The seder, the four children, and a barbershop quartetPosted on
With National Barbershop Quartet Day coinciding with the Passover observance, this story from the Times of Israel is timely. The author uses a barbershop quartet as a metaphor relating to the parental obligation to teach the younger generation about the Exodus:
A useful framework for considering the Four Sons — and particularly the plight of the misunderstood Rasha — is the music of the barbershop quartet.
In this a cappella (unaccompanied vocal) form of music, the lead sings the melody, while the tenor and bass harmonize from above and below, respectively. The baritone completes the chord. Not unlike the various hymns included in the Haggadah, barbershop music tends to emphasize songs and ballads with simple lyrics and accessible melodies. The most distinctive element of barbershop music — and in many ways its most alluring quality — is the “overtone.” Also known as “expanded sound” or the “ringing chord,” the overtone is a natural acoustic phenomenon in which sound waves interact and a fifth voice is produced over and above the four voices of the quartet as they combine to sing the chord.
The beauty of the overtone is achieved only in the context of four very different voices. The listener would be deprived of the experience, would be musically and aesthetically impoverished, if only a bass or only a tenor were singing the same piece, however gifted the singer and pleasing the rendition.
It is telling that barbershop musicians sometimes refer to the overtone effect as “the angel’s voice.” In the Haggadah, in our families and communities, as in barbershop music, it is in our integration of different voices and of people with varying strengths and perspectives that we become more than the sum of our individual constituent parts.