People may find it surprising that my late husband Carl and I did not just go to concerts of Baroque and early music — in fact we enjoyed music of many other genres, especially music that was vastly different from our own repertoire. We especially liked attending all the ethnomusic programs at the University of Hawaii, such as those featuring Javanese gamelan, Japanese koto and shakuhachi, Indian sitar and the like. Because we knew nothing about these genres, we sometimes enjoyed these concerts more than the usual fare of Baroque and early music — mainly because we didn’t have conversations like this when we got back into the car:
“Oh, that soprano’s vibrato was a mile wide — you couldn’t tell what pitch she was on!”
“And that necktie tenor was awful”
“There was terrible ensemble between the singers and the instruments!”
“The orchestra was just too loud!”
“That performance was so unmusical!”
etc. etc. etc.
I’m afraid that most every “Western-style” concert we went to was just picked apart something terrible! But I think this kind of behavior and post-concert conversation may be typical of most musicians.
So maybe you won’t be surprised that we enjoyed going to the Sounds of Aloha concerts — they are the barbershop quartet singing group here in Hawaii. We were thoroughly entertained by their concerts and our son, when he was small, really had a good time, also. Neither Carl nor I had ever sung in a group like this, although my sister Doris was in a barbershop quartet in high school. Apparently after I graduated, our choral music teacher really got into barbershop singing and taught this kind of music to all the choirs.
Guess where I was last Saturday night? Yes, at a barbershop quartet concert at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu — probably a first of this genre of music at the church. Scott Fikse, the new choral director, had three friends from the mainland visit in anticipation of their participation in a competition in October.The baritone was Riley Pitts (a PLU alumnus), lead tenor James Jones, and high tenor Jason Astrup (a Concordia alumnus). They have sung together for about a year-and-a-half, and in my opinion — they are really good!
Barbershop quartet singing — there is even a national organization called SPEBQSA (Society for the Encouragement and Preservation of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America) — is actually quite difficult because of the close, chromatic harmonies, and singing in tune (what musicians call “intonation”) is really critical. It is defined as a style of “a cappella” vocal music in which each of the four parts has its own role: the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead (Wikipedia). Male groups are called barbershop quartets and female groups are called Sweet Adelines.
Barbershop is not limited to America, either — supposedly some of the best quartets in the world are Ringmasters (from Sweden), Musical Island Boys (from New Zealand), OC Times (from US and 2008 international quartet champions), Vocal Spectrum, Monkey Magic, Happiness Emporium and Crossroads (from US and 2009 international quartet champions). Performances remind me of show choirs, combining dance elements, colorful costumes and singing.
I remember being sent a video of an international barbershop competition and I was thoroughly impressed and blown away. I asked one of the guys to help me in locating the winning performance on YouTube, and it turns out the group was called the Ambassadors of Harmony. Here is their winning performance of “76 Trombones” — enjoy!
P.S. Thanks to those who sent me messages of encouragement this past weekend in which we passed the one-year anniversary of Carl’s joining the heavenly choir (August 28, 2014). I spent the entire weekend working on the souvenir Memorial Concert program book for the November 1st concert. You won’t want to miss it.