What was once a way to pass time while waiting in line has evolved into one of “the best kept secrets” of the singing world.
Barbershop quartets started in the southern U.S. where men who went to barbers would sing in line while waiting for their shave and cut. Some, the ardent ones, would get together at the back of the shops and learn songs, known among the genre’s cognoscenti as ‘pole cats.’
Fourth generation barbershopper Pat Hannon, 34, is helping to keep the culture and the art alive in East York by passing his knowledge to the new students.
“It’s what I like to call one of best-kept secrets in the singing world,” he said.
Hannon says genre suffered from neglect during the 1990s but has started to turn heads recently thanks to an influx of singing competitions broadcast on television.
“It’s really starting to turn around again because of these shows,” he says, “there is a quartet from Australia that competed (in Australia’s Got Talent) and made it to grand finales, so that kind of exposure to barbershop is gonna help.”
Hannon helps his students by slowly working through the individual parts of a song so that by the end it’s become a full piece.
Thirty-year-old security guard, James Maquade, has recently stepped into the line and pays homage to the veterans who harmonize regularly at the Harmony Hall. “These guys have been here for years and I plan on doing the same,” he says. “It’s a passion, it feels right and I will just keep doing it.”
He finds the friendly and welcoming environment to be a helpful element in the vocal practices.
“A group of people that are loving, like-minded and have a passion for the same thing together, in a world where there is so much loneliness, it’s freeing for the spirit and it spiritually feels very safe here,” he said.