On April 11, 1938, the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), then known as the Society for the Preservation and Education of Barbershop Quartet Singing of America, held its very first meeting at the Roof Garden of the Tulsa Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Today the nonprofit organization has approximately 20,000 members and associates who belong to more than 700 chapters in the United States and Canada. And until just recently, each of those members was a male.
Lee Frayer, director of the Venice Gondoliers, the local BHS chapter, said that 2019 has brought about some big changes in their group.
“In all these years, it’s only been open to men, but as of this January, the ladies can join the Barbershop Chorus, too,” he said. “We now have at least four ladies who are interested in being in our spring show and who have been practicing with us.”
Even though women haven’t traditionally been members of the BHS, they have been able to sing barbershop music with the Sweet Adelines Society, which also has a chapter in Venice.
Barbershop harmony is rooted in African-American tradition and is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note, in a primarily homorhythmic (the same word sounds at the same time) texture.
More technically, the melody is consistently sung by the lead (second tenor). The (first) tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord.
Frayer says that true to their mission statement, the Gondoliers enjoy bringing people together in harmony and fellowship through their singing.
“We have one big show a year, but we also have other performances throughout the year,” he said. “We put on charitable and educational shows — basically, we’ll sing wherever there’s a crowd.”
The group meets each Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Lakeside Lutheran Church in Venice to rehearse and socialize, and they are currently looking for new members to join them. Anyone who loves to sing is welcome to come to one of the rehearsals, and it’s not even necessary that they know how to read music. The Gondoliers teach the four parts (lead, bass, baritone, and tenor) using sheet music, learning tapes and actual singing with the chorus and/or a quartet.
For those who love music, but would rather not sing in public, Frayer says that the group always has a need for people to help with stage production and selling tickets for the annual show. The idea is to get more and more people involved with the Gondoliers.
“That’s called ‘keeping the whole world singing,’” Frayer said. “I’ve been doing this for 52 years and I learn something new every day. It’s not just a hobby for me, for me and my wife, it’s a way of life.”
The Venice Gondoliers’ annual show will be held on Friday, March 29, 7 p.m. at the Venice Church of the Nazarene, 1535 East Venice Avenue. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, or to purchase a ticket, call Lee Frayer at 941-953-3752. Those interested in joining the Venice Gondoliers can also call Frayer for more information.