By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Today’s teen girls, Evarts says, love the old songs from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s about falling in love and first love. They’re drawn to the songs about flappers, who started out sweet and innocent, then cut their long hair into bobs and stayed out all night drinking champagne and dancing the Charleston and became not so innocent.
“Just about any song can be arranged in the barbershop style,” Harborlites director Pam Pieson tells me. “Though probably not rap or hip-hop. But Madonna certainly, especially her ballads.”
That barbershop exists at all in this day and age is astonishing. I imagined it had gone out with pianos in the parlor room and straw hats, preserved as an anachronism only in places like Disney’s Main Street USA. But there are 30,000 women in the Sweet Adelines International barbershop organization, which helped to put the day together. It felt like the young girls here were being unofficially inducted into a kind of singing sorority.
“The Sweet Adelines have chapters in Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Japan. They’re thinking of starting one in Saudi Arabia,” Evarts tells me. She casts an idle look at the practice session happening onstage. “But it’s hard to put sequins on the burkas.”
“You. Tenor in the back row,” conductor Dede Nibler calls out. “You’re too short. Come down front, honey bunny.”
A small girl skitters down.
There were big girls and small girls; skinny girls and fat girls; animated alpha girls who were natural emoters and sang with a flourishing gusto, and shy, nervous girls happy to settle into the back. There were girls who wore their glittery sashes around their heads like Pocahontas and girls who wore them primly around their shoulders like Miss America. The same variations exist within the women’s groups, which were into it more or less professionally. Everyone there seemed to know that all-female barbershop evolved as a feminist backlash to the all-male quartets and choruses: Husbands went off to sing, and the wives, left behind, began to organize.
By nightfall, a contingent of parents, grandparents, husbands, boyfriends and various vested parties has arrived. From the looks of them, there is a Norman Rockwell painting hanging in each of their living rooms. The young women and the not-so-young women take turns on the risers, five deep onstage. Their jazz hands and jazz arms and stomping in rhythm rock the house. “Candle on the Water” has the audience practically in tears. I mean, good tears.
When you hear it, and even more so when you sing it, barbershop sounds innocent and cheerful. Even the sad songs. It transports you back to a gentler time, before school shootings, metal detectors in classrooms, newborn babies flushed down toilets and drama-rama bare-bellied Britney with her python. When the girls launch into the Beatles’ “In My Life,” I get chills. Chills! And I want to give everybody a hug. Choral music is not for everyone, but if you’ve never seen your Aunt Edna from Oklahoma whirl around in a Phantom of the Opera cape, then you haven’t really lived.
To form your own chorus or join one with Sweet Adelines, call (800) 992-SING, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.sweetadelineintl.org. Download free barbershop sheet-music arrangements or create your own; visit www.barbershop.org. Harborlites Chorus, (714) 282-1610 or www.harborliteschorus.org; visitors welcome to rehearsals on Monday nights; vocal warm-ups begin 7:30 p.m., First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, 310 W. Broadway, Anaheim.