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Barbers in harmony with Whistler

Hundreds of barbershop enthusiasts descend on Whistler for regional annual convention



What: Harmonize in Whistler

When: Oct. 30 & 31

Where: Telus Whistler Conference Centre

Cost: Free mass sing, other events $20 to $35

Whistler sees its share of street performers, thanks to the folks at the Whistler Arts Council, but this coming week, a visiting group of musicians has a special show in store.

On Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31 the Telus Whistler Conference Centre will be taken over by a crowd of almost 600 barbershop performers, as they gather for an annual regional district convention.

Moe Jones is a member of the Gentlemen of Fortune chorus, one of five large choruses in the Lower Mainland, boasting a membership of 75 people who perform at hospitals and nursing homes throughout the year, and special Christmas shows during the holiday season.

Jones' interest in the world of barbershop quartets and choruses was actually sparked while he was in high school.

"Basically, singing in a quartet with that four-part harmony is just really a thrill to sing to, and it's a hobby, but it's a real participation thing, where you can hear that chord ring in your ears, and it's very, very exciting, particularly when you're making the music and there are no instruments behind you as a band making the music."

This a capella style of purely vocal music emerged at the turn of the 20 th century.

"In those early days the barbershop was sort of a place of entertainment," Jones explained. "When men went to get their shaves done, they would hang around and play instruments and they'd sing songs, and it was sort of a social club, almost."

The tradition almost disappeared over the next 20 years or so, only to be resurrected in 1939 by a man named O.C. Cash.

"They originally called it the Society for the Preservation of Quartet Singing in America."

Rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn't it? Since then, that society has been renamed the Barbershop Harmony Society, and grown to a membership of almost 33,000 men. There's another society, Sweet Adeline International, with a membership of almost 20,000 members, for the female counterpart of the barbershop quartet and chorus.

"When you get some of these big choruses from Florida and California and so forth, and there's one in Toronto too, they are fantastic," Jones said. "You get 120 guys on stage all performing an a capella in costume and doing all the choreo, and it's fantastic!"

Jones is co-chairing this year's convention for the Society's Evergreen District, which includes Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.