Vocal music, especially acapella style, is bursting across our music-sphere – just look at television’s “Glee” or the “High School Musical” movie franchise, and of course the musical competition shows like “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent.”
One unique vocal styling blends many genres and focuses on quartet singing: barbershop harmony. Tacoma’s barbershop harmony society chorus, Tacoma Vocal Standard, is rebuilding with a new name, a new director and a new style.
At the recent Evergreen District Barbershop Harmony Society contest in Spokane Tacoma Vocal Standard (TVS), scored in the top dozen for the first time in a decade. TVS competed at the division contest this past spring, earning the coveted “Most Improved Chorus” award, as well as scoring high enough to compete at the district contest. The Evergreen District includes five states and two Canadian provinces: Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
The chorus’ first tune, “Little Pal” (1929), illustrates a father’s farewell to his son, hoping the son sees better days and success in life than his dad. Interestingly, Hoagy Carmichael plays a few bars of the tune, made popular by Jolson in the post-WWII movie hit “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
Their second selection, “Lazy River,” composed by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin, is a livelier, upbeat 1931 tune about blue skies, falling in love and enjoying sunny days with family.
Music Director Samuel Booth described what judges look for in competition. “Judges want to hear crisp intonation, precise tempos, emotional engagement and showmanship. Our guys in Tacoma Vocal Standard aim high and grow more each and every week,” said Booth.
Chorus singing takes many forms, from madrigals to jazz and everything in between. The barbershop style is unique in that it combines acapella singing with all voices singing chords at the same time. In some “doo-wop” songs, one person sings the lead and others provide vocal rhythms. Hallmarks of the barbershop style include all voices in singing homophonically, the prevalence of the dominant seventh chord, and the close harmony tradition.
TVS also relied on extra coaching from Federal Way-based professional vocal coach, arranger and composer Ken Potter. Potter directs the esteemed Bellevue men’s chorus Northwest Sound, which earned the top prize at the Spokane contest.
The Barbershop Harmony Society recently changed its bylaws to welcome all genders, identities and expressions to participate, and allows local choruses their prerogative on interpreting that.
According to chorus president Ed Gentz, “Under the new rules, we expect to create opportunities for everyone to find a place to sing acapella harmony. I believe we will continue an all-male chorus and start building an all-female chorus as well as a mixed chorus in early 2019 – this January would be great!” said Gentz. “The all-male chorus operated as the Tacoma TotemAires since 1962, and just this fall changed our name to Tacoma Vocal Standard, reflecting our recent growth and new style.”
TVS formerly operated under the moniker Tacoma TotemAires, Washington’s longest running barbershop chorus among the national Barbershop Harmony Society’s (BHS) Evergreen District. Over the last two years, the Tacoma chorus has become one of the BHS’ fastest growing chapters in the Pacific Northwest. The Evergreen District includes Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Barbershop harmony holiday show
This holiday season, Tacoma-area barbershop singers offer an entertaining, family-friendly holiday program titled “A Little Bit of Christmas” on Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m. at Tacoma’s First Christian Church, 602 N. Orchard St.
Featuring all-acapella chorus performances and individual quartets, Tacoma Vocal Standard (TVS) will host an evening of holiday cheer spanning a variety of musical eras and holiday themes.
Samuel Booth directs the chorus and wants families to enjoy this unique style of music. “Every holiday season brings out Handel or Irving Berlin, so we think many folks would enjoy a unique vocal style – barbershop! This special musical style floats across tender, lively, and heartfelt tones. Barbershop can be jazzy, chromatic, or bluesy.”
The performance will raise funds for several projects, including scholarships for local high schoolers to attend “Harmony Explosion,” support for a youth music program at First Christian Church – where the chorus rehearses – and expand TVS’s outreach.
“We send several kids to Harmony Explosion every year, so this show really gives those scholarships a boost. First Christian Church hosts our rehearsals, so part of our proceeds will support their music program. We also raise money to fight hunger and poverty in the Tacoma area through a food bank. We are a 501(c)3 so gifts to us are charitable, and each gift helps spread a love of music throughout our communities,” Gentz said.
“The last several years have been a blast,” says Gentz. “We have seen a lot of work put into this chorus to demonstrate a new trajectory. Our new members sang in high school or in church or with friends, and now they want to go to the next level. Acapella singing enjoys a wonderful new audience, so our new members range in age from 22 up to 92 years old.”
TVS rehearses every Tuesday at Tacoma First Christian Church, 602 N. Orchard. Visitors are welcome to enjoy great refreshments and fellowship.
Tickets for the holiday show are available through their Facebook page, from chorus members, or at the door. You may also call (253) 237-SING (7464) or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/TacomaVocalStandard or totemaires.com.