This article by Freddie King was published in the November 2001 issue of "The
Charivari," bulletin of the Dundalk, MD, chapter, Tom Wheatley, editor, but
deserves a wider audience. It is published here in entirety, with permission.
We had a song to sing
The Mid-Atlantic District convention of 2001 will be one I long remember.
While competing for the district quartet championship SAGE decided to test
the system for all of the "kibbers" out there. Kibbers are members who
admonish all performers and judges to "keep it barbershop."
We opened our set with "You're the Only Girl for Me," a sweet barbershop
ballad of marvelous proportions. The crowd enthusiastically accepted our
efforts, and we moved on to our second song. It was in this number that we
sought to challenge the system.
Tom Felgen and I did some non-singing setup of the next song. In it, I
indicated that I wanted to sing the bass part of the number. Of course, the
real joke in this is that anyone who says he wants to push Felgen out of the
bass part is nuts. Tom is a two-time gold medalist bass. It doesn't get any
better than that. Naturally, he wins out, and I spend the next song singing
of how I want him to teach me to sing bass in the song, "Mr. Bassman."
Now, the song fits every requirement of a barbershop song except one. It
fulfills the need to get out to chord II in the harmonic progression. Its
melody is always in the second tenor, and the harmonies are very consonant.
Where, then, did the song violate our style? That came in the total lack of
homophony. Homophonic singing means that all four parts should be singing
the same words at the same time. In this song, the bass never sings a word!
He just bum-bums his way through the entire song. Couple that with the
spoken rhythmic lines, and you have enough to warrant a zero in the music
category. The singing and performance categories have as their first
consideration, "Is it barbershop?" Therefore, they were also called upon to
adjudicate the music for what it was worth as a barbershop performance.
The outcome was clearly predictable. Since disqualification is no longer an
option, the judges are called upon to give bad examples a poor score. They
fulfilled our greatest desires and gave us so few points as to guarantee our
finishing in last place. We went down in flames! I didn't watch the judges
during the performance, but I suspect that they just laid their pencils down
The crowd erupted in a tremendous standing ovation at the tag, and they
sustained it until we were out of sight. It's probably the best ovation a
last place quartet ever received. However, everyone in the audience knew
that we had just committed musical suicide. They were applauding the comic
We oldtimers have been wondering where the line was being drawn on
non-barbershop music. We decided to make the judges do their job, and they
did. We're grateful that they had the courage fo put this kind of song in
its place. Had they not "zeroed" it, I would have believed that our beloved
barbershop society was in a world of trouble. For us, it was worth the
sacrifice to be sure that our hobby was in great hands. If just one judge is
brought to examine his beliefs with just a little more scrutiny, we have not
done this in vain.
The judges were candid with their trenchant comments about our performance.
I was relieved to see that none of them saw what we did as smug or a form of
protest, but just as a test. We failed beautifully. Want my advice? Don't
test 'em. They know what they're doing.
One funny exchange came between Rob Hopkins, music judge, and myself upon the
fact that he awarded us just 15 points for our performance. "What's the
matter, Robby," I asked, "were you too chicken to give us a zero?" He
replied, "I knew you were going for zeros, so I just couldn't give you the
satisfaction." I said, "Rob, you're the only one smart enough to insult me
like that." We both laughed our derrieres off.