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A Capella Singing
History of Acapella
A capella is singing without musical instruments. The phrase means in Italian "In The Style of the Chapel". It obvious is the oldest method of singing. Songs of praise or sacred music are in many religious traditions, Gregorian chants, Byzantine Chants and hymns to name a few. Songs were used for work like sea shanties, field hollers and the like. We sing lullabies to babies, we sing in the shower ( great echo), we sing while we work, children sing when they play. We sing at happy events and sad ones also.
Street Corner Harmony
They used to sing to us
Watching the television program sing- off reminded me back to the days of my youth in the 60's when many of the guys would be (as the song says) "looking for an echo. The best places to harmonize with good acoustics would be school stairwells, bathrooms (public and private), hallways, subways anywhere that would make the sound better. Of course there would be the group by the street light at night singing, huddled in a doorway or on the playground. Sometimes they would be shooed away by supers or police. Other times people would gather around to listen. Even at parties the guys would huddle together and "harmonize". Each one had their part to sing be it tenor, bass or baritone. The term is an old one. Years ago the term "curbside harmony " or "streetlight harmony" was used for barbershop style singers also.
When you walked down the street and pass by groups of young men, they could be on the stoop or under the street light. And if you were a young lady you might hear a song just for you. Sometimes catcalls but sometimes a song.
Acapella On Television
Many of the new music shows on TV are showcasing acapella. Some in a not so good fashion that has people laughing at contestants toneless voices. Others are different where contestants seem to have talent and are serious about their craft. And their craft is singing and their vehicle is the voice.
A capella on Amazon
Barber Shop Quartet
In The Style Of The Barber Shop
A barbershop quartet is a four person vocal group without musical instruments. There usually are three voices harmonizing to the melody of a fourth. The second tenor sings the melody and lead, the first tenor harmonizes above the lead, the bass harmonizes below the lead and the baritone in between. Then there is the ringing cord which distinguishes barber shop quartet from other types of groups. The ringing cord is something that is sort after by groups. It is when four voices harmonize with great precision in such a way that there is the illusion of a fifth voice and expanded sound that fills the space.
In Europe barber music was said to have been in the 16th century as an informal mode of entertainment, it included instruments like a lute and some vocals. Men would gather in or near a barber shop and kill time while waiting for their turn or just socializing together in this method. During this time barber-surgeons did blood letting, minor surgery and teeth extractions along with cutting hair and maybe the music was to calm the potential patient before their ordeal.
The term Barber Shop music was probably coined around 1910. And as with other music genre the term was used after the fact. The music had evolved and then a definition was made. The barber shop was (and still is in some communities) what we now call a third place. That means it is not work or home but a gathering place to go to in the neighborhood. Years ago many of them had quartets like many businesses sponsored baseball teams for adults. Later, informal groups singing for fun were known as curb side harmony, lamp post harmony or close harmony. These singers would sing at different functions like parties, festivals, fairs and picnics. Then of course there were the professional street musicians.
The Barbershop and Blues
There are also choruses that sing in the barbershop style which can become quite large. Many different types of music was played in barbershops not just that style. The legendary jazz bandleader Buddy Bolden practiced with his band at a barbershop of his friend or his depending on whose telling the story. Texas blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson started as a street musician playing in front of barbershops and on corne, either above or below the lead to make chords (specifically, dominant-type or "barbershop" sevenths) that give barbershop its distinctive, "full" sound.
Do you like barbershop quartets?
Acapella and Popular Music
Minstrel shows often had a vocal quartet among their number who sang in between acts.
One interesting connection is that the famous Four Mills brothers father was a barber and a member of a barbershop quartet called the "Four Kings of Harmony." He later became a part of the group after the death of his eldest son. They each also became proficient in imitating different musical instruments. They went on to sing jazz and pop songs but retained some of their barbershop style. Many R&B singers who sang doo-wop considered them a great inspiration. Many acappella singers cover doo-wop songs as they have good harmonies.