Barbershop singing groups are commonly associated with straw hat quartets, not 100 singing and dancing members of the now 60 year-old Alexandria Harmonizers, the local chapter of an even older and larger barbershop-infatuated fellowship, the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Forget those straw hats. Forget those trimming, vertically striped suits. These days, the Harmonizers are just as likely to don tuxedos, coattails and top hats to appeal to the younger generation while staying true to their beloved art form’s 4-part harmony.
“Now our repertoire includes some modern day music, still in 4-part harmony, but not necessarily barbershop,” said Martin Banks, the Harmonizers’ spokesman and a 25-year member. “We’re starting to recruit the younger generation coming up under the baby boomers, and even younger.”
The group has even hired a “20-something” music director, Joe Cerutti, to keep the Harmonizers harmonizing harmoniously in a time when barbershop singing is left of the limelight. Banks said that their performances are visually stimulating too, an element not emphasized at the art form’s inception in the late 19th century.
The Harmonizers are serious, passionate musicians. They have won the International Chorus Championship four times, and continue looking for passion and talent in new recruits.
“We call ourselves a competitive chorus,” Banks said. “We feel like we offer a challenging experience for any singer to come into.”
The Alexandria Harmonizers will be celebrating their sixtieth birthday this weekend at their annual spring show at Bishop Ireton High School, with performances by the chorus and various quartets. The group will perform some of the same numbers they’re working on for the Barbershop Harmony Society International Convention in July.
“We pit together a reunion chorus, too, of former members, and members who are no longer actively singing,” Blake said. He added that they are bringing back a former member of the chapter who is 92 years old. “He was in WWII teaching the army how to sing,” Banks laughed.
At the concert, Banks said that he hopes to achieve “expanded sound” a barbershop phenomenon occurring when enough singers are in such perfect harmony, that a new note is spawned. A higher note is achieved without anybody actually singing it, but it’s only possible if sung by a group.
“That’s one of the thrills you get from singing [barbershop],” Banks said. “You create a note that’s not actually being sung. The higher the chord, the higher pleasure of the experience.
“I think the key to our success is not just performing, but the fellowship and togetherness of the group.”
In other words, it’s about harmony.