Barbershop music is a style of a capella, singing without any instrumental accompaniment, that consists of consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a homophonic texture. Each of the four parts play their own role: the tenor usually sings a harmony above the main melody, the lead sings the melody, the bass sings below the melody, and the baritone fills in the harmony. According to the Barbershop Harmony Society, "Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions."
Great! Now you know what barbershop is! Wait, that didn't make much sense? Perhaps I can explain further.
The explanation of babershop is pretty straightforward. It is a style of a capella where a group of four people, or a large group in four parts, sings in harmony with one another. Now, the goal of those four notes is to create a fifth note. While this can be made, it is hard to maintain. The good news is, it becomes apparent. Listen to some tags, you will hear all four people, then a slight ringing. That's the fifth note, also known as an expanded harmony. It's what barbershoppers live for, and strive to maintain. It represents for us perfect harmony and balance, something we not only try to maintain in singing, but life and the world as well!
So now you're a barbershop expert! Well, almost, at least. Now that we know what it is, let's see where it came from. Barbershop has been in the world for well over 100 years, and it started out in its modern form right here in the USA.
In the latter half of the 19th century, barbershops were the cultural center of the neighborhood. Men would gather to talk shop, gossip, and catch up on the latest news. Keep in mind there were no such things as radios or televisions, so people had to come up with their own entertainment. Pretty soon men in African American barbershops started singing in four-part harmony to spirituals, popular songs, and church hymns. It started to spread and soon enough a new style of music was born. Barbershop, along with its characteristic quartet, took the country by storm.
Unfortunately, during the cultural and technological shifts of the early 20th century, barbershop faded into obscurity. Big bands, jazz, and soloists become commonplace. In the 1930's, however, barbershop would meet its savior. In 1938, Owen C. Cash, a lawyer, and Rupert I. Hall, a banker, sought to revive the artform. They gained significant support, and they created a Society. As a stab at Roosevelt's New Deal agencies, commonly referred to as "alphabet agencies" due to their gratuitous use of acronyms, they named themselves the "Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc." (SPEBSQSA). Although they still keep that name, it has been reduced to the Barbershop Harmony Society in reference.
In 1945, an organization for women was founded as "Sweet Adelines International" (SAI). It found great success after the war, and both societies grew to thousands of members. Then, in 1959, a group of lady barbershoppers split off from Sweet Adelines due to disagreements on racial equality (SAI was white-only at the time, and they wanted something all-inclusive), amongst a myriad of other issues. This group became known as "Harmony, Inc." which AHC! is a proud member of. A great writeup on the founding can be found on the Harmony, Inc. webpage, it's fascinating and very long!
I hope we have enlightened you on being a barbershopper, and we invite you to come to a rehearsal or concert to see what we have to offer!