Monday, May 28, 2012

Barbershop choruses are serious business – slideshow

Virginia Gentlemen sing "A Fool Such As I."

Harmony filled the halls of the Hotel Roanoke this past weekend with melodies both old and new. The Southern Division Barbershop Quartet contest was held Friday evening. Barbershop Choruses competed Saturday morning. The Virginia Gentleman Chorus of the Roanoke Valley hosted the convention with Dennis Ritchie as Master of Ceremonies.

Bob Johnson of the Harrisonburg Harmonizers

Bob Johnson a baritone with the Harrisonburg Harmonizers Chorus said, “it takes practice … practice and a lot of preparation and years of dedication.” First a new member learns the words and the music at home. A coach helps with holding the vowels and the cutoffs. They get together several times a week with the director and they practice on a riser.

Working in the choreography on top of everything else takes long hours said Johnson who also sings with the Blarney Brothers Quartet. He explained that of the two song selections for the contest one is usually what he called a “gut buster” followed up by a soft song.

Ray Bishop base singer with the Virginia Gentlemen of the Roanoke Valley said, “staying crisp and in tune is the hardest part.” They have to peak at the right time and keep everything in line. Some choral groups were conservatively dressed in tuxedo or suits and vests. Others sported costumes matching various themes. The Virginia Gentlemen wore joker hats as they sang “A Fool Such as I.” The fifth place AAA chorus, the Fairfax Jubilaires wore costumes of the 1930s and took on a challenging song of soldiers leaving for war – “So Long Mother, Kiss Your Boy Goodbye.”

Johnson says the hard work is worth it and it is all about going out into the community and “giving joy to people.”

Second Place Soundworks

A roar went up in the audience as the Virginia Gentlemen directed by Tim Service won third place overall but were number one in their AAA plateau with a score of 69.3 percent. That was a feat said President Bert Hubbard. First place went to AAAA plateau chorus the Alexandria Harmonizers who have won international championship titles. Second place went to AAAA Soundworks of James River, Virginia. The top five qualify for the October Mid-Atlantic District contest in Ocean City, Maryland.

The pace was brisk for the 12 choral contestants Saturday. Johnson said they are always a little nervous in front of such a large audience. Friday evening there were 28 quartets competing. First place went to Acme Chord Company from Alexandria and D.C. Hubbard was proud of Roanoke’s young fledgling group “Ben and the Boyz.” They won the “Novice Quartet” trophy and came in 15th overall.

First Place Alexandria Harmonizers

A barbershop quartet consists of four people who sing a cappella without instrument accompaniment. Many choral groups sing well-known barbershop tunes like “Sweet Adeline” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

Many barbershop quartet singers also choose to sing in a chorus as does Bob Johnson. There are small choruses and choruses with over 100 members like the Alexandria Hamonizers.

The Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), is the first of several organizations to promote and preserve barbershop music as an art form. Founded by Owen C. Cash in 1938, the organization quickly grew, promoting barbershop harmony among men of all ages. In the United States and Canada there are about 30,000 members whose focus is on a cappella music. The international headquarters was in Kenosha, Wisconsin for fifty years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 2007.

If you can carry a tune all are welcome to give it a try said President Bert Hubbard. The Virginia Gentlemen are on the web at

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Local Events


Comments (7)

Aimee Stern

May 29th, 2012 at 11:13 AM    

You did not mention the Alexandria Harmonizers, an award winning a capella group that has played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. Upcoming concert on June 9th at GMU. To learn more go to


May 29th, 2012 at 1:39 PM    

I mentioned them here: “First place went to AAAA plateau chorus the Alexandria Harmonizers who have won international championship titles.” There is also a picture.

Jordan Truesdell

May 29th, 2012 at 2:45 PM    

What a wonderful article on the weekend’s events; thank you for letting everyone know about this. There were some fantastic performances on stage and a lot of fun for all the participants.

Since he’s in the Soundworks photo above, I’ll point out the Stephen Shelburne (second man from the left) is former Virginia Gent, a Virginia Tech grad and former student teacher at Pulaski High School. Soundworks can be found on line at

Although these convention weekends are primarily dedicated to true barbershop harmony, many choruses and quartets sing a variety of styles. It’s not unusual to hear “barbershop” groups sing doo-wop, big band, Americana, spirituals, and modern pop at non-contest events.

We have small singing groups (typically 4 or 8 men) available to perform for entertainment at local functions, and also to provide educational programs on this traditional American music style to civic groups and student classes.

(techincal note: we are in a “transition” with our website, and though is our official address it points to a slightly outdated static site. Our event calendar is kept at our temporary site As soon as the kinks are worked out and some new material is added, the official address will resolve to the new site – until then you are welcome to see the future site work in progress.)

Jordan Truesdell
Music & Performance / Virginia Gents
Baritone / Ben and the Boyz


May 29th, 2012 at 10:20 PM    


Thanks for more details. I received an email from Rupert Cutler (who I know)but didn’t know he use to be a Virginia Gentlemen.

Bob Caldwell

May 30th, 2012 at 3:49 PM    

Thanks for this fine article on the barbershopping that went down at Hotel Roanoke last weekend. I am proud to say I have competed in this contest nearly every year since 1976, this time too. Of the six fellows in The Soundworks picture three of them have sung in quartets with me. One of those quartets, City Slickers, won this Southern Division contest four Memorial Day weekends in a row from 1997-2000. The tenor of the winning quartet this year also sang previously with me in another quartet.

Chris Yates

May 30th, 2012 at 8:59 PM    

Great Article, I had a great time singing in both contests. I loved the Hotel, the location and the market area. It made everything better being there. We had fun afterwards singing around the Hotel including singing to a group of young folks celebrating a wedding. So good to be with old friends in a comfortable environment! If you like singing give it a try, you’ll be hooked!

Bill Clark

May 31st, 2012 at 2:56 PM    

Thanks for a great article.
I’m a 45-year member of the Va.Gents & still loving it.
Any male (no age limit) who likes to sing is invited to attend one of our meetings @ College Lutheran Church in Salem any Mon. night beginning at 7:30pm. You can sit & listen & see if you like what you hear, but we’ll give you a Guest Book of music & urge you to get up on the risers with us.
Call me @ 540-721-3340 if you want a quartet/octet or the Chorus to perform for a civic club, church function, family gathering, etc; we love to perform.

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