Barbershop singers to hold annual concert

The Chorus of the Comstock of Carson City, a 36-member male a cappella singing group, will perform its annual barbershop quartet concert "Shine On Harvest Moon" on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Carson City Community Center.

In addition to championship quartets The Summit from Albuquerque, N.M., and Tahoe Blue from Reno, the Bar BQ Boys, a local bluegrass band, and Milus Scruggs on ragtime piano will perform.

The matinee performance begins at 2 p.m. and the evening show starts at 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 and $15 and can be purchased at Comma Coffee, online at www.comstockchorus.org or call 887-1854.

In addition to providing the community with entertainment and "singing valentines," the Chorus of the Comstock has a successful Youth In Harmony program, promoting barbershop singing in local high schools and colleges. High school and middle school boys can also attend a weekend Youth Harmony Camp Sept. 25-27 at Pollock Pines, Calif., which the chorus co-sponsors.

This year the chorus embarked on a new program called Educate the Educators. With a grant from Carson City and the Barbershop Harmony Society, three local music educators attended Harmony University, an intense weeklong seminar at Missouri Western State University.

According to Rook Wetzel, the chapter's grant coordinator, next year's goal is to sponsor six music educators.

Thanks to grants received from the Nevada Arts Council, the chorus sponsored a daylong vocal training workshop in August.

The chorus is expected to reach 50 members by the end of the year. The chorus encourages men who enjoy singing and have the ability to harmonize to visit any meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Carson City Senior Center. Go to www.comstockchorus.org for additional information.

Questions and answers with Jim Crowley, director, Chorus of the Comstock.

Q. Did barbershop quartets really sing around the pole in front of a barbershop? Is that how they got their name?

A. Back in the early 1900s, men congregated in the barbershop and sang improvised harmony while waiting for a haircut. The early barbershop quartet was immortalized by Norman Rockwell with his painting "Barbershop Quartet," which appeared on the Sept. 26, 1936, cover of the Saturday Evening Post magazine. And, yes, the singing style became known as "barbershop" because that was where harmonizing was popular.

Q. How have they survived over the years? Are as many men interested in the group today as, say, 60 years ago?

A. The popularity of barbershop harmony started to decline in the late 1930s with the advent of the radio and the big band era. In order to help preserve this uniquely American art form, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America was founded in Tulsa, Okla., in April 1938. This lengthy name was a tongue-in-cheek idea designed to poke fun at President Franklin Roosevelt's many New Deal agencies. The society is now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society and barbershop harmony survives today because men (and women) still enjoy the thrill of "ringing a chord." The Society has more than 28,000 members in more than 800 chapters across North America. The society is the world's largest all-male singing organization with chapters in 40 countries.

Q. It seems most of your members are of an "advanced age." Do you encourage younger men to join?

A. While it is true that the average member age is rising, we have a strong Youth in Harmony program, which brings barbershop harmony to local colleges, high schools and middle schools. Last January, the Chorus of the Comstock sponsored 31 boys from Carson High School to the Far Western District's Youth Chorus Contest at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. We also sponsor middle school and high school boys attending our weekend Youth Harmony Camp in September at Pollock Pines, Calif.

Q. Do you perform on a regular basis?

A. The Chorus of the Comstock does performances for community organizations, city functions and charitable organizations in the local area.

Q. Do you have a show coming up?

A. Our annual show will be held on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Carson City Community Center. Tickets are available online at www.comstockchorus.org or by calling me at 775-887-1854.

Q. Are singing styles the same today as they were when barbershop quartets began?

A. Barbershop harmony is part of the continuum of American music that traces back to African-American musical roots similar to those that sparked ragtime, rhythm and blues and jazz. At its beginning, the barbershop art form was largely improvised and sung without music. We've come a long way from the early quartets of the 1930s and 1940s. Certified arrangers, directors and coaches are making our amateur singers sound better and better. Today, quartets and choruses use choral singing techniques with quality arrangements that result in a really amazing singing experience for both the performer and the listener, yet many of our members do not read music or have any formal musical training.

Q. Do you have to have professional singing experience to join?

A. There is no requirement for formal musical training or experience. However, since we sing "a cappella" (unaccompanied), one must be able to sing in tune and memorize the music and lyrics.

Q. Is there a barbershop harmony organization for women?

A. Yes, there are two: Sweet Adelines Internatio-nal (30,000 members) and Harmony Incorporated (2,700 members). The local Chapter of Sweet Adelines International meets in Reno on Monday evenings.

Q. When and where do you meet? Who does someone call for more information?

A. The Chorus of the Comstock meets at 7 p.m. every Thursday at the Carson City Senior Center at North Roop Street and Beverly Drive. In Minden-Gardnerville, contact Ted Nagel at 775-720-8316. In Carson City-Reno-Lake Tahoe, contact David Ramer at 775-884-1223.

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