What ever happened to four-part harmony?
February 13, 2009 · 9:09 AM
Kitsap Chordsmen are keeping the barbershop quartet alive and delivering harmony for Valentine’s Day.
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. One of the fastest, most time-tested ways to a woman’s heart — through song.
Sure, you could make her a mix tape, but who listens to cassettes any more? A burnt CD-R full of love songs doesn’t quite seem to cut it, and somehow making her a playlist (that is, the digital version of the mix-tape) seems even worse.
But what of the old-school a cappella quartet? What ever happened to the live-in-person four-part harmony?
It’s alive and well with the Kitsap Chordsmen. Each year around Valentine’s Day, real old-timey, vested-and-bow-tied barbershop quartets traipse across Mason, Jefferson and Kitsap counties delivering four-part harmony for Valentine’s day.
Starting at $44, it comes with a red rose and a card, and four sharply dressed dudes slinging a cappella love songs like the 1890s-era tune “Heart of my Heart.”
Formed from the local chapter of the 70-year-old Barbershop Harmony Society, known as the Kitsap Chordsmen, a rotating cast of quartets (30 singers in all) deliver numerous Valentine’s serenades each year over the course of two days, Feb. 13 and 14.
It may be one of the things the Chordsmen are best known for. But the Valentine’s tradition really only scratches the surface of the group. It’s just a fundraiser for what they really do — which is sing.
The Chordsmen meet almost every Wednesday night at the Olympic Evangelical church on the Poulsbo end of Silverdale Way, just to get together and sing.
I stopped by last week on my editor’s advice, looking to give some four-part harmony for Valentine’s Day. But instead, I ended up right smack in the middle of it, coerced into singing off-key tenor in the front row of a more than a dozen dudes, none of whom I’d ever met before.
Which, it turns out, isn’t an all to unfamiliar situation for a barbershopper.
A longtime Chordsmen who goes by the name Frosty noted with 12 songs in the national Barbershop Harmony Society repertoire, a barbershopper can feasibly run into any other quartet of barbershoppers around the nation and join in song.
It’s an obsessive hobby, for some, a harmonic off-hours release for others. Frosty said he’s been at it for 60-some years.
The society is a fellowship for men of all ages, finding common ground through their vocal chords. It’s mission: “to keep the world singing.”
Barbershoppers revel in the time before iPods or TVs or even radios, when getting the newest sheet music off the trains from the east and gathering around the piano at the local barbershop was mainstream musical entertainment and handlebar mustaches were the thing. The Chordsmen still sing songs from that era.
They’ve also barbershopped Beatles songs, among other pop hits, and written pieces of their own.
In addition to the singing Valentine’s and various other fundraising gigs and festivals the Chordsmen play across the county, they’re also plugged into a national/district competition circuit. Last October, they came home with the Best Small Chorus award from the Evergreen District competition, which encompasses groups from the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to Idaho, including British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.
A new film, “American Harmony,” taking a stab at the mainstream infatuation with “American Idol,” documents the barbershop lifestyle, going behind the scenes and following five quartets in “the world’s biggest singing competition, that you’ve never heard of” — the International Championships of Barbershop Singing.
It’s a strange group in that way. The society involves throngs of men across the nation and further into the world, yet it’s still relatively unheard of.
Though you might only hear from the Kitsap Chordsmen around Valentine’s Day, or if they happen to bring home an award from some competition, the group has more than 50 members who are singing year round. Whether raising money for local causes, providing corporate entertainment, competing or just spending time with friends and good old-fashioned four-part harmony, they keep their world singing.
TO ORDER A SINGING VALENTINE, call (360) 337-SING. Find more on the Kitsap Chordsmen at www.singkitsap.org.