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Competition draws top barbershop singers

By Eric W. Herr For The Inquirer
Originally published in the Philadelphia Enquirer

Dozens of quartets, choruses, and their families from our area, across the country, and around the world will gather in Philadelphia this week for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 72d annual International Convention. The society, originally called the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), has a membership of nearly 30,000 in the United States, with affiliate organizations in nine countries.

The “International,” likened to the Olympics or World Cup competition in barbershop harmony circles, allows the best of the best quartets and choruses to square off for a coveted gold medal.

“Sometimes it literally comes down to just a few points that makes the difference,” notes Jack Pinto of Hamilton, N.J.

Pinto sings baritone with last year’s second-place silver medalist quartet, Old School. Old School will compete again this year, along with four other quartets and five choruses from the Mid Atlantic District, one of 16 society districts nationwide.

In addition to his quartet commitments, Pinto directs Brothers in Harmony, a nearly 70-voice barbershop chorus, based in Hamilton Square, N.J., that is also competing.

“Barbershop singing is very much alive and has not faded into oblivion, as have silent movies, gramophones, and the Model-T,” said Ed Watson, the Barbershop Harmony Society’s executive director and chief executive officer.

“Today’s barbershop harmony has strong intergenerational appeal, with tunes to please Grandpa and grandson alike,” he continued.

Barbershop quartet singing, immortalized by the Buffalo Bills in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music, characterized by four parts combining to make chords.

The lead singer takes the melody. The tenor typically harmonizes above the melody with the bass singing the lowest harmonies. The baritone rounds out the distinctive harmonics, singing notes that can range anywhere in between the other voice parts.

“It’s kinda hard to explain,” muses Drew Feyrer, lead singer in 2nd Generation, a quartet of three family members and a friend from the Allentown-Bethlehem area.

“When all four voices lock in and you hear those chords ringing in perfect tune, it gives you goose bumps,” he says.

It’s been a journey of discovery of sorts for Drew, brother Sean, Dad Mike, and longtime family friend Chip Moyer, who make up this foursome.

After more than a decade of singing together and ups and downs along the way, 2nd Generation has finally made the “cut” to compete on the international stage.

‘Round Midnight, Crunch Time, and Frank the Dog round out the field of Mid Atlantic District quartet competitors. The Big Apple Chorus, the Alexandria Harmonizers, Voices of Gotham, and Chorus of the Chesapeake join Brothers in Harmony in the chorus contest lineup.