Posts Tagged ‘BHS’

American Harmony, The Movie… Revisited

April 20, 2009


American Harmony

Barbershop singing like you’ve never imagined

By MEG DOWNEY • The Tennessean • April 14, 2009

Start humming…
Gonna take a sentimental journey.
Yes, sentimental, fiercely competitive, charming and obsessive. American Harmony, a music documentary about barbershop singing, exposes the passion and friendship of the men drawn to this peculiarly American style of a cappella singing.
Influenced by African-American gospel and European hymn chorales, the music, for some, may seem stuck in the early 20th century. We think of men with sleeve garters, handlebar mustaches and straw skimmers on heads bent together in harmony on “Sweet Adeline.”

Get past that. Today, many may dress more like dons and sing 1960s pop. The film sets up four gladiator quartets seeking to be No. 1 in the international competition held by the eminent Barbershop Harmony Society, which is based in Nashville.
Max Q is the revered dream team of older singers who’ve won before with other groups but can’t seem to get the gold; the OC Times (for Orange County, Calif.) are attractive young turks who could easily wow American Idol fans; Reveille is a group of middle-aged friends with a comedic bent; and Vocal Spectrum is a foursome of upstarts just out of college.

These musical Olympics attract 10,000 fans, and the singers practice with the intensity of Lance Armstrong, while mowing the lawn, playing poker and for hours in front of a coach. The blissful ringing chords they produce are only half of it. Watch their faces contort with emotion — eyes popping for surprise, eyebrows bent up in sincerity, half-closed eyes and crooning lips oozing love. They are all hams, and that’s the kick.
Shawn York, the tenor with the OC Times, works as a manager in a Chick-fil-A, then suits up and becomes a rock star on stage or enchants a waitress when his quartet spontaneously erupts with “So In Love” in a luncheonette. No wonder these guys have groupies following them.

As Joe Hunter, a baritone with Reveille, said: “It’s you, your voice and the audience, and when it’s done right, it moves people.”
While winning may drive the singers, it’s the camaraderie that binds them. American Harmony shows that effectively. The teams deal with challenges from rookie nerves to brain cancer. The 86-minute film, written, produced and directed by Aengus James, is a rose in the lapel for these songsters.

Stay “Tuned”

Jerry Braack

California  USA


Good Friends Gone…

April 3, 2009


I am sad to hear of several of my long time friends passing away from cancer.  Both friends I have known for many decades, and it hurts me to know I am at the age where  the people I know are leaving this world.  I do have health issues, but I am still “above ground”… and that’s a good day.

To attend the services for my friends means reliving old memories, seeing old friends and remembering all the good times shared with their families and all who knew them.

One man, Stan Lang,  gave me my first job after my tour of duty in the Air Force, and was keen on getting an education, so it was mandated to me… go to school, do your homework and tell me when you can work and we will make it all work.

Another man, Jim McKee, I have known also throughout my Barbershop career as a teacher, director, quartet enthusiast, official BHS judge and friend.

Both were men of good character, both loved the Barbershop music and both loved family.

They will be missed!

Thanks for reading

Stay “Tuned”

Jerry Braack

California  USA

BHS International Qualifications…

March 17, 2009


This coming weekend my wife Elaine and I will be in Las Vegas, Nevada at the site of one of the many qualification competitions for the upcoming International Convention and Competition for the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS).  This particular convention will combine both the Far Western and the Rocky Mountain Districts.

The International Convention will be held in Anaheim, California, held from June 29, thru July 4, 2009.  It will be a thrill for my wife and I to attend this International convention since it is close to home. 

This convention will be the first time that a Sweet Adeline Chorus has been invited to attend and perform on one of the shows outside the main competition.

It will also be a monumental calling card to see the 11 time International champion chorus Vocal Majority and the 7 time International champion chorus Masters of Harmony perform together on the same stage.  Approximately 275 men will perform several songs together, as well as separate selections from each of the choruses by themselves.

I will be sure to post results for all to see, and possibly to hear, following the events.

Thanks for reading

Stay “tuned”

Jerry Braack,  California  USA

American Harmony, The Movie…

March 2, 2009

 American Harmony

 What a boost to the Barbershop Art Form! Here is a reprint from the official BHS website. 

American HarmonyThe Single Biggest Public Relations & Membership Recruitment Opportunity Ever Presented To Chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society

American Harmony, the documentary, had a very exciting and  successful  screening at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 2008   International Convention in Nashville. Now the producers, Aengus James (who is also the writer/director) and Colin Miller, want to take it beyond the barbershop devotees. The film, which is a tribute to the  human musical spirit, is more than three years in the making and was edited by Kate Amend, the editor of two Oscar-winning documentaries. 

The movie is an in-depth look at the amazingly rich subculture of a true American art form. It follows the lives of some of the biggest names to emerge from international competition in the Society’s history, as well as interviews with rank-and-file members, called “Joe Barbershoppers.” The film features four prominent Society quartets – OC Times, Max Q, Vocal Spectrum, and Reveille – over a span of years, on stage and at home, in their personal quests for international recognition as they experience the thrill of victory, and the agony of not quite making it. American Harmony received an enthusiastic reception from film distributors and other non-Society audiences.

“The film is a mixture of obsession, singing, zany comedy and nail-biting competition,” says James on the website. “This is the story of several dreamers who journey from their ‘ordinary’ lives to the world stage in the hopes of winning the gold.”


American Harmony was filmed by James and his camera crews during the Society’s last three international conventions and is interspersed with footage and other graphic elements provided by the Barbershop Harmony Society. These elements combine to tell a very compelling story:


Watch the trailer


Thanks for reading


barber-pole2Stay “tuned”


Jerry Braack


California  USA

What’s in a Name, SPEBSQSA…

January 24, 2009

Masters of Harmony

Here is a selection for you from the Masters of Harmony. This is the Los Angeles county based chorus I had the priviledge of singing with and won 2 of their current 7 International Gold Medal Championships with… enjoy!

As referenced in Wikipedia…             SPEBSQSA name


Emblem and historic logo of the Society, 1950s-2004

The original intention of the name SPEBSQSA was a lampoon on the New Deal alphabet agencies. Because of name’s length and the difficult-to-pronounce acronym, society staff and members often refer to SPEBSQSA as The Society. For decades, SPEBSQSA was the official name, while the Barbershop Harmony Society was an officially recognized and sanctioned alternate. There was encouragement to use the alternate name, because it was felt that the official name was an in-joke that did not resonate outside the Society. In mid-2004, faced with declining membership, the Society adopted a marketing plan that called for using “Barbershop Harmony Society” consistently and retaining the old name for certain legal purposes.

The old official name spelled “barber shop” as two words, while barbershop is generally used elsewhere.

Stay “tuned”

Jerry Braack

California  USA

Ringing Chords the Barbershop way Part 2…

January 21, 2009

Hi-fidelityHi everyone, This is a wonderful and unique quartet called Hi-Fidelity, check out their website and listen to them singing a very entertaining song in a competition setting on

Here is the second in a series of posts on what drives the Barbershop singer to come back time after time to this fantastic art form called Barbershop. The Barbershop Harmony Society, BHS continually strives to develop even better ways of enhancing the “a cappella” experience in music through Barbershop Harmony.

What is prized is not so much the “overtone” itself, but a unique sound whose achievement is most easily recognized by the presence of the “overtone”. The precise synchrony of the waveforms of the four voices simultaneously creates the perception of a “fifth voice” while at the same time melding the four voices into a unified sound. The ringing chord is qualitatively different in sound from an ordinary musical chord e.g. as sounded on a tempered-scale keyboard instrument.

Most elements of the “revivalist” style are related to the desire to produce these ringing chords. Performance is a cappella to prevent the distracting introduction of equal-tempered intonation, and because listening to anything but the other three voices interferes with a performer’s ability to tune with the precision required. Barbershop arrangements stress chords and chord progressions that favor “ringing”, at the expense of suspended and diminished chords and other harmonic vocabulary of the ragtime and jazz forms.

The dominant seventh-type chord… is so important to barbershop harmony that it is called the “barbershop seventh…” SPEBSQSA (now BHS) arrangers believe that a song should contain dominant seventh chords anywhere from 35 to 60 percent of the time (measured as a percentage of the duration of the song rather than a percentage of the chords present) to sound “barbershop.”

Stay “tuned”

Jerry Braack

California  USA

Competitions help make the Barbershop Art Form even better…

December 13, 2008

Within the Barbershop Harmony Society BHS, there are Divisional competitions within each District.  The Divisional qualifiers move on to the District competitions. There are 16 Districts across the United States with some extending up into Canada.  Cardinal, Central States, Dixie, Evergreen, Far Western, Illinois, Jonny Appleseed, Land-O-Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Ontario, Pioneer, Rocky Mountain and Seneca Land


BHS Districts

BHS Districts


The District Champions and other qualifiers who attained the required scores then move on to the International Competition.  All of these competitions are held to encourage excellence in the craft, and often times the winning groups from competitions within other countries around the world are invited to the International Competition which is held for the most part within the boundaries of the United States of America.  At this competition, one of the requirements is that all contestants must sing in English.

It is exciting to attend a competition at the International level and listen to the competitors sing.  It can be very difficult for people who speak languages other than English, to create the proper vowel sound and then have everyone in the group, be it a quartet or chorus, match that sound in order to structure the chord properly. This is only the beginning as then the challenge is to do that same thing on all the following chords in that song… or both songs… or even 4 (6 if it’s a quartet), should the group make the final elimination of the competition.



Stay “tuned”

Jerry Braack

Caifornia  USA

Barbershop… the inner workings

December 12, 2008

The harmonics of Barbershop music is created when the notes are tuned properly thus creating overtones, which are actually audible notes to the listener other than the 4 being sung.  Thus a 5, 6, or 7 part chord is being produced, when only 4 notes are actually being sung. 

If you imagine an oscilloscope you can actually see a wave of sound which is a certain cycle per second picture of sound. In Barbershop music the notes are tuned so as many of the peaks of the waves as possible coincide with each other to produce the overtones. 

The vowel matching, the tuning, the timing and the position in the structure of the chord is what amplifies the overtones and gives the listener the exciting sound produced by this art form.  It is complex when first examined, but with practice the mechanics of producing the magnificent sounds become somewhat automatic.  It still requires attention to detail and intelligent focused singing, but the results are amazing.

The Barbershop Harmony Society, BHS, dedicates itself to teaching the craft from basic to advanced in order to provide to the listeners of the art form the most enjoyable experience imaginable every time it is heard from the very first to decades later… possibly when the listener has become both a member and producer of the music.

Barbershop around the world…

December 10, 2008

The unique style in the close harmony of this style of music has produced what has now become a world-wide style of music.  It is also now being sung in other languages as well in some of the other countries.  To name a couple… England has The British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS), Sweden has The Society of Nordic Barbershop Singers (SNOBS) and many others to be listed in future posts.

The Barbershop Harmony Society – BHS is striving to bring the joy of music and specifically this style to all the corners of the world.  Music teachers and established quartets travel to other countries to highlight the art form, conduct seminars, schools, even mini competitions and of course performances to show people how easy and fun barbershop music can be.  It’s wonderful to see the smiles come to the faces of people when the music is produced by them in its simplest form. 

I have seen this first hand when I myself, following my marriage to my wife Elaine, took about 120 of our closest friends (The Master of Harmony) to a music festival in Ireland.  No greater thrill could be seen on the faces of the people lining the streets of Kilarney, Ireland as we marched through the town on the St. Patrick’s Day parade singing My Wild Irish Rose.  It was a honeymoon we will never forget… the friends, the atmosphere, the country and of course the Music!

Stay “tuned”

Jerry Braack

California, USA

Barbershop is alive and well in San Diego, CA

December 9, 2008

On Friday night at Balboa Park in San Diego California, I was fortunate to attend the first of 2 nights celebrating “December Nights”, a festival celebrating the Holiday Season for people who come from all across Southern California, with various booths set up within the many areas and buildings of Balboa Park. 

The booths included food of all kinds, crafts from many local merchants, displays of many different kinds of trees with many different styles of decoration, and many different music styles were being highlighted, both on the main pavilion stage and various locations around the park. 

I stumbled upon a group singing in an alcove with some men I have known for years.  It was a privilege to be able to hear an the a cappella ensemble named “Royce’s Voices”.  

This group was formed and is currently directed by Royce Ferguson, BHS International Champion Quartet member (Revival – 1998), and former director (2006-2007) of BHS International Chorus Champion Chorus (Westminster Chorus2007)


Royce's Voices Balboa Park San Diego, CA 2008Here Here are the names of the men who sang at this event in Balboa Park this year: 

Back Row- starting from Left: Jonathan Tappan, Larry Thorpe, Tom Powell, Jerry Kudrick, Steve Bates, Allan Webb, Mark Clement, Jason James, Jeremy Saye, Bryan Soland.

Front Row- starting from Left: Mark Reich, Royce Ferguson


Royce Ferguson comments on the group’s development… “We essentially started as a class I taught at San Diego State (SDSU). The class brought together a few friends from the Sun Harbor Chorus (San Diego chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, BHS), SDSU, and other SoCal singers.


Mark Hale (Director of 7 time International Champion Chorus, and current International Champion Chorus The Masters of Harmony chapter of the    Barbershop Harmony Society, BHS) generously provided much of the music that we learned.


This group paved the way for PCH (Pacific Coast Harmony chapter of Barbershop Harmony Society) and the vocal approaches that were refined here eventually defined the vocal model for Westminster (Westminster chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, BHS and International Champion chorus – 2007).  

Singing informally at “December Nights” is always a highlight of the year for all of us. And some listeners have even made it part of their own holiday tradition!”  You can find more information about the group and some history at:

What a terrific way to spend a Friday night in December.

Jerry Braack

California, USA