Barbershop Harmony Society Fact Sheet

 All the facts: who we are, what we do, how to reach us.

Society name:
·  The Society is properly referred to as the Barbershop Harmony Society.

·  Legal name: The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. or SPEBSQSA, Inc. Note: no periods between letters of abbreviated form.

·  More than 30,000 members in more than 800 chapters in the United States and Canada; world's largest all-male singing society.
·  Approximately 2,000 quartets registered with The Barbershop Harmony Society headquarters; an estimated 1,000 more quartets are active but not officially registered.
·  Affiliated organizations in: Australia, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands, Great Britain. There are also barbershop singers in Denmark, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, China, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Iceland, and the Russian Federation.

·  Governed by an elected board of directors; administered by a professional staff at Harmony Hall in Nashville, Tennessee.

Motto ·  "Keep The Whole World Singing."

Founding ·  First meeting: April 11, 1938 at the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Mission ·  The Barbershop Harmony Society brings men together in harmony and fellowship to enrich lives through singing

Activities of the organization: 
·  Education of members and the general public in music appreciation, particularly barbershop singing.
·  Advocacy at all levels of society to keep recreational and social singing an important part of our culture.
·  Charitable projects on a local and national basis, including many funded through Harmony Foundation, the Society's official charity.              Public performances enhance community cultural life, preserve the art form, and bring cheer to all.
·  Quartets and choruses contribute more than 100,000 man-hours per year singing for more than half a million people at churches, schools, hospitals, senior centers, etc.
·  Music publishing and distribution of cassettes, compact discs, DVDs and videotapes for entertainment and education.
·  Contests in quartet and chorus singing at local, regional, and international levels.
·  International champions named in chorus, quartet, and college-quartet divisions at international convention each July; international seniors champions named at midwinter convention each January

Education programs: 
·  Harmony College, a week-long school held each summer, brings together more than 600 Barber-shoppers from around the world with a world-class faculty of vocal coaches, arrangers, choreographers, and educators to explore all facets of the barbershop hobby.
·  Directors College provides instruction in conducting barbershop choruses.
·  Regional Chapter Operations Training Seminars held each fall teach members how to run their local chapters, recruit members, develop musically and better serve their communities.
·  Visits by staff music specialists enhance performance and education programs in local chapters.
·  The Society publishes numerous manuals and produces videos on vocal techniques, singing skills and chapter administration

Youth Outreach programs: 
·  The Young Men in Harmony program is designed to preserve the art form by introducing it to a new generation of singers.
·  Harmony Explosion camps give high school students and teachers the opportunity to explore harmony with their peers.
·  The MBNA America Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest selects a national champion from colleges across the continent.
·  Educator outreach introduces barbershop to music teachers at all levels.
·  Many Barbershoppers are active in their communities, in parent-teacher associations, in arts advocacy groups and in education coalitions, working to preserve arts education in school curricula.

Charitable and Community activities: 
·  Harmony Foundation, Inc., is the Society’s official charity. Donations made to the Foundation’s general fund special projects of the Barbershop Harmony Society, including Directors College scholarships, Harmony Explosion Camps, Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony.
·  Barbershoppers donate sizable amounts of money and time, and numerous performances to local charitable activities and vocal music education programs in their communities.
What is barbershop harmony?: 
·  Four-part, unaccompanied, close-harmony singing, with melody in the second voice, called the "lead."
·  Tenor (counter-tenor voice) harmonizes above the lead singer; bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone provides in-between notes, to form consonant, pleasing chords.
·  Barbershop is a "melting pot" product of African-American musical devices, European hymn-singing culture, and an American tradition of recreational music.
·  Melodies in the vocal and skill range of the average singer, with lyrical emphasis on simple, heartfelt emotions: love, friendship, mother, moon & June & the girl next door.

contents copyright of the author and copyright (c) 1/10/05 SPEBSQSA, Inc.

Barbershop Harmony Society
110 7th Ave. N.
Nashville, TN 37203-3704
(800)876-7464 (SING)
Direct calls: 615-673-(extension)
fax (615)313-7620 Membership, Events, Mkt
fax (615)313-7615 Harmony Marketplace

Definition of Barbershop Harmony by Dick Johnson
Barbershop Harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four part chords for every melody note. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four parts.

The voice parts are called tenor, lead, baritone and bass. The melody is consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes below the melody, and the baritone completing the chord either above or below the melody. The melody may occasionally be sung by the bass, but not by the tenor except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, and in introductions or tags (codas).

Barbershop music features major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant-type) seventh chords, resolving primarily on the circle of fifths. Sixth, ninth and major seventh chords are to be avoided except where demanded by the melody, while chords containing the minor second interval are not used. The basic harmonization may be embellished with additional chord progressions to provide harmonic interest and rhythmic momentum, to carry over between phrases, or to introduce or close the song effectively.

Barbershop interpretive style permits relatively wide liberties in the treatment of note values -- staying within proper musical form -- and uses changes in tempo and volume to more effectively create a mood and tell a story artistically.

Relative to an established sense of tonality, the melody line and the harmony parts are enharmonically adjusted in pitch to produce an optimum consonant sound. The resulting pitch relationships are often considerably at variance with those defined by the equal temperament of fixed pitch instruments. Use of similar word sounds in good quality and optimum volume relationships by each of the voice parts further enhances the sensation of consonance by mutual reinforcement of the harmonics (overtones) to produce the unique full or ÒexpandedÓ sound characteristic of barbershop harmony.


The Origins of Barbershop Harmony (courtesy of Heritage Hall Museum of the Barbershop Harmony Society)

Was barbershop harmony actually sung in barbershops?

Certainly -- and on street corners (it was sometimes called "curbstone" harmony) and at social functions and in parlors. Its roots are not just the white, Middle-America of Norman Rockwell's famous painting.  Rather, barbershop is a "melting pot" product of African-American musical devices, European hymn-singing culture, and an American tradition of recreational music -- a tradition SPEBSQSA continues today.

Immigrants to the new world brought with them a musical repertoire that included hymns, psalms, and folk songs. These simple songs were often sung in four parts with the melody set in the second-lowest voice.

Minstrel shows of the mid-1800s often consisted of white singers in blackface (later black singers themselves) performing songs and sketches based on a romanticized vision of plantation life. As the minstrel show was supplanted by the equally popular vaudeville, the tradition of close-harmony quartets remained, often as a "four act" combining music with ethnic comedy that would be scandalous by modern standards.

The "barbershop" style of music is first associated with black southern quartets of the 1870s, such as The American Four and The Hamtown Students. The African influence is particularly notable in the improvisational nature of the harmonization, and the flexing of melody to produce harmonies in  "swipes" and "snakes." Black quartets "cracking a chord" were commonplace at places like Joe Sarpy's Cut Rate Shaving Parlor in St. Louis, or in Jacksonville, Florida, where, black historian James Weldon Johnson writes, "every barbershop seemed to have its own quartet."

The first written use of the word "barbershop" when referring to harmonizing came in 1910, with the publication of the song, "Play That Barbershop Chord" evidence that the term was in common parlance by that time.

Tin Pan Alley era:  Edison's talking machine spreads harmony nationwide

Today, we are accustomed to receiving all forms of music in every home by way of CD, cassette, radio and video. In the early 1900s, though, pop music success depended on sales of sheet music to the general public.

The songwriters of Tin Pan Alley made their living by appealing to the needs and tastes of the recreational musician. To become a sheet music hit, songs had to be easily singable by average singers, with average vocal ranges and average control. This called for songs with simple, straightforward melodies, and heartfelt, commonplace themes and images. Music published in that era often included an instrumental arrangement for piano or ukulele, and also a vocal arrangement for male quartet.

The phonograph made it possible to actually hear the new songs coming from Tin Pan Alley.  Professional quartets recorded hundreds of songs for the Victor, Edison, and Columbia labels, which spurred sheet music sales. For example, "You're The Flower Of My Heart, Sweet Adeline" captured the hearts of harmony lovers, not simply because it easily adapted to harmony, but also because it was heavily promoted by the popular Quaker City Four and other quartets.

 Jazz era: changes in American music and social habits

The coming of radio prompted a shift in American popular music. Songwriters turned out more sophisticated melodies for the professional singers of radio and phonograph. These songs did not adapt as well to impromptu harmonization, because they placed a greater emphasis on jazz rhythms and melodies that were better suited to dancing than to casual crooning.

Radio quartets kept close harmony singing popular with many amateur singers, though and these singers were ready for the revival of barbershop harmony that took place in April 1938, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Birth of SPEBSQSA the dream of O.C. Cash and Rupert Hall

While traveling to Kansas City on business, Tulsa tax attorney O. C. Cash happened to meet fellow Tulsan Rupert Hall in the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel. The men fell to talking and discovered they shared a mutual love of vocal harmony. Together they bemoaned the decline of that all-American institution, the barbershop quartet, and decided to stem that decline.

Signing their names as "Rupert Hall, Royal Keeper of the Minor Keys, and O. C. Cash, Third Temporary Assistant Vice Chairman," of the "Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States" [sic], the two invited their friends to songfest on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club, on April 11, 1938.

Twenty-six men attended that first meeting, and returned the following week with more friends. About 150 men attended the third meeting, and the grand sounds of harmony they raised on the rooftop created quite a stir. A traffic jam formed outside the hotel. While police tried to straighten out the problem, a reporter of the local newspaper heard the singing, sensed a great story, and joined the meeting.

O. C. Cash bluffed his way through the interview, saying his organization was national in scope, with branches in St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere. He simply neglected to mention was that these  "branches" were just a few scattered friends who enjoyed harmonizing, but knew nothing of Cash's new club.

Cash's flair for publicity, combined with the unusual name (the ridiculous initials poked fun at the alphabet soup of New Deal programs), made an irresistible story for the news wire services, which spread it coast-to-coast. Cash's "branches" started receiving puzzling calls from men interested in joining the barbershop society. Soon, groups were meeting throughout North America to sing barbershop harmony.

 SPEBSQSA was born.
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