[The following unedited article is the PG-13 version of Sunday’s Island Packet, ‘Only on Hilton Head’, found in the Features section on page, C9, behind the half-page ad for activating your online digital Packet.]
If it weren’t for barbershop quartets, I probably wouldn’t know the second or third verses of most popular songs. That’s because not only to barbershop singers know how to harmonize like nobody’s business, they also ANNUNCIATE clearly each word, so that we’re not all bellowing perfectly, “GLOR…OORR…oorr…oorr…or…RIA, in excelsis Deo!” and then mumbling into, “Shemp and Moe…m-hm…Curly… Why mhm…Gus trains…beer bong…” trailing on similarly for two more excruciating lines until we all belt out, “GLOR…OORR…OORR…oorr…or…RIA,” like we really mean it, darn it. Alleluja, Angels We Have Heard on High. Ta-da!
As one might guess, we paid close attention to the lyrics during the Holiday Serenade at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Malphrus Road, in Bluffton, Friday, December 2. It helped that the programs they handed out included lyrics to all the carols so we could sing along (no fudging it that night with the Stooges, no siree). And might I say, what a lovely treat to hear Christmas carols sung in perfect and whimsical harmony by our own Hilton Head Island Lighthouse Chorus (www.hhibarbershoppers.org), a chapter within the Carolinas District of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
My neighbor Dennis Miller, sings bass in his own quartet within the Hilton Head chapter, and is busy making the rounds of assisted living facilities, offices, and churches this time of year. Anyone who hasn’t booked a barbershop serenade, or attended a concert of barbershop chorus singers, is missing out on a very special, sometimes forgotten art in American vocal music history.
Barbershop singing began in the early 1800’s in American towns, before there was easy access to any kind of public entertainment. Men would gather around barbershops – literally, it was a hangout back then – and sing harmony to amuse themselves and impress the ladies. The art of harmonizing has tentacles reaching out to urban areas where city dwellers gathered to make music without instruments. Remember the vocals of the Drifters, Temptations, the Four Seasons, and so on, all have their roots in the barbershop style of harmonizing.
And while they entertained themselves, America most certainly benefited from a whole industry and genre of inspiring sounds that permeate churches, holidays, and Americana. And speaking of holidays, if you miss out on a Christmas serenade, the next big one is definitely Valentine’s Day.
“Every year, we are booked all day long on Valentine’s Day. We charge a small fee for two songs, a rose, and a card, delivered to your sweetheart’s door. And the songs are as hokie as you could possibly want. ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ is always one of them,” said Dennis. This last is a song I can only hear in my head off-key, in Alfalfa’s trembling, cracking voice singing to Darla with bubbles flying out of his mouth, so maybe Johnny D will surprise me with a little hokie barbershop serenade this year, and I’ll finally hear how ‘Sweetheart’ is supposed to be sung.
(You definitely have to watch this, okay? Now, you will totally appreciate the harmonious, harmonizing of the Hilton Head Barbershoppers)
Barbershop choruses donate portions of their proceeds to benefit area music non-profits, like high school programs that need rebuilding. Currently, much of the Lighthouse Chorus proceeds are going towards rebuilding their own membership. Sadly, the area chapter of harmonizers has dwindled from about forty singers ten years ago, to sixteen or so, presently, as interest in the genre has waned. Participating in competitions is also part of the annual schedule of events for members, an added perk of traveling that they enjoy.
The Hilton Head chapter encourages anyone interested in participating or listening to them rehearse or simply learning more about how to become a chorus singer (you only need to love to sing, the program says), to attend any of their weekly rehearsals on Tuesday night at 7 pm at the Cypress Clubhouse in Hilton Head Plantation, 20 Ladyslipper Lane, 29926. You can call for more information, (843) 290-9517 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.