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Barbershop chorus preserves American a cappella genre.

By Autumn Rose, Advocate Staff Writer
January 10, 2012, The Advocate of Westminster & Finksburg,
Carroll County Times

On a cold rainy Sunday afternoon in November 1982, 47 men gathered in the Carroll County Arts Council Hall at 129 E. Main St., Dale Wilhelm said.

They all had one thing in common: they were interested in barbershop singing, a traditional American form of a cappella.

About one month before the gathering, the Chorus of Chesapeake—the Dundalk chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society — presented a concert at Westminster High School. The members of the chorus noticed how many local men were interested in what they were doing, so they decided to take action and create a Carroll County chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

The group needed 30 signatures to acquire a chapter license, and on that rainy afternoon in November 1982, 39 of the men banded together to sign the application to license a new chapter of the society.

The Old Line Statesmen, as they called themselves, became the 101 chapter of the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America — the official name of the Barbershop Harmony Society — on Sept. 2, 1983, according to Wilhelm, an Old Line Statesmen charter member and historian.

For Wilhelm, now 66, joining the group served as an escape from everyday life.

“I had been singing essentially all my life,” he said. “Once I got into it I found out that it was a great distraction from work and the stress and worries that you have from your full time job.”

As a traditional barbershop chorus, the Old Line Statesmen are a four-part harmony created without any accompaniment, Wilhelm said.

They have several quartets, groups made up of four men singing individual parts, within the chorus.

The Old Line Statesmen sing several varieties of music, from duwop, to rock, to the popular hits of today.

“A lot of people think the Barbershop Society just sings the old time songs,” Wilhelm said. “But the Old Line Statesmen sing anywhere from the old barbershop standards all the way up to new hits.”

Barbershop music itself began on street corners and curbsides, and in barbershops and parlors in the 1800s. The first written use of the word “barbershop” in reference to harmonizing came in 1910 with the publication of the song “Play that Barbershop Chord,”according to the Barbershop Harmony Society website.

The Barbershop Harmony Society was founded in 1938. Since its inception it has grown to include 26,000 members in the United States and Canada, as well as 4,000 additional international members, according to the website. There are 800 chapters in 17 districts in the U.S. and Canada, with more than 2,000 registered quartets and an estimated 1,000 unregistered quartets.

From the beginning barbershop singing has served as a relaxing pastime and a form of camaraderie for men of all ages, Wilhelm said.

Old Line Statesmen Director Jeff Liebknecht, 54, agreed that the camaraderie amongst the men was one of his favorite things about belonging to a barbershop chorus.

“It’s just a bunch of good guys … they’re more than just guys you sing with,” Liebknecht said. “They turn into your friends. We have a lot of fun and at the same time we make some really good music.”

For Liebknecht, who has been in the group for more than 25 years, barbershop singing is a family affair. His father, Charlie, was a member of the Old Line Statesmen until he passed away a few years ago, and his brother, Patrick, is the current president of the chapter.

Liebknecht said in the past the group has had fathers and sons, and even grandfathers and grandsons amongst their ranks.

“Anyone who hears the chorus tends to think it’s too hard for them to do,” Liebknecht said. “Most of our men can’t read music. It’s not hard, it’s fun, and we teach you everything you need to know.”

If you can sing happy birthday, he said, you can sing barbershop.

The Old Line Statesmen perform at various events throughout Carroll County during the year, and they also compete within their division in the Barbershop Harmony Society.

The group won the 2009 and 2010 Western Division Plateau A Chorus Championship for the Mid-Atlantic District of the Barbershop Society, according to Brad Yates, vice president for public relations and marketing for the Old Line Statesmen.

The Old Line Statesmen also just recognized their Barbershoppper of the Year, David Desrosiers, at their annual Christmas and Installation of Officers Banquet Dec. 12. Members of the chorus can make recommendations for the Barbershopper of the Year, and then the three previous winners get together and review the recommendations to choose the winner. The winner receives a small plaque to keep as well as his name on a larger plaque with the names of all the past winners, Yates said.

The group meets every Monday evening, except for a few holidays, in Krug Chapel at Carroll Lutheran Village, Yates said.

Men of any age are welcome to attend the meetings to join the group, and anyone is invited to come watch the chorus harmonize and practice for upcoming performances.

“It’s a rewarding pastime and we’re always looking for men that would like to sing with us,” Wilhelm said.

Reach staff writer Autumn Rose at 410-857-3315 or autumn.rose@eldersburgadvocate.com.