In 2009, television shows such The Sing-Off and Glee helped jump-start a resurgence of a cappella singing, followed by film franchises such as Pitch Perfect and the John Legend–backed reality show Sing It On. The revolution marches onward in Santa Barbara, said barbershop quartet leader Brent Anderson, a 1970 UCSB grad who’s proud that his alma mater is home to groups such as Naked Voices and Brothas from Otha Mothas, as well as a few grad students who sing in his quartet.
“Young people are figuring out that it’s cool to sing and that it feels good,” said Anderson, who’s been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society for 41 years. “The fastest growing age group in our society is age 19 to 29. And if we can get more young people, we can create a whole generation of people who get back to singing.”
Anderson also sings with the Ventura-based Pacific Sound Chorus, an auditioned group of about 25 men from Santa Maria to the L.A. Basin who are the current Southern Californian champions. Their annual fundraiser concert is on Saturday, September 17, at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, where they will sing along with the Carpe Diem Chorus, about two dozen women from Santa Barbara who are also champs; Cachet, a female quartet singing in the Sweet Adeline style, the female counterpart of barbershop; and C’est la Vie, a quartet of college-aged women from Arizona.
But Anderson is most excited to be hosting Ringmasters, a quartet from Sweden that was the first outside of North America to win the international competition in 2012. Despite the title, they’ve kept honing their skills, and are able to reach ear-tickling overtones with their harmonies. “They’re at the peak of their abilities,” said Anderson. “They are just phenomenal right now.”
The sale of tickets, which are already being bought from fans as far away as San Diego and Phoenix, will help pay for instruction, organization, rent, and other costs accrued by the Pacific Sound Chorus. But Anderson hopes the music will continue to inspire more people to sing, especially since the barbershop format doesn’t require that people be soloists. “It’s open to people who aren’t accomplished singers on their own,” he said. “Most of us are average singers. We just like to sing, but it helps to be able to carry a tune.”
And the timing is key, for Anderson is also helping relaunch the Channel City Chorus, Santa Barbara’s chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, which was formed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1938. A Wall Street Journal reporter happened to witness the first rooftop concert, and his article led to a nationwide craze. Bob Wilke, who is now 86 years old, cofounded the Channel City Chorus in 1957, and, after some years of dwindling membership, it’s getting a reboot this fall thanks to the homecoming of a renowned singer named Mike McGee. Anderson said he’s a pied piper of sorts, explaining, “There are lots of people who will gravitate toward singing with him.”
Pacific Sound Chorus’s Seaside Rendezvous is Saturday, September 17, at 2 and 7 p.m., at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.). For tickets, call (800) 353-1632 or see pacsoundchorus.bpt.me to buy tickets, which range from $15 to $50 depending on age and seats.