Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Beauty of Barbershop and All Its Inspirations

When I've told people that I would be spending my vacation day on Friday watching my dad in a Barbershop competition, most people said, "Your dad cuts hair?"

No--my dad sings in a barbershop group, as long-time readers of this blog know.  In fact, he's part of an award winning group, The Alexandria Harmonizers.  He's traveled the world with them:  the group sang at the Great Wall of China and the group was invited to France celebrate one of the big anniversaries of D-Day.

They did not win yesterday, but it was a tough field in which to compete.  We didn't see every group, but we saw a lot of them.  I am always impressed with the groups that keep this tradition alive.  There were more groups of young singers than I thought there would be--and yet, why was I surprised?  Roots music is often appealing.  In an age that sees young people creating artisanal cheese businesses and urban farms and whiskey distilleries in a spare closet, why wouldn't there be a return to Barbershop?

I am also astonished at the types of music that can be made into a Barbershop arrangement.  My favorite song, not sung by my dad's group, alas, was the arrangement of Paul Simon's "American Tune."  I would not have thought it was possible to transform that song in such a way.  I know the lyrics, of course.  They seem particularly appropriate:  "We come on the ship they call Mayflower.  We come on the ship that sailed the moon.  We come in the age's most uncertain hour, and we sing an American tune."  Throughout, the lyrics return to "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright," and at the end remind us that we can be forever blessed.  Beautiful!  I needed that message during my adolescent years when I first listened to the lyrics enough to memorize them, and I need them at this point in the life of the nation.

Before the results of the competition were announced, we enjoyed a small concert from last year's winner.  They did a medley of the work of Stephen Schwarz.  I had no idea that the music of Godspell and Wicked could be transformed into Barbershop arrangements--but they can.

As the day went on, my brain wasn't always focused on the competition.  I spent part of the last two days rereading the short stories that I hope will make up a volume of linked stories, with the link being the for-profit art school in South Florida where all the characters work.  I have one short story that I'd really like to include, but it's set in South Carolina, with a major part of it revolving around Mepkin Abbey.  I thought about creating a fictional abbey in South Florida.  I thought about making the plot work out in other ways.

At some point in the afternoon, the answer came to me:  the character left South Florida to take a department chair position in South Carolina, but she wonders what life would have been like had she stayed.  The title of the story works for the whole volume:  Book of the Dead.  I also thought about a short story that I wrote years ago that would fit into the collection of linked stories.

On our way back to our cars last night, my family started singing "Doe, a deer."  Three generations walked down the sidewalk singing that song from The Sound of Music at the top of our lungs.  It will be my favorite memory when I think of this competition.

Some people walked by us and looked at us like we were deranged people who had escaped from an institution.  Others smiled.  The lucky ones sang along as they walked along.

I had a vision of the whole city, united in song, healing the rifts and bridging differences in a way that only music can.  But that didn't happen, at least not last night.  At the end of the day, we poured the wine and toasted to better luck next year, a great way to end a wonderful day.

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