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Barbershop society wants to hear new voices

March 16, 2011

Fred Burne of the St. Marys chapter of the St. Marys Barbershop Harmony Society displays programs from the group's performances over the years. Photo by Victoria Stanish.

Like jazz, barbershop harmony singing is one of the unique types of music that originated in the United States. The St. Marys chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society is hoping to bring in some new voices with a guest night held during the group's meeting on Tuesday, March 22 at the American Legion Post 103 along Center Street in St. Marys. Any men from Elk and neighboring counties who like to sing four-part a cappella harmony, or who just enjoy singing, are welcome to attend.
Society member Fred Burne, a barbershopper since the 1960s, said men "from the age of 10 to 110" are welcome to come and see what barbershopping is all about.
The chapter, formed in 1992, had presented 17 consecutive annual shows staged at the St. Marys Area High School. Members also performed at churches and area nursing homes, presented singing Valentines and went Christmas caroling, and participated in competitions. According to Burne, membership has dwindled over the past few years due to one reason or another, including health issues and loss to other regions.
"About three years ago, several members, including the chorus director, broke off to start a new chapter closer to their homes in the DuBois area. Since then, the St. Marys chapter has been hobbling along and has now formulated plans to make a comeback," Burne said.
"Right now, we have six members, and it's just not enough."
He said people are interested in barbershop music because it has a rich history and tradition and is also fun to sing. Many of the melodies originate from the late 1800s and the first part of the 1900s. The main chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society – also known as The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America and has more than 800 chapters in the U.S. and Canada – was founded in 1938 to preserve and perpetuate this type of singing, which did indeed originate in barbershops and on street corners.
"Barbershop is a type of music that four ordinary voices can sound terrific when they sing together and sound in tune. It's a case where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," Burne said.
For questions or more information about the local Barbershop Harmony Society, the upcoming guest night or barbershopping in general, contact Burne at 814-486-1000 or visit www.barbershop.org.

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