Brightly-colored bowties and barbershop harmonies took center stage on Saturday night when the Palouse Harmony Chorus (PHC) — the local chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) — presented their fifth annual spring concert at Living Faith Fellowship in Pullman.
The two-and-a-half hour concert featured two barbershop choruses and five quartets from the Palouse and Spokane areas. The Western Washington quartet “Cheers!” headlined the event.
Ed Novak, president of PHC and a tenor singer who performs in the quartet “Four Names in a Hat,” said he felt the concert went well but wished it had better attendance.
Novak estimated attendance to be about 300 people, but said as many as 700 have attended in prior years. Students from several local high schools were also invited to attend the concert for free, he said.
PHC opened the concert with six songs, its members taking the stage dressed in black slacks, gold vests and bowties. Songs included the finger-snapping depression-era hit “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"and “Hello, Mary Lou,” a song recorded in 1961 by singer Ricky Nelson.
Singer-songwriter Brian Gill, who has performed with folk artists such as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, was emcee for the event. Gill said the harmonies involved in barbershop singing are very tight.
“Harmony is what makes the universe go around, man,” Gill said. “This is all about listening. Singing is about listening because, if you’re not listening, you’re not going to be singing right.”
Gill also commented on the lack of young barbershop groups today, though several singers in PHC fit the description of young.
This includes Jesse Anderson, 22, one of the lead singers for PHC.
A graduate of Idaho State University and hardware engineering technician, Anderson has been singing since junior high school. He said he loves the unique sound of barbershop quartets and the brotherhood of the PHC.
“The four-guy sound is just really nice,” Anderson said. “It just makes such a beautiful sound.”
Four quartets followed PHC, including the “Harmony Swells,” who made the audience laugh with comedic tunes such as “Mother In-Law,” which sadly and then happily tells of a mother-in-law’s death after being caught in a folding bed.
The 20-member Spokane chorus “Pages of Harmony” also performed, ending their set with a medley of armed forces tunes including “Anchors Aweigh,” “The U.S. Air Force (Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder),” and the “Marines’ Hymn.”
Gill said although he has never sung in a barbershop group, he understands the historical importance of the genre.
“When you hear this kind of singing … it’s not the boombox stuff of today," he said. "It’s from an age gone by. But these guys are keeping it alive.”
Audience member Lee Hudwiger, 78, said the music brings him a sense of nostalgia.
“I know all those songs that they sang,” he said. “It really brings back memories.”
“Cheers!” took the stage near the end of the show. The group members, who have a combined 150 years of barbershop experience, performed 10 songs. One of these was “In the Still of the Night,” the lyrics of which quartet member Forrest LaMotte said were written by a U.S. Army soldier in 1956.
The group joked with the audience during their performance, as LaMotte recounted the time he accidentally ordered 100,000 copies of one of the group’s CDs.
Wes Sorstokke, lead singer for the quartet, said the group went to see the WSU grizzly bears earlier in the day and attempted singing to them because they looked unhappy.
“It didn’t help,” he told the audience.
The concert ended with all the quartet and chorus groups coming back on stage to perform two songs, the last of which was the BHS anthem, “Keep the Whole World Singing.”
The song concluded with a unison shout of “It’s good to be a barbershopper!”
An “afterglow,” a barbershop tradition featuring refreshments and impromptu singing, took place after the concert at Paradise Creek Brewery.