Music Memo | Roger Johnson

I think if my family were to describe me, one of the things they would say is that I am a “barbershopper.” It’s being a part of a group or culture in that its members have common shared experiences. My daughter was in a vocal jazz ensemble in college. I “suggested” to her some things they could do to bring more life to their performance. I only shared what I have learned from hours of coaching to help bring our barbershop performances to life. Her choral instructor asked her where she got this insight. She replied “My dad is a barbershopper.” To which he replied, “Oh, that explains it.”
Almost all of my experiences in barbershop are emotional. The joy of singing, of ringing chords, sharing the music with folks outside our “barbershop” world, to see the smiles, the “Oh wow! That was awesome!” reactions. To most people, the barbershop sound is a novelty. Something about that ringing barbershop seventh chord, when done well, gets people’s attention in a pleasing way. To barbershoppers, it is a passion. The sum of the sound is greater than the parts producing it.
Barbershoppers come from all walks of life. To my knowledge, I sing with doctors, lawyers, teachers, college professors, retired nuclear engineers, funeral directors, welders, auto body repairmen, salesmen, mechanical engineers, retail store clerks, farmers, truck drivers, retired prison guards, photographers, bus drivers, nurses and accountants. The ages range from 16 to 83 years old. Singing can be a lifetime hobby. It has been for me.
Barbershoppers like to sing. To sing in the barbershop style you have to gather at least three others. Almost weekly, one group I sing with gathers at a local watering hole after rehearsal to sing, have a beer and share food and fellowship. Sometimes there are as few as nine and as many as 20 that attend. The establishment staff know we are coming and save us our usual spot. As a group, we must tip pretty good. I say that because our usual waitress just came back from a vacation in Hawaii! If you remember the TV show “Cheers,” when I walk in the door of this establishment the bartender may not “know my name,” but knows what beer I drink.
One evening, there was a party of about 12 eating near our area. It was a family from all over the States that attended a visitation for an elderly aunt that evening. The funeral service was the next day. We learned the departed’s last name was “Sullivan.” We sang “Wild Irish Rose” and “Irish Blessing” plus some others for them. They stayed to listen to us sing some more and we even had a couple of the men singing with us. It was fun and I think they forgot any troubles they had just for that short hour of song and fellowship we shared with each other. We said our goodbyes and wished each other well. A short time later, our waitress announced that up to that point, our tabs have been covered by that family. There were 18 of us!
Music is the most powerful gift God has given us. What the written or spoken word cannot convey, music can. The most awesome people I know and am friends with are the ones I have met through my involvement in singing barbershop harmony. If you have read this far, I strongly encourage you to find a group to sing with. The rewards are simple and tremendous.
Roger Johnson

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