Cabaret of champions
SEASIDE - In a classic episode of the television comedy "I Love Lucy," comedienne Lucille Ball attempts to sing in a barbershop quartet.
But because her character's voice is so bad, the other singers (her television husband, Ricky, and neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz) keep silencing her by shoving shaving cream into her mouth.
At Seaside's 20th annual Barbershop Cabaret, you can be assured that none of the performers will end up with a mouth full of shaving cream. After all, every single one of the eight quartets is a champion in the Evergreen District, which includes Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Canadian provinces Alberta and British Columbia. Presented by the Seaside Chamber of Commerce and the Quartet Champions Evergreen District, the show features two nights of classic barbershop music and extremely tight harmonies.
Each performance will be held at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Friday's lounge show features open "nightclub-style" seating at round tables, with a no-host bar and clam chowder for sale. At Saturday's show, the audience will sit cabaret-style at long tables. The concession stand will sell beer, wine, soft drinks and food and a big tub of popcorn will be on each table. (No popcorn throwing is allowed!)
"We really try for a homey feel," said Doug Barker, one of the cabaret's organizers. "It's a family event, so bring the whole family."
Barker did note that both shows are several hours long. The performances may not be appropriate for young children, who will get antsy.
Friday's lounge show will include a special appearance by the Seaside High School jazz choir, performing with 2003 Evergreen District champion barbershop quartet Friendly Advice. The Seattle-based singing group will spend several days in Seaside's schools before the cabaret, entertaining and educating students on the art of barbershop quartet singing.
Saturday's show will also feature the all-champion Quartet Champions Evergreen District chorus, with more than 40 voices singing together to open and close the show.
Barbershop singing is an all-American form of music. The term comes from the fact that in the old days, the barber shop was the place for men to congregate.
"Years ago, the barbershop was a central meeting place where a lot would happen," Friendly Advice baritone Bill Thurmon said. "Barbers would let blood, pull teeth, provide accommodations for baths and give shaves. Someone might bring an instrument, others might sing. That's how it got started."
The style also has some roots in African American music, according to the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (otherwise known as SPEBSQSA or the Barbershop Harmony Society).
Barbershop music is usually four-part, unaccompanied, close-harmony male singing, with the melody sung by the second tenor, or "lead." A counter-tenor harmonizes above the melody, a bass harmonizes below the melody and a baritone "fills in the empty spaces."
"There is a predominance of seventh chords, which is simply a major triad chord, with a seventh note added," Thurmon said. "It adds a little bit of edge to the sound. It's what barbershop is famous for."
Most barbershop music is from the heyday of New York's Tin Pan Alley, between 1890 and 1920. Lyrical emphasis is most often on simple themes like love, friendship, mother, moon, June and the girl next door.
"The songs harken back to a simpler time," said Friendly Advice bass Forrest LaMotte. "In our hectic lives today, we find ourselves wishing that we weren't quite as stressed and there weren't quite as many conflicts in our lives. These songs - especially the love songs - are very simple, matter-of-fact sort of songs. And you can understand the lyrics!"
One of the challenges barbershop singers face is finding new, young singers to join the hobby.
"I don't know if we'll ever get rid of that nostalgic image, because barbershoppers, as a whole, are kind of a nostalgic bunch," LaMotte said. "But we try to go into schools and really expose the kids to the music. The trick is to do songs that are upbeat and more recognizable, like songs from the '60s and '70s that have their roots in rock and roll."
One of the best things about barbershop is that a person doesn't have to be a fabulous solo singer to join a group. And old-time songs don't have to be a favorite type of music, either.
"I don't have a good solo voice," Thurmon said. "I have a voice that blends well and I have good pitch. Barbershop isn't even my favorite music. I like jazz and opera, but I can't sing opera. Barbershop is what I can do."
LaMotte calls it magical.
"You get that chill down your back or goosebumps on your arm when you really lock a chord just right," he said. "We hope that happens for the audience this weekend. If people have a smile on their face, we'll know they've been entertained."
Come to the cabaret
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16 (doors open at 6 p.m.) or 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17 (doors open at 6:30 p.m.).
Where: Seaside Civic and Convention Center, 415 First Ave., Seaside.
Tickets: $12 for the Friday show, $15 and $18 for the Saturday show. Call the Seaside Chamber of Commerce at (503) 738-6391 to reserve tickets. Tickets will also be available at the door if shows are not sold out.