Preserving the four-part harmony tradition

The Sound House Quartet will bring their unaccompanied four-part harmonies to Benalmádena.
The Sound House Quartet will bring their unaccompanied four-part harmonies to Benalmádena. / SUR
  • Although generally perceived as a man's pastime, women have sung barbershop since the 1940s

More than 600 delegates from around the world will come together for the Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers (SABS) annual convention in Benalmádena at the beginning of April. Although the convention is only open to delegates, SABS has organised a special show for the public, which will take place at Hotel Torrequebrada.

SABS, part of a worldwide network of barbershop associations, will bring two celebrated a cappella groups from the USA and the UK to perform at the show.

Crossroads (USA) is a world champion a cappella men's quartet made up of four award-winning vocalists. They won the Barbershop Harmony Society International Championship in 2009 and have since become one of the most sought-after a cappella quartets in the world.

Sound House (UK) is a ladies' quartet formed just two years ago. They have already become the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) Champions and also the European Quartet Champions.

This will be the tenth edition of the convention and SABS President, Lyn Barnes, told SUR in English how delighted she was to be returning to Benalmádena to celebrate the tenth anniversary.

“We have been holding the event here since 2012 and have always had great support from the people of Benalmádena and we want to share with them this wonderful opportunity to see two very talented groups,” the president explained.

Lyn, who moved to Spain with her husband in 2002, first heard a ladies' barbershop chorus singing at a garden centre near her home in Wimborne in 1994. She was persuaded to go to the group's rehearsal and has been hooked ever since.

A man's pastime

Although typically a man's pastime, women have been singing barbershop since the 1940s, following the birth of the American organisation, Sweet Adelines International. This was followed in 1959 by Harmony Incorporated in Canada and the Ladies' Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS), which was inaugurated in 1976.

Sweet Adelines now has more than 22,000 members worldwide and LABBS has 50 clubs and over 2,000 members located all over Britain.

SABS began when Nico and Jorge de las Peñas Plana - two brothers from Madrid - discovered the barbershop style of singing on the internet. They formed a quartet and studied at a harmony college in Germany.

“They were so enthused about the art form that they scoured the internet for other people singing barbershop in Spain. They came across my chorus, Spangles, and contacted me,” Lyn explains. “There were two other choruses in the Valencia region and we all met up to discuss how we could take things forward. The result was the inauguration of SABS in 2008.”

Lyn is aware that there is not a large barbershop scene in Spain at present, but she hopes that the convention will eventually change that.

“The barbershop scene in Spain isn't huge and it takes time to spread the word throughout such a large country,” she says.

An unlikely revival

While the modern era of barbershop music is accepted to have begun with a 1940s revival, opinions as to the genre's origins vary. The Encyclopaedia Britannica suggests its origins date back to when barbershops served as community centres where men would gather for social activities. Barbershop music was very popular between 1900 and 1919, but the genre gradually faded into obscurity in the 1920s, although barbershop-style harmonies remained in other a cappella forms.

However, today, barbershop has attracted a huge worldwide following. Affiliated men's and women's organisations in more than a dozen countries bring the total number of active singers to more than 100,000 worldwide. It is also attracting the younger generation, as Lyn astutely points out: “It's most definitely not just for older people. Barbershop has attracted some fabulous, young talent from all around the world. Sadly, the media perpetuates the myth of four men in stripy waistcoats and straw boaters, which is not a true image of the barbershop scene today.”

Apart from her love of singing unaccompanied four-part harmony, Lyn loves the friendship that barbershop has given her over the years and she is as passionate today as she was when she became hooked in Wimborne back in 1994.

“Being part of a chorus is like having an extended family and, wherever I go in the world, if I visit a local chorus, I know that I will receive a warm welcome,” she concludes.

'A Cappella Magic' can be seen at the Sala Fortuna in the Hotel Torrequebrada, Benalmádena, at 8pm on Thursday 5th April. Tickets cost 15 euros and are available from