Long before The Beach Boys, The Four Freshmen or even The Mills Brothers learned how to harmonize, small groups of American men were putting their voices together to make beautiful music.
They weren't out to make hit records. There was no Top 40 back then just the south 40. The motive for their music-making was pure, simple pleasure and fellowship.
They called themselves barbershop quartets. The tradition dates from the late 1800s, when this kind of singing centered around the social gathering places of men particularly that little storefront with the distinctive red-and-white striped pole outside.
A century later, in this age of electronics, stereophonics and rock 'n' roll histrionics, that old style of song will live again this Saturday at Civic Center Music Hall.
That's when the OK Chorale will present its 40th annual barbershop harmony show. "Harmony at the OK Chorale" will be presented at 2 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. "Pure barbershop singing is always done a cappella (without the accompaniment of musical instruments)," explained Jack Bagby, public relations officer of the OK Chorale.
A longtime enthusiast of this musical form, Bagby said the appeal, for the participants, "is the pleasure of tuning a chord, putting four voices together, and producing a sound like a full-range organ.
"If it's not done well, it can be quite painful for the audience," he added. "But when it is done well, it produces overtones and a real, ringing sound that raises goose bumps."
Bagby proudly noted that the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America the national organization of barbershop harmony was founded in Tulsa in 1938.
Bagby recounted when O.C. Cash, a tax attorney who dabbed in barbershop singing, organized a song fest with 26 others who shared his interest.
"Apparently, he felt that radio was threatening that form of music," Bagby said.
The event was held in the roof garden of the old Alvin Plaza Hotel on April 11, 1938.
The unusual sound of handsomely-blended male voice caught the ear of a newspaper reporter down on the street, Bagby said, and an account of the event was sent out over the national wire services that evening.
"They say it "struck a chord with men all over the country,' " Bagby said.
The founding chapter of SPEBSQSA was formed, and soon there was a second group in Kansas City and a third in Oklahoma City, which, in its early days, met at the old Biltmore Hotel.
Today, there are 800 chapters in the United States and Canada, with a total membership of more than 38,000. With a little help from like-minded friends, Cash has indeed managed to keep the form alive, in spite of radio.
"It differs from church music in that the melody is carried by the second-highest tenor," Bagby said. "There is a distinctive tenor line above the melody. In church music, the top voice carries the melody."
While the second tenor carries the melody, the bass and baritone parts are sung at a lower pitch than the melody while the first tenor part is sung at a higher pitch. Each note of the melody has at least one note sung in harmony with it.
The harmony can change several times on a single note of the melody. This change, in barbershop singing, is called a "'swipe."
"It really is a form unique to America," Bagby said. "The Dixieland of vocal music."
The Saturday shows will open with the 65-voice OK Chorale and its quartets, attired in Gay '90s costumes and singing songs from that era.
Show Chairman Don Rogers said the program will include "My Wild Irish Rose," "Shine On Me," "Dear Old Girl," and a World War I army favorite, "Lili Marlene."
The second half will feature two of the nation's top barbershop quartets. The OK 4 of Oklahoma City, one of the country's most popular comedy quartets, will be followed by Gatsby of Dallas, a finalist in 1984 international quartet competition. Other foursomes will include The Sound Refinery, Opening Lineand Woodshed, all of Oklahoma City.
The OK Chorale will conclude the show with "the number that's requested any place we sing," Rogers said.
Known simply as the "Okie Medley," it is a collection of seven Oklahoma songs arranged by director Jim Massey and associate director Brian Hogan. The selections range from "Oklahoma Indian Jazz" to the state song, "Oklahoma!"
The Oklahoma City chapter of SPEBSQSA presented its first annual show in 1946 at the Music Hall, then known as the Municipal Auditorium, and is now the oldest annual barbershop production in the nation.
Tickets are available from the Fullerton Ticket Agency at the Music Hall. Matinee seats are $6, with group rates available. Reserved seats for the evening show are $6, $8 and $10. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 222763