It only takes a measure or so to recognize the a cappella singing style known as barbershop, with its four-part harmony of bass, baritone, lead and tenor, and its frequent 7th chords. Several of Arizona’s LDS youth regularly perform in that style at local and national events.
Chandler High School is known around the Valley of the Sun for their barbershop choruses—both for their men’s choir, of which 11 of 40 singers are LDS, and a women’s choir (the Treblemakers) with two members out of 44. Both choirs are under the incredible direction of award-winning Lori Lyford, who is not a member of any church.
They’ve performed twice with well-known pianist Alpin Hong at the Chandler Center for the Arts and Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum. While traveling, they’ve been asked to sing in an airport, and even on a plane.
In January, they flew to San Antonio, Texas, for the annual Midwinter Competition, organized by the Barbershop Harmony Society.
“The goal of BHS,” says Isaac Dowdle, who sings lead, “is not just to sing barbershop, but to keep it part of the American culture and have it spread.” Groups from Sweden, New Zealand, and Hong Kong have attended.
“The BHS is so mentoring,” says Diana Dowdle, mother of two choir members. “It’s multi-generational, with those in their 30’s and their 80’s helping perpetuate the love of harmony music—even to the point of paying for hotels. We only pay for food and transportation.”
Mentoring includes teaching younger generations how to arrange popular songs into barbershop style. Among the growing repertoire of “barbershopped” songs are “Somebody to Love,” by Queen, “Bring Him Home” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
This year was the first in which female youth choruses were invited to compete at Midwinter, and Chandler High’s two choruses competed against each other for their age group’s trophy. The young women won it; the young men took 2nd.
Recalling the post-competition time, when they could simply enjoy being around hundreds of other music-loving youth and sing “tags,” baritone Isabella Kelsey says, “Music is a universal language, and we would randomly break out into song.”
Tenor Caleb Dowdle describes tags as “kind of like the punchline of a joke or moral of the story. They’re at the end of a song, but can stand alone.”
Isabella also performed with the Treblemakers in Las Vegas in 2016. They’d been selected through an online contest organized by the Sweet Adelines, an international society of female barbershop singers.
Barbershop is a tricky style, requiring much practice. “That work ethic spills over into other facets of their lives,” says Sister Dowdle. For example, Alan Braudt (bass) continued in scouting beyond his Eagle Award, earning six palms. He loves how after hours of rehearsing, hitting the chords right “amazes everyone in the room.”
Skills these youth develop will likely continue throughout their lives. Tiffany Applegate’s son Nicholas (tenor) is a former choir member and now a missionary in Norway. “The Lord puts missionaries’ talents to use,” she says. Elder Applegate’s phenomenal musical abilities break the ice with investigators and less active members, and invite the Holy Spirit.
There’s something special about music. Is it time for you to join or start a barbershop group?