March 20, 2012
The first day of spring arrived in Teays Valley today with a concert of Barbershop Harmony by "Uncle Ernie's Boys," and Putnam Rotarians responded to the eclectic performance with a standing ovation.
Rotarian Steve Patrick led the group which is a part of a barbershop choir, the "ThunderTones," also under Patrick's direction.
"Most of you have heard music like singing in church," Patrick explained. "Typically, the melody is in the top voice. Sopranos always get the melody.
"Barbershop has the melody in the middle, and all the other parts go around it.
"The melody singer is the lead singer and below that is the bass -- almost always. Above the melody is the tenor -- almost always," he said. "And then the baritone has the sparkle, the tough job, really. When the lead goes down, he goes up; when the lead goes up, he goes down. The baritone goes in and out filling up the chords."
Other members of the quartet today were tenor Ken Stevens from Cross Lanes, Raymond Byrd from Barboursville singing bass, and baritone Jeep Dille from Chesapeake, Ohio.
"Uncle Ernie's Boys" get together with others of the Thundertones Chorus for harmony and good times at Fellowship Baptist Church in Barboursville on Thursday evenings. Additional voices are always welcome.
The group is part of the Huntington Tri-State Chapter of the Johnny Appleseed District of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Barbershop is a capella in style, and performance numbers are generally taken from arrangements written especially for men's quartet.
The BHS Old Songs Library holds over 100,000 songs, the largest sheet music collection in the world outside the Library of Congress.
Barbershop harmony began in the 1800s, Patrick explained to the audience."I think it was called 'barbershop' because around the barbershops -- where the men could hang around without the women -- they could harmonize and have a good time.
But in 1938, two Tulsa businessmen, O. C. Cash and Rupert Hall, invited their friends to a barbershop songfest. The event created a traffic jam in the city, and it marked the beginning of the "Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.." (The cumbersome title with its impossible initials -- the SPEBSQSA -- was a spoof of names and acronyms adopted by government New Deal programs of the time.)
In 2004, the name was changed to the Barbershop Harmony Society. The organization's headquarters moved to Nashville in 2007.
Not to be left out, the wives of the original Tulsa harmonizers formed a women's barbershop group in 1945 which quickly became the Sweet Adelines International. Local chapters of the Adelines are active in both Charleston and Huntington.
And if the enthusiastic reception today is any indication, the Sweet Adelines and Thundertones quartets will be favored performers at any time their future concert schedules permit.