Let's Talk with Terry Ambrose

April 11, 2024

Harmonizing History on National Barbershop Quartet Day

New York : Federal Art Project, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
New York : Federal Art Project, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On April 11, we celebrate barbershop quartet music’s sweet, interweaving melodies. But National Barbershop Quartet Day is more than a mere homage to vocal harmony; it’s a celebration of an art form that has transcended time and continues to bring joy to its listeners. If you’re intrigued by the enchanting echoes of a cappella harmonies, join me, and let’s talk about the deep-rooted history and cultural significance of this musical piece of Americana.

The Essence of Barbershop Quartet Day

National Barbershop Quartet Day is a time to pay tribute to the genre’s four-part harmonies that are as distinctive and historic as they are harmonious. It’s a nod to the craft and camaraderie of quartets that have long been at the heart of community music. This annual event reminds us to cherish the close-knit harmonies that mark the authentic barbershop sound, which features a lead (or melody), a tenor, a baritone, and a bass.

The day isn’t just about the songs; it’s also about the social aspects of the barbershop quartet experience. It’s about bringing people together in song and fellowship. And, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate what I hope is a bright future for the genre.

When Did Barbershop Music Begin?

The origins of barbershop music can be traced back to the turn of the 20th century when, on April 11, 1938, The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA, which is now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society) was created. But barbershop music’s roots run even deeper. The sound actually draws on the rich, harmonic traditions of African-American spirituals and European hymn-singing. From that base, barbershop music emerged as a distinctly American sound.

Jen Squires, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Jen Squires, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Community of Harmony

Barbershop has always been about more than just the music. The Barbershop Harmony Society has chapters and members around the globe. There are yearly conventions where quartets come to compete and where friendships form. These gatherings are not just for the pros; they encourage enthusiasts of all ages and abilities to participate, learn, and love this unique art form.

Preserving the Quartet Tradition

In an increasingly digital age, there’s something remarkably timeless about the raw, unadorned voices of the barbershop quartet. The true beauty of the tradition is that it hasn’t rejected modern technology but has made use of it. There are social media channels on Facebook and YouTube.

Barbershop music, while firmly rooted in a harmonious past, is far from a relic. It continues to find relevance in contemporary culture, and its allure shows no signs of waning. The stage is set for new quartets, new audiences, and new innovations to carry the barbershop banner.

How about you? Are you a fan of barbershop quartets? Have you ever seen a barbershop quartet in person? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Posted in Let's Talk, with Terry Ambrose • Tags: , , |  9 Comments


9 thoughts on “Harmonizing History on National Barbershop Quartet Day

  1. The precise blending of voices and harmony has intrigued me ever since I heard it in The Music Man.

  2. I love harmonies! One of my favorite acapella groups in recent years is Pentatonix. Most of their music resonates deep in my soul and often gives me chills. There’s power in musical harmony!

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