What is Barbershop?


What kind of music do Sweet Adelines sing?

Today’s Sweet Adelines choruses and quartets sing exciting a cappella, four-part harmony music, barbershop style. Whatever tone your voice, there is a singing part for you. The music includes special arrangements of today’s ballads and upbeat songs, popular show tunes, and even jazz. Members say that singing the satisfying sounds of barbershop harmony provides a rich, rewarding experience.

In simple terms, barbershop harmony is vocal harmony produced by four parts: lead, tenor, baritone, and bass. It is different from any other kind of choral or group singing. Finding the right part for your voice is the initial step. Any woman of average singing ability, with or without vocal training, will find a part that fits her range.

LEAD is the melody and is sung in the range between A below middle C and C above middle C.

TENOR is a harmony part sung consistently above the lead. Although tenor is the highest voice in barbershop harmony, it should not be confused with the soprano of conventional singing groups. The tenor should have a light, sweet, pure tone that will complement but not overpower the lead voice.

BARITONE covers approximately the same range as the lead. The baritone harmony notes cross the lead notes: sometimes sung below and sometimes above.

BASS singers should have a rich voice and be able to sing the E flat below middle C easily. Bass should not be confused with alto of conventional groups.

History of Sweet Adelines International

At the dawn of the baby boom era, women who enjoyed singing close harmony formed an organization known today as Sweet Adelines International, a highly respected source of education in the barbershop style.

Edna Mae AndersonIn the summer of 1945, the Great War was over in Europe and would soon end abruptly in the Pacific. In the United States it was a time of Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, gasoline shortages, victory gardens, the USO and Rosie the Riveter. Walter Winchell read everyone the news and a young war correspondent named Walter Cronkite was predicting victory. The United States just buried a president and dramatically raised a flag on Iowo Jima. Western Union still meant grief to a family and the Red Cross brought promise. Almost half the world was digging out from rubble, while peace was about to be shocked into us with a bomb dropped from a slow-moving weather plane called the Enola Gay.

The summer of 1945 was a time to appreciate being alive. Many longed for the older, gentler days, and one of the things held dearest was music, it crosses miles and memories and was about to make another impact on history in war-busy Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Johnson Sisters - 1948 Quartet ChampionsThe date was Friday, July 13, 1945, when Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, brought a few women together in her home. The women wanted to participate in – the "chord-ringing, fun-filled harmony" that their husbands, members of the men’s Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), were singing. From that meeting grew the nucleus of what was to become Sweet Adelines International.

July 23rd was going to be the kick-off date. Invitations were sent to all barbershop wives asking them to meet at the Hotel Tulsa, where the men had met in 1939 to form SPEBSQSA.

Mrs. Anderson got more than she bargained for. By year's end, the chapter incorporated in Oklahoma. Anderson was its president. It had 85 members and a chapter name, Atomaton ( We have an atom of an idea and a ton of energy) that recognized the new nuclear age.

Within four years, the organization had grown to 1,500 members singing in 35 chapters and 60 quartets in 14 different states; adopted bylaws and elected national officers; and created a system for adjudicating national annual competitions to select the best women's barbershop quartet.

TTune Twisters - 1949 Quartet Championshese pioneer members possessed singing experience that ranged from talented amateur and semiprofessional to graduates of baccalaureate vocal music programs. They brought experience as working women and homemakers into the organization and infused it with their determination and organizational abilities.

Systems of governing and parliamentary procedure, finances and leadership development which they created more than 50 years ago have stood the test of time and remain virtually unchanged though updated in response to technological advances.

"The original purpose for which Sweet Adelines was organized in 1945 was educational, to teach and train its members in musical harmony and appreciation," Edna Mae Anderson stated. The main goal was to create and promote barbershop quartets and other musical groups; another goal was to give musicals...public and private performances for...learning and general appreciation of all the things pertaining to music."
Lustre- 2018 Quartet Champions

The organization has stayed true to its original goals, entertaining and educating thousands of people every year. It may look and sound different today, but deep inside its members are the same women aspiring to perform, to achieve and to experience the joy of singing and the thrill of ringing chords that weave harmony into lives and into the world around us.

Today there are nearly 23,000 members of Sweet Adelines International in more than 500 choruses who are perpetuating the unique American art form of barbershop harmony while looking optimistically to the future in their quest to Harmonize the World!

Information taken from the Sweet Adelines International website.


What is Barbershop?

Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. The melody is consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord.

The melody is not sung by the tenor except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags and codas, or when some appropriate embellishing effect can be created. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

Real Women-Real Harmony-Real FunBarbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and Barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard meter.

The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide support of the song's theme and to close the song effectively. Barbershop singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords in just intonation while remaining true to the established tonal center.

Artistic singing in the Barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Ideally, these elements are natural, unmanufactured and free from apparent effort.

The presentation of Barbershop music uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout. The most stylistic presentation artistically melds together the musical and visual aspects to create and sustain the illusions suggested by the music.

Pitch Pipe Magazine

If you want to stay informed of all the happenings of the female barbershop music scene, subscribe to Pitch Pipe, which is submitted by Sweet Adelines International each quarter. It's full of news, reviews, and previews of coming events and competitions.