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April 6, 2004

Seattle Times

Some wear bifocals and hearing aids. Many are gray or balding. On a recent Saturday, members of several local barbershop quartets gathered at a Magnolia church for a memorial. Row by row they stood, decked in black tuxedos, crooning "The Lord's Prayer" and "I Believe" in perfect harmony for a colleague who passed away recently at 94. Then it dawned on Bob Mahony, of Bellevue, a retired field engineer who, at 77, has been a barbershop singer for a half-century, mostly with the Seattle Seachordsmen:

"What is going to happen to this chapter?" he said. "We have got to get on the ball and get some new members." Often associated with mustachioed men in straw hats and striped vests, barbershop quartets are realizing they need new recruits to keep alive a fraternity whose members are collecting Social Security, or are about to. When about 200 singers from around the state gather at 7:30 tonight at Steel Lake Presbyterian Church in Federal Way, they want to show there's a lot of vibrancy and pizzazz in their performance.

"If you are singing in a chorus, you may be on the chorus riser for half an hour. That is a long stretch for people long in the tooth," Smith said. "Some will have to sit. There are chapters that have guys in wheelchairs." Their three-hour practices can be exhausting, but the men gather Mondays in Queen Anne to practice and to talk because underneath the singing, Smith said, it's also a social club. They get together for dinners and ballgames and to chat about their grandchildren's college choices or how expensive college is now. They visit one another in hospitals and, when a member passes away, they sing at his funeral.

"Time and again, our studies show that they join for the music but stay for the fellowship," said Nau, of the national headquarters. The camaraderie is a major reason the society has such a devoted following. But guys getting together with other guys a factor that made barbershop quartets popular for many who grew up during World War II isn't necessarily a draw with younger generations. "People getting together in single-gender group" and singing "does not resonate like it used to," said Gage Averill, chairman of the music department at New York University and author of "Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony." More

Posted by acapnews at April 6, 2004 8:07 AM


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