By Laurie O’Brien
Unless they pursue music in college, most kids who sing in their high school glee club are done with music lessons and organized singing after they graduate. Likewise, a lot of young people with a love for singing just don’t have the time during the school day to devote a period to choir. Some Pierce County residents want to let local teens know that there are musical outlets beyond the walls of their schools, and that there are groups out there who will welcome them with open arms – even if they’ve never sung in a choir before.
Lanny Gleason has been singing with the Harmony Kings, a men’s community chorus located in Federal Way, for the past nine years. Like many of the members, he wishes he’d joined the group a lot earlier. With that in mind, he and fellow chorus members are always looking for ways to spread the word about their organization.
As part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, The Harmony Kings sing a cappella music that is arranged in the barbershop style – meaning that there are four parts: tenor (a high harmony part), lead (the voice that generally takes the melody line), bass (the lowest harmonizing part), and baritone (the voice that completes the four part chord). Most high school and middle school teachers include some form of a cappella singing as part of their curriculum, so what better way to let kids know about the chorus than to give them a chance to sing for and then listen to adults who perform the same kind of music.
This weekend marks the second time the Harmony Kings have hosted a youth music festival held in conjunction with a local barbershop contest. The chorus is the host for the competition and last year decided to add the youth element, inviting local schools to sing and be adjudicated by adults who are well versed in barbershop and other forms of vocal performance. The young people are also given the opportunity to see and hear barbershop quartets and choruses perform for evaluation as well.
Gleason is the organizer of the youth contest . “This is our second year of high school participation. As long as we host or co-host (the adult contest), the high school session will be a part of the event.”
Schools who participate can have as many as 16 singers or a few as four. They can be all male, all female, or a mixed sex group, and any form of a cappella music is accepted, it doesn’t have to be in the classic barbershop tradition.
Don Rose, a music teacher at Curtis High School in University Place is one of the judges for the youth contest. In his spare time, Rose also directs a barbershop chorus located in Seattle and sings in a quartet called Madison Park. Although he teaches band by day, singing is in his blood, and Rose clearly has a love for his hobby. “A cappella music is simple, yet fantastically difficult the more you learn. Everyone can sing, but in a time of auto tuning and studio processing, singing pure vowels with clear tone … [that’s what] a cappella singing is all about.”
Another judge for the youth contest is Teresa McCafferty. McCafferty directs the Jet Cities Chorus, a women’s barbershop chorus from Federal Way. “A cappella music is the only form of music where our body – and only our body – is the instrument. You learn so much when you learn how to sing,” she says. A chapter of Sweet Adelines International, her chorus has youth outreach goals similar to the Harmony Kings, and even invites female high school aged singers to join them for free during the summer months. “It’s a great way for young singers to maintain vocal health and discover new skills, then, hopefully, when they’re through with school, they’ll come back and join us. Sometimes they get hooked and join before they graduate!”
For that same reason, the men of the Harmony Kings are reaching out to youth and other community members who may want to develop their singing skills. Gleason says, “The ultimate goal is to get youth interested in barbershop, and hopefully join barbershop with some chapter.”
In addition to the contest, The Harmony Kings also provide financial assistance for local students who want to attend Harmony Explosion, a three day camp for young men and women between the ages of 12 and 21 during which they become immersed in barbershop singing. The camp is held at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Many campers use their experience at this camp as a springboard into all sorts of singing styles. Many claim that the confidence they gain from singing without accompaniment has helped with auditions for honor choirs and even school musical productions. “This camp is more than music – it is giving me bravery to sing in front of all those people tonight – I would not have done that last week!”
The Harmony Kings invites all community members to come watch both the barbershop contest as well as the youth a cappella contest this Friday, May 2nd and Saturday, May 3rd at Our Savior’s Baptist Church, 701 S 320th St, in Federal Way. Quartets will sing on Friday starting at 6 p.m. Choruses will sing on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. The youth contest will take place starting at 3:30 p.m., and a Show of Champions will happen at 7 p.m.
The Harmony Kings also invites men of all ages to join them on the risers every Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 515 S. 312th Street in Federal Way. They also encourage you to check out their annual show on June 7 and 8 at the Auburn Performing Arts Center.
Jet Cities Chorus also has an open invitation for women of all ages to visit them during their Monday night rehearsals at 7 p.m. at Todd Beamer High School, 35999 16th Ave S in Federal Way.
This year’s Harmony Explosion Camp will be held July 10-12. Find out more information here.