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July 7, 2006

A friendly competition

Indianapolis Star (IN):

For fans of "For Me and My Gal," things may never get better for the barbershop standard than they are this week in Conseco Fieldhouse. That's because the nation's top barbershop quartets are in town for the 68th annual national Barbershop Harmony Society's convention and championships. Nearly 50 groups from across the country began their head-to-head harmonizing battle Wednesday, with a winner to be named Saturday. The event also includes an international chorus contest starting today, as well as a collegiate version that starts Saturday.

And with so many mellifluous visitors in town, you shouldn't be surprised to hear a spontaneous eruption of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" at a Downtown restaurant or club. As fierce as the four-part competition is for the gold medals and trophy, organizers say the event is much more about friendship. "Nowhere will you find the bond of camaraderie as strong as I've experienced in the organization," said Randy Loos, chairman of the board for the Harmony Foundation in Clearwater, Fla. The organization is a charitable subsidiary of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Not that anybody is downplaying the competitive atmosphere. A local group, Keep 'em Guessing, is hoping home court advantage will make a difference. "I got to sleep in my own bed last night," said Bryan Hughes, Indianapolis, the group's lead singer. When the quartet competes overseas, Hughes rarely gets much sleep. "I got a good eight or nine hours of sleep last night. I'm ready to go."

Simply reaching the championships is an achievement. "We've come a long way, and the practice helped," said Chris Hallam, a bass singer from St. Peters, Mo., with the group Vocal Spectrum. The quartet got as much practice as it could, including appearing in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the International Fine Arts Festival. That involved 10 days of performing at old concert halls without microphones. "The audiences didn't understand what we were saying, but it was great to perform beyond the words," said lead singer Eric Dalbey, St. Charles, Mo. And strong performance is key, said society spokeswoman Julie Siepler. Trained judges will rate each quartet based on singing, presentation and music.

The weeklong event concludes Saturday with the finals and the World Harmony Jamboree at the Murat Theatre, Siepler said. Groups from England, Canada, Japan and Sweden will join national quartets Saturday afternoon. As rich as the harmony is in song, participants say it runs deep among the groups, too. "You're patting them on the back and wishing them well," said Keep 'em Guessing's Terry Wence, "and at the same time you're kicking them in the rear end on the stage. That's what it's all about."

Posted by acapnews at July 7, 2006 10:33 PM