There are four parts to it: lead, tenor, baritone and bass. That’s the general make-up of what we know as the barbershop quartet. (The straw hats, colorful striped vests, and bow ties are optional.)
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One local barbershop quartet, The Untouchables, recently joined Closer Look in-studio for our Summer Indie Music Series. The group is comprised of lead Maury Morris, bass Rufus Massey, tenor Tony Boyd, and baritone Neil Hutcheson.
This musical tradition goes back centuries, but certainly still continues on today. In fact, you can hire a barbershop quartet to deliver a singing telegram for you. Valentine’s Day is a particularly big day for these groups.
“A quartet just like this will show up at your door for your loved one, and sing a couple of songs for them,” Massey said.
But The Untouchables make it clear: these tuneful hits aren’t as easy as they sound.
“There’s a lot of discipline with this,” Massey said. “Singing with these guys, and the close harmony, and what we have to do to make a melodic sound, is a lot more difficult than the other genres that we sing in. We all sing in other ways. But this one is hard work, so it’s fun.”
There is a lot of focus on breathing, posture, and projection when it comes to barbershop music. And the diligent work and practice that goes into perfecting these songs means a lot of time working in close coordination with the other quartet members. Those relationships become very important.
“We have to be able to enjoy being with each other, and the singing is the byproduct of the relationships that we have,” Morris said. “So the fun is all about knowing that we can make good music, or attempt to make good music in those moments, and then we can feel good about each other.”
With The Untouchables, their close bonds are apparent through the smiles on their faces as they sing. The tunes are catchy, with the four voices combining playfully in harmony, but there is something about the genre overall that got Morris hooked.
“I’ve been singing a cappella for a number of years and I got the bug for barbershop [in] about 2009,” Morris said. “And it is uniquely different than anything I’ve seen.”
According to The Untouchables, anyone can catch that bug, if you’re interested.
“That’s the beauty of barbershop, is that it’s really for everybody,” Massey said. “If you like to sing and if you can listen to learning tracks in your spare time…and if you have the joy of singing, then you can learn barbershop.”