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Intro to Barbershop: Fuel for your barbershop fire!

Charts and tracks and shirts and more -- fuel for your barbershop fire

You show up at barbershop chorus rehearsal, and someone hands you a folder full of music. “Let’s get started,” says the director, looking sharp in a polo with the Barbershop Harmony Society emblem over the heart. “Pitch, please.” A reedy B-flat is sounded, and off you go.

Where did all that barbershop stuff come from? The music, the clothes, the pitch pipe -- where?

Like any sport, the barbershop world has its own universe of tools, materials, and gear that help you get the most from your barbershop lifestyle. One might start golfing with borrowed or rented clubs, and once you commit to the the sport, you’ll probably outfit yourself with more than just a fresh box of golf balls.

So too in barbershop: you might learn the first few songs by ear or from the chorus library, but as you grow, you’ll seek more music, more education materials, and more ways to wear your barbershop heart on your chest. The easiest place to find a huge selection of these items is at the Harmony Marketplace.

The Marketplace is both a convenience and a driver of mission

Profits from merchandise sales support Society programs. But more importantly, the Marketplace provides access to legal, copyright-cleared sheet music and learning tracks that make it possible for us to sing old classics and cutting-edge new music. It helps make global and permanent the sound of barbershop on recordings. Barbershop instruction books extend education resources worldwide.

It starts with the music

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Pictured: Early songbook, circa 1925

Although barbershop’s heritage is rooted in the African-American improvisational vocal tradition, printed music in the style dates back to the early 1900s. Piano sheet music was sometimes published with a bonus arrangement for a male quartet printed on the back. Sigmund Spaeth’s Barbershop Ballads and How To Sing Them (1925) was an early popular collection, as was “Deac” Martin’s Handbook for Adeline Addicts: Which Delves Into Barber Shopping, that Strange Phenomenon, and Touches Up American Balladry in Spots that Have Been Missed (1932.)

As early as 1941, the newly founded Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) was making printed music available to members, and for decades, each issue of The Harmonizer included a new arrangement.

The Society’s music publishing business today boasts more than 4,000 titles and 200 learning track titles. The catalog features something for everyone:

Learn faster with tracks

All new titles also offer learning tracks, which drastically speed up the process of memorizing new repertoire for quartets and choruses. Part-predominant learning tracks place a single voice part in one channel, and the other three parts in the opposite channel, so you can quickly hear your part in isolation and as it blends with the other voices. Put those commuting hours in the car to productive use, and draw some puzzled stares in traffic jams. Learning tracks are also a great way to learn the Barberpole Cat I (which you should have received in your new member welcome packet) and Barberpole Cat Volume II universal repertoire, or material for Harmony Brigade events.

Spread barbershop to new singers and new nations

While profitable, the publishing business also serves important legal and marketing purposes. Music purchased from the Barbershop Harmony Society is properly licensed from copyright holders. In fact, all music sung in official BHS contests must be legally obtained, so our large catalog is an important resource for competitors.

Moreover, BHS has a global distribution partnership with Hal Leonard making barbershop music accessible worldwide, an important part of our outreach efforts outside North America. The expansion of our catalog to include voicings for mixed and women’s voices also makes our partnership with Hal Leonard an important means of reaching the education market, which is hungry for vocal harmony and a cappella music.

Look the part in high-quality apparel

Many people have drawers full of tee shirts proclaiming devotion to a team, a cause, a school. Why not barbershop it up? If you can put a logo on it, the Harmony Marketplace has it, from tee shirts to polos and Oxfords to outerwear, with sizes for all body types, all ages, and all genders. (While most items are men’s or unisex, there is a growing collection of items tailored for women.)

Study the craft

The Harmony Marketplace helps elevate artistic and leadership skills throughout the barbershop world. Whether you want to sing better, run your chapter more effectively, or direct a chorus, there are books, guides and/or audio/video recordings to help you along the path.