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International Barbershop Singing Group Celebrates 50th Birthday

April 10, 1988

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) _ The tunes may be different, but the harmonies will be the same when barbershop singing groups gather Monday around the world to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the organization that promotes them.

The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, or the SPEBSQUA, has about 38,000 members in 825 chapters.

But Ray Heller, the organization’s manager of communications, says that because that name does not spring as easily from the lips as does the music its members sing, it is known informally as the the Barber Shop Harmony Society.

Each chapter is to gather Monday at 10 p.m. and sing a few songs to commemorate the anniversary.

The group, despite its formal name, promotes four-part harmony among choruses, ranging in size from 20 to 150 people, as well as among the traditional quartet.

″It is more demanding to participate in a quartet, and some people who like four-part harmony get a boot out of singing in larger groups instead,″ Heller said.

In the quartets, one person sings the lead or melody line, a tenor sings above the melody and a baritone usually below, with the bass welding the sound of the other three together.

Competitions are held in each of the group’s 16 North American districts twice a year for both the quartets and choruses, and an international champion is crowned once each year.

The international competition this year will be held July 3-10 at San Antonio, Texas, when about 12,000 people will gather at the group’s annual convention.

The society was formed in 1938 at Tulsa, Okla., by a group of businessmen who liked four-part harmony.

One of the district competitions is scheduled Monday at Tulsa, and a plaque is to be dedicated there at the site of one of the group’s early meeting places.

There were 480 chartered chapters in the United States and Canada by 1948, and Heller said there are now national groups in Great Britain, Sweden and New Zealand and local groups in other parts of the world.

Heller said the society bought a mansion at Kenosha in 1957 and turned it into the group’s international headquarters, known as Harmony Hall.

It was located at Kenosha because of the city’s central geographic location and because a larger concentration of the members live in the center of the country, Heller said.

The society now employs 44 people, he said, producing a bimonthy newsletter and organizing the annual meetings as well as other activities to encourage barbershop singing.

″We arrange music in barbership style, sell sheet music and hold clinics,″ Heller said.

Heller said membership in the society has held steady for about the last 10 years. ″There are more retired people involved, but also more high school quartets,″ he said.

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