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Mount Zion barbershop vocalist Rich Hansen wins state honors

By VALERIE WELLS – H&R Staff Writer
Originally posted at The Herald Review in Central Illinois on Sunday, June 13, 2010 8:00 pm

MOUNT ZION – Rich Hansen’s T-shirt pretty much says it all: Eat. Sleep. Sing.

It’s his Barbershop Harmony Society T-shirt and Hansen is the 2010 recipient of the Award for Barbershop Excellence, known in Illinois as the ABE. He was chosen for his work in founding and organizing the Youth in Harmony festival, an annual event in Bloomington for young barbershop singers that began in 1998 with 23 Mount Zion High School students and has expanded to include more than 1,000 youth from all over the state.

“It’s given out each year to a member of the Illinois district who has contributed in some way, shape or form more than others over the past year,” Hansen said. “The nominations come from past ABE award winners and past presidents of the Illinois district.”

Most districts are comprised of more than one state – and there are chapters in other countries, too – but Illinois is its own district. Hansen is the fourth winner of the award in both of his barbershop quartets.

Barbershop singing is a cappella, no instruments, and the harmonies are close, making special use of the dominant seventh chord that is so closely associated with the style that it’s often called the “barbershop seventh.” Think of Bert and Ernie singing “I Love You Truly” in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Of course, there were only two of them and real barbershop harmony requires four parts, but the style is the same. Ideally, the voices blend so well that no individual singer’s voice is detectable. Though one usually pictures four men in straw hats and striped shirts, barbershop has come a long way, baby, and a lot of groups do contemporary music. Women form groups as well. The Sweet Adelines are an example.

Hansen is a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, whose rules for members’ conduct includes the interesting entry, “We shall refrain from forcing our songs upon unsympathetic ears.” He sings with Sound of Illinois, Coles County Chorus and Sound Opportunity, which includes his former student, Matthew Trusner, a 2001 graduate of Mount Zion High School, where Hansen teaches history.

“It’s a cappella and extremely challenging,” said Trusner, 27. “There’s no instruments to hide behind. It’s just you and three other guys’ voices and that’s it. If you’re weak on a certain part or you don’t have your act together, you will stick out. That’s the thrill and the challenge, and I love it.”

Like many fraternal organizations, Hansen said, the members of the Barbershop Harmony Society are mostly older, with few young men to carry on into the future. His reason for starting quartets at Mount Zion High School was to do his part to interest young people in the musical form, and Mount Zion groups won state championships in 2008 and 2009. Next year, he’ll have a boys’ group, two girls’ groups and a boys’ ensemble.

Hansen first became interested in barbershop music at age 16, but got away from it until college, when a professor talked him into trying it again, and he’s been at it ever since. Barbershop and a cappella vocal music are enjoying a burst of interest now thanks to the Sing Off competition on NBC.

“It’s become popular again and we’re kind of riding that wave,” he said.

For more information: vwells@herald-review.com|421-7982