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Who owns barbershop?

Stripes, barbershop and the Big World Out There

As the largest body of practitioners of the barbershop musical art form, the folks most immersed and versed in its culture and mechanics, we assume that when barbershop happens anywhere, we must have had a hand in it.

As Barbershoppers, we tend to believe that the ways we look and sound are best suited to advancing the craft. Musically, we probably are the best. Certainly there’s plenty of debate even within our own slice of the world over what constitutes barbershop, on a spectrum ranging from “pre-1920 only” to “any four-part a cappella”, with most of us lying somewhere between those extremes.

The truth is, barbershop belongs to people singing barbershop. Anyone can sing barbershop, anywhere, anytime, with or without SPEBSQSA, with or without a logo, wearing stripes and straw hats, or suits, or caveman costumes, or whatever else. Barbershop appears in places without our prompting and certainly beyond our control.

That’s great! More people making barbershop means more barbershop!

When barbershop music appears on a comedy show, expect comedy. For example, when Jimmy Fallon’s Ragtime Gals quartet sings a hip-hop song, the comedy springs directly from the jarring juxtaposition of traditional stripes with music from 2014. It’s not funny if they come out wearing street gear, or contemporary barbershop suits.

What does the Barbershop Harmony Society gain from an appearance like this? Listen to that crowd screaming its pleasure. look at the millions of YouTube hits on a making some pretty good chords, HAVING FUN MAKING CLOSE HARMONY. Win!

The next time you say “barbershop quartet” to someone under 30, and he responds, “Oh, like Jimmy Fallon!” you should reply “RIGHT! Wasn’t that fun? We have that much fun every week.” Then sing a tag, and move on.

Yes, we want to see and place quality contemporary barbershop in front of big audiences. At the same time, when you have a tiger by the tail -- RIDE! It’s great to have famous people showing the world that barbershop is fun.

Now let’s do it in our own communities too, making use of that awareness.