Barbershop chorus rocks Darton College

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Like a basketball coach in a huddle, Steve Scott directs his troops. But instead of a clipboard, Scott holds sheet music, and instead of barking out instructions to the men gathered around him, he sings to them.

Scott, an assistant professor of vocal music at Darton College, is the director of the Southwest Georgia Harmonizers, a group of men who gather weekly in the Darton chorus room to sing barbershop harmony.

The group consists of around 15 men ranging in age from 21 to 66.

As they rehearse "That Old Gang of Mine," Scott admonishes the singers. "The fighting, we can't have the fighting," he sings in a lilting voice. "Let's do it again."

The gang does it again, from the top. This time Scott is pleased.

"Now that," he says, "was good barbershop."

The Harmonizers have been meeting weekly since January, all united by their love of barbershop music.

"Musically we're progressed very well over the past few months," Scott said. "We are really ringing our chords now and we have a better sound than in the past."

The members are also having a blast.

"The music has changed us," David Houge, 59, said during a break.

"When you are singing other types of music you don't get that blend like you do with these guys. It's unique in that when we are singing we all get the same feeling from the music."

Bill Behrend, 66, is a baritone who also sings with the Albany Chorale and his church choir. Barbershop, he states, is a different kind of singing.

"Barbershop is different and more challenging," he said. "It makes you really use your voice well. It's a different approach to harmony.

Just like classic, jazz and folk music can come together to make you a better musician, barbershop can make you better across the spectrum of music."

Barbershop harmony may be sung by either a quartet or a chorus.

While quartets have just four singers, choruses may number from as few as 12 to more than 100.

The basic unit of the Barbershop Harmony Society is a chapter. Chapter members usually sing in a chorus, but they may also sing in quartets.

The quartets develop as members became attracted to singing in the style that is promoted by the BHS.

The "barbershop" style of music is first associated with the black southern quartets of the 1870s. The African influence is particularly notable in the improvisation of the harmonization and the flexing of melody to produce harmonies in "swipes" and "snakes."

Black quartets were commonplace at places like Jacksonville, Fla.., where black historian James Weldon Johnson said "every barbershop seemed to have it's own quartet."

The Barbershop Harmony Society has more than 28,000 members in more than 820 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada and is the world's largest all-male singing society.

Barbershop, however, does have its critics.

"There are some misperceptions about barbershop out there," Scott said. "Many think it's too hard to sing, but the average Joe with no musical experience can come in off the street and do it fairly quickly. Some say it's not an artform and can be vocally harmful. An aggressive approach can be harmful, but that's not the way we do it here.

"There is also a certain degree of prejudice where some say it's not good enough for them, but that's not the case."

As the group matures and progresses, Scott wants to expand into the community.

"We want to start off slowly and gradually start performing at community events," he said. "The area of service is big for us. We truly want to become a community chorus."