Friends in high and unlikely places

So sometimes, I tend to get extremely overwhelmed by barbershop. Mostly, this is because i have no idea how to convey to people how much I love it and how much it means to me. Also, it seems a little strange that it’s so specific. Like, I could be just in love with singing in general, or by karaoke or something, but no, I have to be utterly obsessed with barbershop. It’s just weird.

However, in the barbershop community, it is completely normal. I challenge you to find someone in this organization who is just sort of so-so about barbershop. Someone who can say “eh, I can live with or without it. It’s just sort of a hobby.” No. That’s not the way it works. You may not be obsessed with it when you enter the org, but you sure as hell are after two months, if not after one visit.

So, here is my absolutely fantastic barbershop story for the day.

About a year ago, this woman in my chorus said something like, “oh, you’re going to Evergreen? You should look for this police officer who sings barbershop, Tom or Tim or something… I can’t remember his last name.” Of course I thought, “well, gee, isn’t that specific,” and I didn’t try too hard to find him. Plus, their uniforms just say their last names, so I didn’t have much to go on, and I didn’t want to go to Police Services and ask for some guy who sang barbershop. ha.

So today I was sitting at the Student Activities fair with my roommate. I was representing the CPJ and the Police Services booth was right next to ours. She pointed at the officer who was at that table, and said that she’s heard him sing at this drug and alcohol presentation thing she’d gone to, and that he was quite good. Then I heard the EIC and biz manager of the CPJ talking to him and calling him Tim.

Long story short, once everyone left, I said to him, “so, I hear you sing,” and he said, “yeah,” and I said, “do you sing barbershop, by any chance?”

He said, “Barbershop is my life.”

And with stars in my eyes, I’m sure, I said, “meee toooo!”

Thus began a long conversation during which we discovered that we know many of the same people, but it turns out that he’s actually WAYYYY high up in the organization and so is his wife, so he’s, like, friends with the lead of OC Times and stuff, and coaches by ex-director’s quartet and stuff.

MY GOD am I excited. I never want to talk to people at Evergreen about Sweet Adelines, because let’s face it, it’s just weird. Sequins and energetic faces? Definitely not Evergreen-ish. So I cannot tell you how amazing it is to have this resource and be familiar with this guy. Unfortunately, it’s led to a bit of a stalking tangent on my part, so I found this video of his quartet (two of the members are former Kings, which means that they have won International before. Five times, in fact. SO amazing). Enjoy :)

… and I just read back over that post, and it’s awful. I think the more excited I get about something, the less articulate I am. So, I’m sorry about that. But I’m not going to change it because you all deserve to see my blunders.

Friends in high and unlikely places

The Reason I Go to Chorus

“This,” the director said, snatching a chorus member’s papers, “is not music.” He threw it on the floor. “Music exists only in this immediate moment.”

I smiled in understanding, but I don’t think he saw me. And the evening went on.


A cappella singing is like no other, and barbershop is a special branch that I hold dear. The four parts, from lowest to highest, are bass, baritone, lead, and tenor. The lead part has the melody of the song, and the three other parts are harmony (bass usually as a vocal rhythm, baritone weaving around the melody, and tenor trilling at the top). I usually sing tenor, but one chorus needed basses and I had the ability, so that’s what I sang—and I’m a better tenor for it. It takes so much to be able to produce chords in these choruses. Fundamentally, everyone must be on pitch, but the actual correct singing requires much more: First, one must breathe deeply and in the right place (into the base of the lungs, without raising the shoulders). Next, one must create proper vowel shape with the mouth (there are actually many different ways to say the “oh” sound, for instance) and make sure it matches the other singers’ mouth shape. The singer also has to use “resonation chambers” in the body. It’s like we’re cathedrals, and if you want the best sound you have to sing in the stone hall instead of in the bathroom; you have to sing into the sinus cavities and as if the crown of your head is the Tacoma Dome.

After you create the right note by achieving all that (constantly, and while keeping correct posture and foot position, remembering notes, words, and maybe even choreography, and smiling), your part relies on the others to do the same so that the whole chord may “lock.” Even if every person is technically hitting the right note, the chord may not lock—they must also be doing everything to be actually singing correctly. Then, even if the chord has locked, it may not ring (but that’s unusual).

It may seem too hit-and-miss to even bother trying. But when a chord rings, and when you’re able to hear it while singing rather than just knowing it because of the pleased director, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world. Ringing chords creates overtones, which are notes above the chord that no one is actually singing. They’re clearly audible—it’s not just a mind trick—but also surreal, because for all the work it took to produce the actual chord, no one singer is creating the overtone. It takes the entire group, and those overtones are what we always strive for. When we don’t have an actual audience, the overtones are like the heavens’ applause.

[This is a very short excerpt from the final paper I wrote for my class in our last quarter. As with all the content on my blog, please do not reproduce it in any way, except perhaps with proper citation :) If you ask me, I’d probably be happy to give my permission!]

The Reason I Go to Chorus