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July 13, 2005

Get the pets, Barbershop guys are gone

Salt Lake City Tribune (UT):

It's safe to come out now. They're gone. The International Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society is over. Untie your dogs. It was pretty scary for a while. Reports poured into the newspaper of hefty white guys breaking into bizarre harmonies on street corners, in restaurant waiting lines and even on TRAX.

Let me hasten to add that I can't sing a note. Nor can I put together two sequential notes on a musical instrument. My musical interest extends solely to what I enjoy hearing. Barbershop isn't it. In fact, barbershop is really close to rap on my list of music that, with a bit more research, might prove useful clearing nasty sewer clogs. At the very least I expect it to be included on the soundtrack for the Great Apocalypse.

If God really wants the wicked to suffer, I can't imagine a worse fate than perishing from boils and piles to the nonstop tune of four guys singing, "I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart." Then again, it's probably not fair to put barbershop in the same category as rap. Fewer people get shot at barbershop conventions. And quartets in straw boaters and striped vests rarely harmonize about "doing yo' mama."

Truthfully, I don't hate barbershop nearly as much as I just don't get it. Yes, it's an American art form. I know it's steeped in history and culture. And it's sung entirely without banjos or monkeys. I'm still not getting it. I was probably taught how NOT to appreciate barbershop. When I was growing up, one of the neighbors sang in a quartet. Nothing wrong with that, mind you. But he practiced at home. By himself. Mr. Hobbs sang while he mowed the yard, worked on his car, and just sat on the porch. Cats became mentally ill. Birds flew around rather than over his house.

So, what I got was an appreciation for barbershop from one-quarter of the quartet. I have no idea which part Mr. Hobbs sang, but it was definitely the most irritating of the four. If he's still alive somewhere, Mr. Hobbs probably has no idea how many times he came close to getting shot in the neck with a Daisy air rifle.

So, I grew up having unaccompanied vocals setting my teeth on edge. I've tried to see the magic in it. It isn't there. I suspect an inner-ear problem, namely that I can hear it at all. The magic is there for lots of other people, enough to put together a national convention. On Saturday, they held the finals in the LDS Conference Center. My editor tried to send me, but the fact that I'm not in jail right now proves that I didn't go. I couldn't be responsible for my actions if I had to listen to one quartet after another shoot it out over "A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother."

The barbershop guys (is there such a thing as a beauty shop quartet?) are gone now. They packed up their har-moanings and left for parts unknown. Time now to collect your missing pets from the animal shelter. Me, I can go back to focusing my attention on the worst sort of musical criminal, radio disc jockeys who talk over the music.
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Tribune columnist Robert Kirby welcomes mail at 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or e-mail rkirby@sltrib.com

Posted by acapnews at July 13, 2005 12:27 AM