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August 8, 2006

Greg Lyne helps energize barbershop chorus

Oakland Tribune (CA):

They wear bow ties and harmonize, but they don't take the barbershop moniker too seriously. "Barbershop in most people's minds is a bunch of old guys singing off-key in a quartet," said Herb Florance of the 180-member Voices in Harmony. The all-male chorus is scheduled to sing Sunday, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds as part of the "Summer Series Under the Stars" benefit for the Livermore Performing Arts Center.

The combined a cappella voices below the tenor range bring a rich, full sound to American standards like "Paper Moon," "Beyond the Sea," "The Way We Were" and the lesser-known "I Can Dream Can't I?" Voices in Harmony also plans to sing a medley of armed forces themes at the upcoming performance.

Credit newly hired director Dr. Greg Lyne for the draw. Florance said he considers it "the chance of a lifetime" to sing with a director who is considered one of the top two in the country by those in the know — some 34,000 members of the Barbershop Harmony Society, a national organization founded in 1938 that takes competitive singing seriously. The group's motto is "Keep the whole world singing."

A former director at the Barbershop Harmony Society, Lyne is a published composer and has directed university and professional choirs across the country. He has conducted more than 300 festival and all-state choirs and presented a master class at St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music.

While members of the 820-chapter national association — including some actual barbershop quartets — don't get as much airplay as Cold Play, there is enough of a steady following for the music that it has its own podcast. The men's a cappella group Hi-Fidelity sings regularly on "Last Call With Carson Daly" and another group from the organization is competing in NBC's "StarTomorrow."

Voices in Harmony has aspirations to become a standout in the sector; the goal is to consistently rank in the apex in national competitions within five years. "We're getting to be that good — we hope," Florance said. "I know it sounds like a lofty goal, but it's attainable." The Fremont-based group is actually a combination of two choirs that had been suffering lagging memberships of about 40. "Believe it or not, that's a small draw in our world," Florance said.

In January, just as Pleasanton's Pot of Gold and San Jose's chapter were merging, they discovered Lyne might be available. A full-court, a cappella press ensued, the result of which was the pick of one of the nation's most sought-after directors. These days, 180 members vie for one of 110 spots on the risers during concerts and competitions. The two choirs already have a bevy of regional awards between them and hope to increase that number exponentially with the help of Lyne.

The choruses sing in four-part harmony, with men singing tenor, baritone, bass and lead. The American association maintains a library of some 10,000 songs written for the lower ranges. It even includes the "Hallelujah Chorus." Local singers shouting "Hallelujah" over Lyne have found a leader who at one moment can be as tough as a college football coach and the next a softie who proclaims his love for the group. He's also quick to bring a sense of fun to the group. "He's all of those things," Florance says. "He can be as tough as nails if he needs to be."

Posted by acapnews at August 8, 2006 9:41 PM