The Buffalo Bills were responsible for bringing barbershop music to Chautauqua Institution in 1950, but Rex Ryan and his team won’t be boisterously serenading the Amphitheater crowd while in football attire.
The Barbershop Harmony Parade will perform at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amp and will pay homage to the Buffalo Bills Barbershop Quartet, a group formed in 1947. The last surviving member of the Bills passed away in February.
Although Barbershop music began early in the 20th century — back in the Bills’ heyday — Chautauqua Show Chairman George Jarrell believes the style of music is still relevant today.
“We still stick to the basic parts of what makes barbershop harmony unique and that’s it’s four-part harmony and it’s a cappella,” Jarrell said. “Those things remain the same, but the technique that they’re delivered with makes a difference. The sound has evolved over the years.”
Their performance is not a parade in the literal sense, but a conglomeration of barbershop groups from the 33 chapters in the Seneca Land District of the International Barbershop Harmony Society. The district spans Southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, encompassing more than 700 members.
The event will showcase more than 150 voices, including the Seneca Land District members and their selected guests.
Guest performers include Larry Brennan of Syracuse, New York, a barbershop ventriloquist.
Catelyn Gipe, a high school student from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, will be featured in the opening chorus numbers. Gipe is a member of Sweet Adeline, a segment of the all-female Buffalo Gateway Chorus, which will also perform Sunday.
Despite the skill and talent seen on the stage, the performers are not professionals.
“We do other things,” Jarrell said. “We have doctors and lawyers and electricians and carpenters and plumbers and nurses and all kinds of people in our organization, which is one reason it makes our organization unique.”
Although from diverse backgrounds, Jarrell said, the bonds formed among quartet members is unlike any other.
“It’s really hard to put into a couple words, but when four men sing together for any length of time there’s a bond that happens between those men that it’s almost like a marriage — it’s just a wonderful thing,” Jarrell said.
For Jarrell, showcasing the American art form of barbershop harmony will bring wholesome entertainment to Chautauqua.
“That’s really what we’re looking forward to,” he said.