Vertrees: Barbershop singers can bring blessed harmony to our lives
October 19, 2013 11:04PM
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:24AM
Those happy Chorus of the Dunes fellows — that includes many who have gone on to another chorus — have been making happy music for decades.
It is fun for them, and for us out there in the audience — I felt that last Sunday when I tried to sing along without moving my lips or making a sound. That is OK because music comes from the heart anyway. Just ask those fellows.
I read in a program note that “The Chorus of the Dunes has been singing barbershop harmony in Northwest Indiana since 1944.” That goes back a spell. In 1944 I was on the edge of a hellish thing called Battle of the Bulge, and I suspect that some chorus music back home was a blessing.
What is barbershop harmony? Here is a technical definition that makes me smile: “Vocal harmony, a style of a cappella characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture.” I wonder if these fellows discuss that before their rehearsals. Probably not, because they are there to sing, not to be defined.
Their director is a remarkable lady named Carol Fentress. It all is a remarkable piece of entertainment. The theme of these concerts seems to be “Let us open our mouths and hearts, smile and make happy music.” It works.
I remember another director — Dick Mackin. He directed a church choir that I was in and my respect and admiration for him are deep and lasting.
The happy truth in this musical history is that these fellows seem determined to keep on singing, aging or not. I say aging in a respectful way — I have aged more than any of them.
The solemn note in this is that their numbers are dwindling, as time, the ultimate director, chooses its own songs, calling singers to its own chorus, wherever it is. We see similar cultural changes in churches, civic clubs — on and on.
Barbershop harmony? Well, there are fewer barbershops now, but as one chorus fellow said with a smile: “Some of us don’t need barbershops anyway.”
This rambling comes from my love for music — it can sustain us in troubled times and lift our hearts in happy, thankful sounds. Barbershop harmony is a small slice of the great musical cake that adds a high caloric treat to our lives. Defining it is not necessary.
Maybe our choice of music helps to reveal who we are. But by any definition, it can bring harmony to our lives, whether we are singing or listening.