The Barbershop Singer

The Barbershop Singer: Inside the Social World of a Musical Hobby

ROBERT A. STEBBINS
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442680524
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Barbershop Singer
    Book Description:

    Barbership singing is often dismissed by its critics as merely an enjoyable hobby. Though long popular with both its public and participants, it has been relatively neglected in the field of music studies. Robert A. Stebbins demonstrates that barbershop singing is an elaborate and complicated form of serious leisure that provides its participants with distinctive lifestyles. The Barbershop Singer is a unique case study of this significant musical genre, describing the social world of the barbershop singer and exploring its appeal for both male and female singers. Robert Stebbins traces the history of barbershop singing and compares and contrasts the worlds of jazz, classical music, and barbershop as serious leisure pursuits. Stebbins also reveals its costs and rewards, its complex organizational structures, the social marginality felt by its more dedicated participants, and the main problems facing the art today.

    Although barbershop singing is clearly a circumscribed social world, understanding how it works expands current knowledge of the variant forms of social participation available to citizens of the modern world.The Barbershop Singerwill be of interest to sociologists as well as those involved in the world of barbershop.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8052-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiv-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Social Worlds of American Music
    (pp. 3-19)

    The number of distinct musical forms created in the United States in this century is truly remarkable. Among those with international standing we find jazz, blues, rock, ragtime, barbershop, black spirituals, and country music, both hillbilly and western. This list suggests that America is the home of an extraordinarily large group of musically innovative people. Clearly, Americans have a penchant for music and for inventing new forms of the art when its old forms, including those imported from other countries, become inadequate in some way as vehicles for emotional and artistic expression. The principal thesis of this book is that,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Old Songs
    (pp. 20-33)

    Much more could be written about the early days of barbershop than I wrote in the preceding chapter. This would lead into a more technical discussion of the art’s past than could be justified here. The aim of history chapters in ethnographic studies like this one is to give only enough detail of the historical past to help the reader understand the sociological present. We have here, then, a question of balance. The present has depth for it came from somewhere and is going somewhere. An analysis of the present that ignores its past and future is like a performance...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Organized Barbershop
    (pp. 34-43)

    Not everyone who sings barbershop is a member of one of the three organizations described in the preceding chapter. Notwithstanding present-day recruitment efforts by the societies, many teenagers feel uncomfortable in the company of most barbershop singers, who are old enough to be their parents or even their grandparents. Apparently the feeling is mutual, for, at least in Harmony, Incorporated, a bylaw existed until 1983 restricting membership to those eighteen years old and over. But there are also adults who sing in quartets having no affiliation whatsoever with any barbershop organization. For a quartet to be affiliated, or in a...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Becoming a Barbershop Singer
    (pp. 44-60)

    The most central unit in the social world of barbershop is the local chapter, which promotes chorus and quartet singing in barbershop style. The typical chorus meets weekly in an evening rehearsal. Members of the chorus who also belong to a quartet commonly rehearse with the latter group during another evening or perhaps during the weekend. Maturity in chorus and quartet singing means, among other things, that these groups strive for such a level of excellence that they can attract the public to annual shows and shorter concerts of various kinds known in barbershop circles as ‘singouts.’ Even more demanding...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Why Sing?
    (pp. 61-74)

    Hobbies are a good thing it seems. Yet, one apparently contradictory side of serious leisure, given the culturally dominant belief that all leisure is casual activity, is the paradox that those who engage in it encounter costsandrewards, both of which can be sharply felt.¹ It is precisely this contradiction – realizing important values in the face of adversity – that speaks most directly and consistently to the motivational question of why some people take up forms of leisure at which they ‘must work.’

    So poignant are the costs of serious leisure that many practitioners ask themselves from time...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Work in Leisure
    (pp. 75-86)

    I have argued over the years that amateurs and the activities they pursue are marginal in society, since amateurs are neither dabblers nor professionals.¹ Several properties of amateurism give substance to this hypothesis. First (as incongruent as it may seem), amateur leisure is characterized by an extensive positive commitment to a pursuit, as measured, for example, by a sizeable investment of time and energy in it.² Second, amateurism is pursued with noticeable seriousness (i.e., as a type of serious leisure) with such passion that Erving Goffman once qualified amateurs, among others, as the ‘quietly disaffiliated.’³ Third, amateurism tends to be...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Dissonance in Close Harmony
    (pp. 87-99)

    The three major barbershop societies have had over the years a number of successes of which they can be most proud. On the most general plane they have not only survived but also flourished, notwithstanding changes in taste in popular music, cycles of economic boom and bust, and advances in relevant technology (especially in the areas of sound recording, sound transmission, and electronic communication). More particularly, they have expanded their functions from singing purely for the joy it brings to instructing on how to sing, to educating the public about barbershop song, to giving detailed performance evaluations, to producing sophisticated...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Musical Lifestyles
    (pp. 100-110)

    A common thread links the social world of barbershop with the neighbouring social worlds of jazz and classical music as these were sketched in the first chapter. The common thread is the general musical lifestyle shared by the musicians who inhabit one or more of these three. Indeed a far greater diversity of musicians than those considered in this book can be found in this lifestyle, which may be defined as the musicians’ special way of living that gives each one of them a sense of communion with the others, however different the music they play. The musicians who share...

  13. APPENDIX: Interview Guide for the Study of Barbershop Singers
    (pp. 111-114)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 115-124)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 125-130)
  16. Index
    (pp. 131-134)