Music News & Reviews

Music: Catch the barbershop bug

The Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus will perform two shows on April 24 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.
The Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus will perform two shows on April 24 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. COURTESY PHOTO

F or some, it’s an addiction. For others, an obsession.

“Once you get the barbershop bug, it’s very hard to shake,” explained Rudy Xavier, vice president for marketing for the Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus.

Now in its 48th year, the San Luis Obispo singing group consists of 60 men united by a love of four-part harmony, a cappella singing and perfect pitch.

“It’s the blend that makes the difference,” said Xavier, a chorus member for eight years. The Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus will share that special sound at its 46th annual concert, “We Heard it at the Movies,” next weekend at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.

They’ll be joined by the La Habra-based quartet The Edge, winners of the Barbershop Harmony Society’s district competition in 2009.

“It’s a pure sound and it’s all made by voices,” said director Paul Silva, one of the co-founders of the Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus. “There’s nothing better for getting an armful of goose bumps.”

According to the Barbershop Harmony Society, close-harmony singing came to the United States in the 19th century from England. Men would break into song in bars, parlors and barbershops, improvising harmonies and putting their

own spin on popular ballads.

The movement officially got its name in 1910 with the publication of “Mister Jefferson Lord, Play That Barber Shop Chord.” But barbershop quartets fell out of mainstream popularity in the 1920s and ’30s with the rise of solo crooners.

Most modern barbershop groups belong to the Barbershop Harmony Society, founded

in 1938. As of 2007, the organization listed about 30,000 members in the United States and Canada, as well as affiliate groups in Africa, Australia and Europe.

When the society’s original Santa Maria chapter dissolved in 1963, Silva and his friends decided to start their own, he said.

Today, the Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus boasts 60 singers ranging in age from 18 to 85. The chorus also has four quartets, including Silva’s Pacific Express. He has been singing with Max Frickey, Babe Silva and Kent Brahams for 28 years.

“It’s very gratifying to stand there with three other guys and ring a chord,” Paul Silva said. Such “ringing chords,” an acoustic effect created by precisely tuned and balanced voices, are a hallmark of barbershop singing.

According to Xavier, the group’s repertoire ranges from turn-of-the-century tunes to popular songs of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Sample selections include “Paper Doll,” “Shenandoah” and “In the Still of the Night.”

The Gold Coast Barbershop Chorus’ packed concert calendar includes a Memorial Day concert in Los Osos, a July 4 concert at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and summer stints at the Pavilion at the Lake in Atascadero and the Rotary Bandstand in Arroyo Grande.

The group also delivers singing Valentines on Valentine’s Day, sings the national anthem at baseball games and performs at weddings and other private gatherings.

The highlight of the year, however, is the annual concert, Silva said.

Whereas past shows have paid tribute to pirates, showboats and the Wild West, this year’s concert takes its cue from the cinema.

“We Heard It at the Movies” features film favorites including “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “River of No Return” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,”

“You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” first appeared in the 1938 movie “Hard to Get,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was originally featured in 1941’s “Sun Valley Serenade.”

“These are memorable songs written by great composers,” Xavier said. “They’re expressive. They’re emotive. They’re very passionate.”

Part of the concert proceeds will go to the nonprofit organization’s many charitable efforts. The rest pays for expenses such as sheet music, stage equipment and transportation costs.

“This show is what keeps us running all year round,” Silva said.