Harmony Magic, a 25-member women’s chorus from central Indiana, proves that women can sing barbershop as well as any man can. If you still need proof, Harmony Magic recently traveled to Nova Scotia and earned several awards at an international women’s barbershop competition.
The group’s director, Janet Foster, explained how women present a different side of barbershop music than men due to the nature of their voices.
“There are some pieces that women can sing that maybe the men can’t because of the lyrics or the song itself,” she said. “Women can bring a different quality to the music.”
Barbershop music started in England before moving to America, where a few quartets, such as the Hutchinson Family and Dearborn Quartet, eventually formed. This music style was at first associated with African-American groups and eventually became popularized in barbershops.
Barbershop music is an a capella-style with four parts – lead, tenor, baritone, and bass – known well for its overtones and strong harmonies. According to Sweet Adelines International (SAI), barbershop differs from the traditional soprano tenor alto bass (SATB) choral style because top voices sing with less weight and intensity than lower voices.
Harmony Magic is part of Harmony, Inc., a women’s barbershop nonprofit that holds annual contests and conventions. In doing so, it hopes to create camaraderie among singers and educate members about barbershop music. Harmony, Inc. recently partnered with Sing Canada to supply more scholarships and send students to Harmony University – an intensive educational workshop.
“We saw a natural alliance opportunity with Sing Canada,” said Christina Lewellen, president of Harmony, Inc. “Sing Canada exists to provide scholarships to Canadian musicians so the goals of Directors First—sending Harmony, Inc. directors to Harmony University—and the fact that about half of our membership resides in Canada made this a natural fit.”
The leading international barbershop choral organization, SAI, has 22,000 members and hopes to provide educational, performance, and competitive opportunities for its singers. The Young Women in Harmony (YWIH) program creates opportunities for women under 25 to develop their vocal techniques. In addition, SAI organization provides grants and scholarships for these young women.
The organization first began on July 13th, 1945 after Edna Mae Anderson gathered a few women at her Tulsa home. These women wished to join their husbands, who were members of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), currently the Barbershop Harmony Society. This small gathering eventually multiplied into several groups and became today’s SAI.
One group that is part of SAI, GQ (Girls Quartet), is a young a cappella barbershop quartet from Baltimore, MD that started in 2011. Members Amanda McNutt, Ali Hauger, Katie Gillis, and Katie Macdonald seek to create a unique sound through their music and have toured around the world, including in Germany, Spain, and Holland. They will sing alongside Instant Classic on Saturday, January 6th in Mesa, Arizona. GQ’s “Water Fountain” music video – paint splatters and all – breaks the traditional barbershop mold and showcases their vibrant personalities.
Older women form another successful organization, Route 66, which has won several awards. Its two quartets – 4 Kicks and Southwest Edition – sing different music styles within the versatile barbershop genre.
Although men originally dominated the barbershop music world, women have become just as prominent since World War II and have largely shaped the genre’s current identity. Female singers of all ages have fallen in love with this music style and are only going to take it into newer, bolder directions.
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