What is barbershop?
Barbershop singing is four-part, close a cappella harmony. In both male and female barbershop choruses and quartets, the four parts are tenor, lead, baritone and bass. Barbershop harmony is different from church or traditional choral music (SATB music) because of unique chord structures that enable the “lock and ring” sound. In addition to singing a unique type of music, barbershop choruses and quartets add showmanship (choreography, costuming and emcee work) to musical performances. Barbershop harmony is one of the few musical art forms created in the United States. The music includes special arrangements of ballads and upbeat songs, patriotic numbers, popular show tunes, and even jazz.
The melody is usually sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord. The melody is occasionally sung by the tenor or bass to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags and codas, or when some appropriate embellishing effect can be created. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.
The presentation of Barbershop music uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout. The most stylistic presentation artistically melds together the musical and visual aspects to create and sustain the illusions suggested by the music.
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. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard meter. Barbershop style often uses an ad lib approach in singing ballads.
The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide support of the song's theme and to close the song effectively. The closing of a Barbershop is called a "Tag." Barbershop singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords that will ring. The ring is created by harmonic overtones and sometimes, undertones, producing an audible "note" in the chord that is not actually being sung.
History of Sweet Adelines International
After World War II, barbershop singing was growing increasingly popular for men. In 1945 a small group of women wanted to participate in the chord-ringing, fun-filled harmony that the men were singing. So these women organized "Sweet Adelines in America." From its humble beginnings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sweet Adelines International, as it is now called, has grown to a membership of almost 30,000 women in countries all across the globe.
Pitch Pipe Magazine
If you want to stay informed of the all the happenings of the female barbershop music scene, subscribe to Pitch Pipe, which is put out by Sweet Adelines International each quarter. It's full of news, reviews, and previews of coming events and competitions.