 

That’s barbershop in a nutshell… for a more advanced explanation, we consult wikipedia:

“[barbershop is] characterized by consonant four-part cords for every melody note in predominantly homophonic texture.” 

Traditionally, barbershop music is sung in the form of a barbershop quartet. Four vocalists who sing in one of those four voice parts, ringing cords together. Barbershop can also be sung in “choir-like” group with more than one singer representing a different voice part.  

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. In 2018 the Barbershop Harmony Society opened up it’s membership to anyone who would like to sing, regardless of gender. Ringing in a new era known as “Everyone in Harmony”.

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.