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Barbershop Boys make time for harmony and homework

by Nick Veronin
Mountain View Voice Staff
(Originally published at Mountain View Voice)

Jonathan Martinez, a student at Crittenden Middle School, is a sprightly 12-year-old, according to school principal Karen Robinson.

“He’s a charming little boy,” Robinson said with a laugh, hinting that Jonathan is familiar with the inside of her office.

When asked whether he has ever been in trouble with Ms. Robinson, Jonathan cracks a wily smile and nods. He is quick to add, “She helps me out a lot.”

But there’s a lot more to this soon-to-be 8th-grader. He is also the lead singer of a barbershop group.

Robinson foresees a bright future for Jonathan, perhaps in show business. “He has lots of energy and personality,” she said.

Jonathan became interested in barbershop vocal arrangements after seeing a movie about Motown soul music stars The Temptations. The film, also called “The Temptations,” featured a scene in which the characters sang ringing barbershop harmonies. He fell in love with the sound and passed the word on to some of his music class pals, 13-year-olds Gilberto Dominguez and Noah Ralph.

And the seeds of The Barbershop Boys were sown.

Figuring out how to recreate the dominant seventh and tonic four-tone barbershop chords required more than charm, however.

“We wanted to sing barbershop, but we needed help,” Jonathan said.

So, he, Gilberto and Noah appealed to their Crittenden music instructor, Leanne Rzepiela, and she called on Al Ward of the local Boomerang Barbershop Quartet.

“To sing barbershop well is quite difficult,” Ward said. “The basics are pretty straightforward, but to really sing it well takes a great deal of rehearsing.”

And rehearse the boys did — although not with as much rigor as the Boomerang crew. Every Tuesday at lunch, Ward and members of his group would come to Crittenden to instruct the handful of students who came to be known as The Barbershop Boys.

Ward and his group coached the boys all year, helping them divide traditional four-part barbershop harmonies among the group’s eight members — a task that could, at times, be tedious.

Ward said that it was sometimes challenging to get Jonathan to concentrate, “but once we get him focused and the quartet starts to sing, he performs like a professional, emoting the emotion of the song and engaging the audience.”

The Barbershop Boys have sung at Crittenden Choir performances and at the Crittenden talent show. They recently performed at the Mountain View Whisman school board meeting on June 3 for their “dear principal, Ms. Robinson.”

“That was really sweet,” Robinson said. “I’ve become their biggest fan.”