Our choir sing in four-part harmony based on the voice parts of a barbershop chorus and the majority of our songs are sung in this style. However we also sing in 3, 6 and even 8 part harmony on occasion!
Nothing like the Three Tenors!
The tenor line is the top harmony part in ladies barbershop, so you would be correct in thinking "this could get quite high", although the majority of the time is spent in a lower comfortable range. The challenge to a barbershop tenor is to keep the vocal quality light and clear most of the time, so is not necessarily suited to strong sopranos who would be better lending their virtuosity to the melody line.
Without the tenors, as with any of the other three parts, the chord would sound incomplete and rather plain. It is commonly said that the role of the tenors is to add the 'sparkle' to the sound, but a good tenor knows that there is much more to it than that!
As the range is the highest, tenor notes can more easily be heard, so in a barbershop chorus there really only need to be a few accurate tenors. The part therefore suits confident and maybe more experienced singers (who have sung in a choir before and can learn to sing their part accurately by themselves). If it turns out that your voice is especially suited to this part, that's where you'll be placed!
A good lead will hold the audience in the palm of her hand.
Generally speaking, the lead part sings the melody of the song. Leads sing above the basses and below the tenors except in exceptional circumstances where the tune goes elsewhere.
A good lead singer must be able to keep absolutely in tune. The other parts generally tune their harmony notes to the leads, so if the lead goes flat, everyone goes flat! A good lead singer will also be able to sing with great expression and sensitivity to the emotions of the song, and convey these to the audience.
Some consider the lead part to be the easiest of the four parts in Barbershop Harmony. Although the "tune" may be easier to learn than a harmony part, singing lead demands a great deal of soul and finesse to enable the audience to believe in the performance, therefore a good lead needs to have a wonderful voice, passion and a lot of vocal tools at her disposal.
Arguably the most interesting part of all!
Baritones usually have a 'good ear' for music because it can be a difficult line to sing. The baritone note can either sit between the bass and the lead notes or go above the lead at times. A good baritone will be aware of the difference, as different vocal qualities are required to balance the part against the others.
Generally, the baritone note fills the gap in the chord and adds interest and colour to the music being sung - barbershop just isn't barbershop without it!
Due to its complexity the part tends to attract those individuals who are up for a challenge &/or who are technically strong musicians. New songs are keenly learnt and a real baritone will hardly contain her excitement at hearing all four parts sung together for the first time.
(Range: G above middle C down to low E flat or D, and the occasional C, all in the octave below middle C.
Enjoy singing along with Elton John, Michael Bublé, Lighthouse Family or the like? We want you!
It may sound strange that in Barbershop Harmony singing the lower voices are termed baritone and bass instead of altos and contraltos. However, ladies lucky enough to be born with (or have acquired) this lovely, mellow, deep, rich vocal quality are a genuine asset to any Quartet or Chorus.
The function of the bass is to provide the good, solid foundation on which the remaining parts can sit. As a harmony part, bass is perhaps the simplest (assuming the notes are within the vocal range of the singer), it being the most natural when harmonising with lead (melody) singers.
Good basses are worth their weight in gold and it is a good part to sing for ladies who find themselves singing in the men's octave in a congregation or along to the radio. Anyone who thinks their voice would be suited to this part will be welcomed with warm, open arms!