a little off the top, please.
December 20, 2004 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Known in part for their semi-corny jokes and vaudeville style while performing, The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America is a not-for-profit fraternal and charitable organization that has one primary goal: to get people singing. Aren't familiar with Barbershop Quartet singing? Have a listen. There is also a Sister affiliate, Sweet Adelines Int'l., for women who want to sing four-part harmony as well.
I grew up listening to this stuff, and only really started to appreciate it recently.
posted by exlotuseater (19 comments total)
I sang with a SPEBSQSA chapter for a time in high school. Lots of fun. I don't recall if that was before or after joining the local square dancing club (I kid you not).
posted by tippiedog at 6:13 PM on December 20, 2004

My father is a SPEBSQSA member, and I've sung a lot of their material. They're a fine organization and worthy of support.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:49 PM on December 20, 2004

My father is a SPEBSQSA member as well. They're slogan is "We Sing That They Shall Speak," a reference to their primary charity: HeartSpring. The songs may be dated -- lots of references to ragtime and the old mill stream and courting and Old Dan Tucker -- but nothing beats the wall of sound produced by a full barbershop chorus and you'll never find a nicer bunch of folks.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2004

Barbershop Quartet: Keeping jazz from claiming to be America's only original music genre for generations to come...
posted by NortonDC at 7:36 PM on December 20, 2004

Four-part harmony rocks when performed live. Unfortunately, it just doesn't sound the same when it's recorded. I find the proximity of this post to the Frank Zappa piece interesting. Nice contrast.
posted by Doohickie at 8:38 PM on December 20, 2004

I can't hear barbershop without thinking of the Singing Senators.

And you thought Ashcroft's solo work was bad...
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:02 PM on December 20, 2004

The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi [MP3] reminds me of Gregorian Chants. But I also appreciate Barbershop Quartets. I just fixed my stereo system in my tricked out 2000 Civic. I should start bumpin' this phat shit in shuffle with the Clipse, grindin'!

[Good post.]
posted by Colloquial Collision at 9:22 PM on December 20, 2004

Four-part harmony rocks when performed live. Unfortunately, it just doesn't sound the same when it's recorded.

Even better than hearing it live is actually singing it yourself. Seriously. Barbershop harmony is all about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. A well-tuned and balanced barbershop 7th chord is damn near orgasmic to barbershoppers, because of the expanded sound it creates.

The math behind it goes something like this: Take a fundamental tone (f) and build your chord as 4f:5f:6f:7f. That's a standard barbershop seventh chord - 4f:5f:6f is a simple major triad, and 7f is the "barbershop seventh." When all those mhz are perfectly synched up and reinforcing each other, you create what barbershoppers know as "lock and ring." That's when the overtones are screaming, the hair on your arms is standing on end, and you're hooked for life. Ask any barbershopper.
posted by Buzz at 9:39 PM on December 20, 2004

Thanks for explaining the science, Buzz. I've always referred to that phenomenon as the "fifth voice." And you're right-- it's neat to hear, but nothing compares to doing it yourself.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:49 PM on December 20, 2004

this is nice exlotuseater, I sang with a chapter of the Sweet Adelines when I was in high school, then joined a group when I was in my 20s.

I love harmony.
posted by kamylyon at 5:06 AM on December 21, 2004

In addition to supporting quartets, many chapters field choruses. It can be a less intimidating way to get started. The emphasis is not so much on individual vocal talent, but the ability to match pitch and tone with others in your group. Our chapter of extremely ordinary voices won our local district competition simply because we learned to cooperate really really well with each other.

And when barbershoppers say nothing compares to doing it yourself - they mean it as a cordial invitation.
posted by klarck at 5:14 AM on December 21, 2004

Buzz... I would love to be able to sing it, but the bucket I carry a tune in apparently leaks.
:- (
Thanks for the description, though. I know what you're talking about, even if I can't do it.
posted by Doohickie at 7:10 AM on December 21, 2004

I too have dug barbershop, and it's great that the organization is so well organized and the tradition is being kept alive, but that's one unwieldy acronym.
posted by chicobangs at 8:07 AM on December 21, 2004

At the risk of overstaying my welcome in this thread...

The SPEBSQSA is actually in a state of decline (it's more complex than this, but basically the old members are dying at a faster rate than new members are joining) and they're in the process of reinventing themselves so they can stay viable. Part of that process has been changing that unwieldy acronym so it's easier for people to remember. The organization is now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), but they still also use the old SPEBSQSA name, which was created in 1938, poking fun at the New Deal's "alphabet soup" of initialed government agencies.

Barbershoppers tend to be evangelical about their hobby, because it really is fun and accessible to anyone who likes to sing, regardless of their skill level. You'd be surprised how many people think they could never sing well enough to participate in a singing group, only to visit a local barbershop chapter and discover that it's really not that difficult at all, and they're welcomed into an amazing fraternity with open arms.
posted by Buzz at 9:03 AM on December 21, 2004

More on that ringing chord thing. As an acoustical illusion, it seems extremely difficult to reproduce through electronic means.

Here's my all-time favorite quartet.
posted by soyjoy at 9:13 AM on December 21, 2004

Sorry, lazy googling. Here's a better FRED link.
posted by soyjoy at 9:16 AM on December 21, 2004

Thanks, soyjoy! FRED rules, and I've been looking for their site for some time. (Sadly, Googling "barbershop fred" doesn't help much.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:59 AM on December 21, 2004

There's a russian choir at the university of chicago that has a barbershop quartet sub-group. They're fantastic.

That's all.
posted by kenko at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2004

I'm late here, but I just wanted to note that I too sang in a barbershop chorus through high school (the OK Chorale, Southwest regional champions many times, at least when the Vocal Majority is in their every-three-years-retired-because-they-are-so-freaking-good). Great stuff.
posted by norm at 8:54 AM on December 22, 2004

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