Barbershop Music

More about Barbershop Music.

This site is not intended to push the Barbershop style, which is but one of many musical types that I like and that I continue to study. Recently, while I was engaged in yet another discussion with Ed Dotson over the need to keep harmonies simple for songs that are simple (a philosophy to swhich I do not always wholeheartedly subscribe), I read the following from Bill Biffle, which he posted to the "Harmonet" listserve that serves the wider community of Barbershoppers [including some who, like me, are not even current members of any Barbershop organization such as SPEBSQSA or Sweet Adelines (SAI)]. I asked Bill if I could share his words with you, here; he said "Sure", so:

"[This] style of music developed as folk art - practiced by ordinary people in their homes, on their hayrides, and around their campfires. Music was sold sheet by lonely sheet and was generally intended to be played on a piano in the parlor and sung by family and friends. Since most of our family and friends are - and were - "average" singers, "average" harmonizers, and, indeed, "average" musicians, the songs were simple, the harmonies readily accessible, and the words simple, sweet, and heartfelt. This is the basis of the style.

Everything we do today grew from this beginning. So, it's logical and, I believe, supportable, to say that the quintessential barbershop song has the characteristics of the songs that the style grew from - simple, singable melodies, interesting, but not complex implied harmonies, and lyrics that bring a swell to the breast and a tear to the eye.

Contests, shows, our arrangers (good and not-so-good), and the immutable urge of all people everywhere to expand, enrich, complicate and change the world as they find it has engendered ever more complicated barbershop, certainly, but the basis for our style is the easily sung, easily harmonized, easily understood song. Until one knows and appreciates that, one cannot - in my humble opinion - really understand what we do and why we do it.

Wynton [Marsalis] says that without a true understanding of traditional jazz - generally known as Dixieland - one cannot truly understand any of jazz's later forms. I believe this is true in the case of barbershop as well.

             Bill Biffle
bbiffle@brgcc.com
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
RMD/SWD Paired District Board Member
SPEBSQSA, Inc., the Barbershop Harmony Society

Though in my own arranging efforts I stray -- perhaps too often -- from the simplest-possible approaches, I honor the roots of Barbershop music and could not have said that either better or with more authority. I thank Bill for permission to share his perspective with you.

All suggestions for improvements to any aspect of this ongoing effort will be gratefully received and carefully considered.

Thank you!

Stephen A. "Steve" Langford, AC1963

Tel. 520 297 0448

 


This page last revised on 27 February 2005.