Katie O’Leary | Staff Writer
Barbershop quartets are not just a gleeful group of men wearing striped jackets and bow ties, singing songs from the past. They are a ferociously loyal assembly of men, or women, who capture music and weave it into a harmony bringing smiles to the faces of anyone listening.
Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Amphitheater, the Barbershop Harmony Parade will return to Chautauqua. The event will involve performances by some of the most accomplished barbershop quartets in the Seneca Land District, which is comprised of Upstate New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Barbershop music has a long history deeply rooted in American culture. It began as a way to entertain and pass the time in barbershops. During this time, it was heavily based on improvisation. Today, groups participate in nationwide and worldwide competitions.
The Barbershop Harmony Society was established in 1938. That move united barbershop performers as an established entity and eventually led to the creation of about 800 registered barbershop groups in the United States today.
George Jarrell is the 2012 president of the board of directors for Jamestown’s barbershop chapter. He has been involved with the planning of the Barbershop Harmony Parade for about 15 years. For him, barbershopping is a commitment he believes in very strongly.
“I believe that if we could get the whole world to sing, our world would be a better place,” Jarrell said. “It’s pretty hard to be unhappy or angry or to want to harm someone when you’re singing.”
As a board member, Jarrell has a hand in deciding who performs at the annual Barbershop Harmony Parade. This year’s batch of performers includes Upstate Harmonizers, Lake Erie Sound, the youth chorus SLAM, Bravo! and Completely Youthless. Special guest Phoenix Rising, a women’s barbershop quartet from Canada, will also be performing.
“All of these groups are veterans at performing,” Jarrell said. “They all have earned the right to perform at Chautauqua simply because they have excelled through competitions to the point where they have become the best in what they do.”
Lake Erie Sound’s current director, Pete Frank, is ready to provide an excellent show this Sunday. He said that barbershop has given him so much, and it has been a major part of his life for almost 20 years.
“Barbershopping changed my life,” Frank said. “It wasn’t that my life was horrible before, but it’s all I do now. All of my closest friends are either my best friends from high school or they’re barbershoppers.”
He finds that harmony is a special part of music — for those experiencing it as an audience and those talented enough to achieve it with their own voices.
“Some people compare it to golf and when you take the golf swing and connect with the ball,” Frank said. “It makes that sound when you know you connected perfectly, and you know it’s going to be 20 more strokes before you can do it again, but you don’t care, because it felt so good to get it right.”
Both Frank and Jarrell find barbershop competitions to be filled with support and sincerity, qualities not often found in competitive atmospheres.
“You don’t meet many barbershoppers who are jerks,” Frank said. “The most wonderful people I have met are barbershoppers. It’s a team. You can’t do it with only one person. You learn fast, and you learn so much about relationships and getting along with people.”
Knowing that, Sunday is sure to be a light-hearted, musical affair full of positive energy and harmony — the best way to wind down a summer at Chautauqua.