It all began with a Bach chorale in a music theory class.
From there, the Bach singers expanded their song set from pre-classical tunes in the classroom to the upbeat rhythms and seventh-chord blends of “Coney Island Baby” on the stage.
Fourth-year trumpet student Enrico Lopez-Yanez and fourth-year classical guitar student Kevin Nash first began singing in an all-male quartet their freshman year for a music theory course, but what began as a casual classroom joke soon developed into a barbershop quartet called Three Times a Lady.
“We were originally asked for our class to pair up into groups of four to sing Bach chorales as an assignment, and we thought it would be entertaining to have an all-male, instead of a two-female, two-male group,” said Lopez-Yanez, the group’s tenor.
As the four original members grew closer with each song, Lopez-Yanez said their teaching assistant from music theory class, a former barbershop quartet singer, helped them launch Three Times a Lady. In addition to Lopez-Yanez and Nash, the group now includes third-year ethnomusicology students Joseph Lorge, the group’s bass singer, and Wyatt Stone as lead singer.
Traditionally sung a cappella by four male singers, barbershop music involves one lead singer backed by sustained, constantly changing harmonies. Since its beginnings in the 1940s, the style has remained similar, though the singing material has grown to include renditions and parodies of popular songs.
“It’s like vocal acrobatics,” Lopez-Yanez said.
Named after the Commodores’ hit single, Three Times a Lady holds recitals on campus and performs in various settings in the L.A. area, such as organization banquets and community festivals.
Because none of the four members come from a vocal background, they see their performances and rehearsals as opportunities to relax and hone a new skill, said Nash, a baritone.
“You’re coming here just to make music and enjoy each other’s company,” Nash said. “We all have a good sense of humor, and that’s really one of the big things that it’s about. We may not be operatic singers, but we know what we’re doing and it’s fun.”
Though barbershop music has been around for a long time, audiences are often surprised and delighted to hear the music genre for the first time at the quartet’s performances, Lopez-Yanez said.
“I love the novelty of the group and being able to take it out and do it for people, to educate them on something they’ve never heard, but something that’s also so entertaining and funny that you can do it anywhere,” he said.
For Lorge, the portability of the group makes the experience of performing even more enjoyable and entertaining.
“It’s the best feeling to go to a gig and sing and walk out, not having to carry any instruments or gear,” he said.
However, the group finds the most enjoyable aspect of its portability in the spontaneity of its performances, Nash said.
Often, the four members would be at a friend’s apartment or walking down the street when they burst into song, to the surprise of bystanders and passersby.
“One night we went down to fraternity row and serenaded all the people walking by,” Nash said. “That night ended really nicely, because we serenaded one of our members’ then-girlfriend. She was on a balcony, and we felt very medieval.”
It is the light-hearted nature of the quartet’s performances that creates the true character of the group, Lopez-Yanez said. The members’ common sense of humor draws the group together and creates a harmony greater than a simple blend of voices.
According to Nash, the quartet often incorporates choreography and sound effects to enhance the lyrics and generate laughs in the audience.
“Because of the way we present ourselves, (the audience) lights up,” Lopez-Yanez said. “It’s just happy music – you can’t listen to barbershop and be depressed. The chords and the happiness and the cheer of the performance just brightens your day in that way.”
Although the group has shared numerous memories together, they do not feel they will continue the quartet beyond their UCLA years without one another, Lopez-Yanez said.
“You become so close with the members that it eventually becomes hard to replace,” he said. “Maybe down the road, Wyatt and Joseph will form their own (quartet) with two other people, and Kevin will move somewhere else and find three other guys. It sort of loses the Three Times a Lady characteristic if it’s not us.”