TIPTON, Ind. (AP) — Sara Stone said when most people think about barbershop music, two things usually come to mind: men’s quartets and the Broadway hit “The Music Man.”
She said that reveals a common assumption about the all-American a cappella art form known for tight, four-part harmonies. People think only men can sing it. And until the 1950s, that was true.
But a Tipton barbershop chorus is fighting against that stereotype. The group is called Harmony Magic. And all 25 members are women.
“There are still men today who don’t think women can sing barbershop,” said Stone, a founding member of the group. “We say men invented it, but we perfected it.”
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For the last 11 years, the women’s barbershop chorus has been working hard to do just that. And now, all that work is paying off.
In November, the group travelled Halifax, Nova Scotia, to participate in an international women’s barbershop competition. The group qualified for the contest in June after competing against 60 other woman’s choruses in Bloomington, Illinois, where they won awards for most improvement, most new members and best in show.
Stone said those awards came after the group made Tipton their home base three years ago. Before that, they had practiced in Carmel, but decided to move further north to have a more central location for all the members, who hail from places such as Greenfield, Zionsville, Whitestown, Kokomo and Tipton.
It was the best decision they made, Stone said. Since then, the group has doubled in size. That’s allowed the chorus to seek out professional coaching from an international barbershop champion from Cincinnati, Ohio.
But it’s not all about winning competitions. The chorus also wants to sound good during the dozen or so concerts they put on every year at churches, farmers markets, nursing homes and other special events.
On a recent weekday evening, the chorus met up to perform one of those concerts at a Christmas party for the Tipton Chamber of Commerce. One member blew a single note on a pitch pipe, and with that one note, the chorus launched into four-part harmony singing Christmas classics.
Director Janet Foster said although most people assume all barbershop groups are made up of men, a woman’s chorus brings a certain texture and feel to the music that’s impossible to replicate.
“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.”
And for some of the members with lower singing voices, a woman’s barbershop group is the only place where they can put their talent to good use. In a normal choir, men sing the lows notes.
“Women who have a low voice a lot of times don’t have many options,” Stone said. “That’s why barbershop is so great.”
That’s the case for Jacque Deaton, a 68-year-old Zionsville resident, who sings bass. But for her, the real joy of Harmony Magic doesn’t just come from having a place to sing, but from being part of what she calls a sisterhood of musicians.
“I think we’re very unique in the fact that we’re a very close-knit chorus,” Deaton said. “The people really care about each other. There aren’t any politics.”
Kathy Wylie agreed. The 71-year-old Kokomo native said she grew up singing barbershop music with her sisters. Now, the entire chorus has become her family.
“We’re here for each other,” Wylie said. “There have been terrible things that have happened to some of us, but we’re always here for each other. Being a smaller group, we can do that.My husband passed away three years ago, and I don’t know what I would have done without my friends in this chorus.”
Director Foster said now they hope to grow their sisterhood of singers even more. Although they currently have 25 members, they’re looking to bring on any woman or girl who has an interest in singing a cappella barbershop music.
And that’s all that’s required – an interest. Foster said singers don’t need any experience, just a desire to perform a uniquely American music form that’s been part of the country’s cultural fabric since the early 1900s.
“Barbershop music is for the common man; for the common woman,” she said. “We’re not looking for people who have professional training. If you ask most of the women in the chorus, they may or may not have performed in high school choir or even read music. Really truly, you can come off the street and we’ll teach you.”
Wylie said that’s what makes Harmony Magic so special.
“Our saying is that God gave us the same instrument,” she said. “These girls tune it for you.”
Source: Kokomo Tribune
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com