Music for All

Barbershop quartet tradition welcomes youth and women into the fold.

Kealan Rivera says he’s made more than half his friends by spontaneously singing with them.

The Delaney Park resident and member of Orlando’s Orange Blossom Chorus says people in the barbershop quartet community constantly meet new people by singing easily-learned tags, which is the final four to twelve bars of a song. To Rivera, it’s a social outlet like no other.

“Singing with people you know and love is awesome. It gives you a feeling you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.

At 20 years old, Rivera is part of a surge of young people joining barbershop groups across the country. In 2017, about 28 percent of new members joining the 80,000-member, international Barbershop Harmony Society were 25 or younger and around the same percentage were ages 26-50. In 2001, only 10 percent of new members were ages 25 or younger.

Kelly Miller, University of Central Florida coordinator of music education, says she has noticed a rise in popularity of a cappella singing after groups such as the Pentatonix became big, which has meant a “revival” for barbershop singing.

Compared to years past, says BHS spokesman Brian Lynch, young people will make up a larger proportion of the nearly 6,000 people the organization expects at its 2018 international convention at the Orange County Convention Center, happening July 1-8. Last year, Main Street, an Orlando-based quartet, won the overall competition at the convention.

Roger Ross—a member of Main Street, whose members have sung at one time or another as part of Walt Disney World’s Dapper Dans quartet—says he believes barbershop is gaining popularity because more groups are performing mainstream songs. A video of Main Street’s rendition of pop songs in 2015 earned them 2.9 million views on YouTube.

“For a barbershop video, that’s a lot of views,” Ross says, adding that they sometimes are recognized by young people at the airport. “Twenty years from now, Britney Spears songs will be the songs of the good ‘ole days.”

Lynch says everyone from professionals to the novice is welcome at the convention. He says barbershop is also blind to age, race and, now, gender. BHS announced June 19 that after nearly 80 years as a fraternity, it will allow women to join the organization, which organizes singing chapters around the globe and facilitates educational and training programs.

“With the fracturing and single-mindedness in this world, we have that connection in singing and it’s such a precious thing that once you feel it, you feel like everyone should have that. Everyone deserves that,” Lynch says.

Miller says UCF is changing the names of its singing groups from Men’s Ensemble and Woman’s Chorus to Tenor/Bass Voice Choir and Soprano/Alto Voice Choir, respectively, to be more inclusive of transgender students. She says students have responded positively.

“This way, it’s just about the voice,” she says.

Rivera says he feels the barbershop community is the same way. “Nothing’s more welcoming. If you know nothing about music but you have a voice, they want you to come sing with them. It’s not about race or politics or money.”

Performances for the public at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s convention begin July 2 and run through July 8. Tickets for the entire week are available, as well as daily and weekend passes. For a schedule and ticket information, click here.


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