Man has been using music to try to explain his feelings, his politics, his love and his thoughts since he knew enough to use his vocal chords. He has used music to make friends and to try to influence people. However no one likes to do things alone forever. It is because of that music is often a group process. I would love to be able to describe every type of group music in detail. Perhaps some day I will be able to do an article on each type. For this article we are looking at several ways people get together when they sing their music.
For years in the 1950’s and 1960’s in the big cities you might see on the street corners people harmonizing. It is funny but in poor sections of countries like Mexico today you might see a guy with a guitar and seven or eight guys all harmonizing to a song they all love. These street groups were interesting in that the standard harmony setup was a little different. Generally speaking a quartet represents standard harmonics. There is a lead or the melody, a tenor, a baritone and a bass. However these street groups added another part, a second tenor. On the street you want to involve as many people as possible. As with other types of music self-experimentation the street created this additional tenor and this was a higher tone. This music used in Detroit and New York and spawned such groups as the Temptations who were incredible in their harmonics. Rarely do other parts of a group sing lead but the Temptations were one of the groups that did using the high voice of Eddie Kendricks.
The next type of harmony used by a group is standard four-part harmony that we have already mentioned. A group who represented this was the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys had a writer in the group named Brian Wilson who in my humble opinion was a genius. He wrote music of the time that was built on surfing and hot rods. However he was able to identify the Detroit sound and these groups along with groups like the Beatles.
Another major impact on group music is Barbershop Music. As a little boy I was digging around where I shouldn’t and found a 78 record. It was my father’s barbershop group. I played it over and over, enthralled.
Barbershop music while looked at as maybe backward and too simple may actually be one of the most complex and technical harmonics to perform. Groups who have perfected it have really done something special. Barbershop music brings the usual lead, tenor, baritone and bass to the fore but they can use an overtone. For example, if they are holding a chord such as “C-E-G,” that is also known as a “C Triad”, the second tone could come down to a “D” to get a certain effect. Basically what they do is use the entire chromatic scale. They do not necessarily hold to time signatures as written. Barbershop is known for its theater atmosphere. Often singers also act while singing with one another and are funny.
I love all types of music but I have a special place in my heart for church music. You can run all the way from basic backwoods with only a few people up on stage to the Presbyterian and Methodist more formalized choirs. You have the Baptist and Gospel choirs who generally have more volume, rhythm and energy.
In a church choir you have men and women. Women sing the melody, men sing the tenor parts along with the bass and women sing the final part which is called the alto. I have tried to link to a song that shows these parts well.
Throughout the links I have tried to illustrate the different types of group presentations. I suggest you find one you like and go get yourself involved!