Barbershoppers continue Chautauqua tradition


The Vocal Agenda, one of several choruses to perform this Sunday. Submitted photo.

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Had it not been for Chautauqua, George Jarrell might never have begun his 28-year career with the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Jarrell attended a barbershop quartet performance as a child and then later in life saw members of the Barbershop Harmony Society perform at the Amphitheater in one of his early years as a Chautauquan resident. On his way to the bathroom during intermission, he met one of the “Barbershoppers” and made plans to attend the chorus’ next weekly meeting.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, approximately 125 members of the Society will perform in the Amphitheater to continue its more-than-50-year partnership with Chautauqua. The members are from several choruses of the Seneca Land district of the Barbershop Harmony Society, as well as from guest choruses Sweet Adeline, Hangtime, The Vocal Agenda, Mainstream and the Buffalo Gateway Show Chorus.

Jarrell is the director of the Jamestown, N.Y., chorus and has memories of both watching the Barbershop Harmony Society perform in the Amp and performing with the Society himself. For him, Chautauqua is one of the best places to perform because of its atmosphere and the Amp.

“It’s a bit casual, but yet there’s a formality there that makes it unique. … For a performer, it’s a thrill just to be on that stage,” Jarrell said.

Barbershop harmony music grew in the 1940s out of the vaudeville style of music and the entertainment style of men at, not surprisingly, barbershops. The barbershop was a place for men to meet, and they often entertained themselves by practicing the close harmonies and teamwork of barbershop music, Jarrell said.

The Barbershop Harmony Society started in 1938 as the popularity of this type of music spread. Now, the Society has approximately 30,000 members and has affiliates in Great Britain, Germany, Japan and other countries.

Part of the appeal of barbershop music is its ability to reach a large audience in different ways, Jarrell said. The music is about life and how to live it, and it resonates with people of different ages, genders, socioeconomic statuses, races or ethnicities.

“When people sing and they sing together, they’re not going to be fighting with each other,” Jarrell said. “It’s really a universal language.”

During the performance Sunday, the choruses will end by all singing together and encouraging audience participation. One of the universal qualities about singing is that almost everyone can do it, Jarrell said.

However, singing in a Barbershop Quartet can be slightly more difficult.

“It requires cooperation (and) vast skill,” said Brett Heintzman, a member of Hangtime. “It is as much, if not more, a matter of teamwork and cooperation as any other athletic sport or as any other artistic endeavor, because we are constantly working to match voice (and) tones and to blend harmonies so that they consistently harmonize well together.”

Heintzman sings one of the tenor parts in his quartet and learned about singing from joining the Barbershop Harmony Society.

The Barbershoppers are men and women, and they range in age from 12 to late nineties. In order to preserve the importance of barbershop music, Jarrell said the Society should start looking to the youth for perspective.

“(The singers have to) match their tones, match their vowels (and) to balance,” Jarrell said. “If that’s all done correctly, it makes an expanded sound that you don’t find in any other type of music.”