Shave and a haircut, two bits4/22/2015
In a day and age when it seems like so much music is subjected to autotune, digital enhancement and computer generation, it can be therapeutic to dip back into a simpler time. That is where Ev Nau and the Pride of Iowa Barbershop Chorus come in.
The Barbershop Harmony Society — a national organization dedicated to preserving and carrying on the barbershop tradition — was founded 77 years ago this month. For 70 of those years, Des Moines has had a chapter, and for 68 of those years, they have performed an annual show.
For the uninitiated, a barbershop chorus is essentially a barbershop quartet, writ large.
“The barbershop style of music was originally founded upon four men harmonizing,” explained Nau, who has worked in various capacities within the Society for 25 years. “The idea of having a tenor part above the melody, a bass part at the low end and a baritone part filling in all the gaps became very popular among choruses after the formation of the society itself. Lots of guys wanted to sing, but not everyone could be part of a quartet. So they developed what’s called the “gang sing.” Each guy picked one of the four parts, forming, instead of a lead, a lead section. Or a bass section, tenor section, and so on.”
The Des Moines chapter’s annual shows have proven to be extremely popular, playing to packed houses at Hoyt Sherman for years. While Nau does believe that a large part of the appeal is in barbershop’s simplicity and nostalgic feel, he sets out each year to create a program that challenges people’s preconceived notions of what barbershop is, while still entertaining as many people as possible.
“Each year, our show is intended to fill an entertainment gap,” he said. “We try to provide our audiences with a wide variety of barbershop styles. It’s more than straw hats, striped shirts, mustaches and canes.”
The Society also has a code of ethics, which places a priority on providing entertainment that is family friendly and accessible to everyone.
“I like to say that you could bring your grandmother and granddaughter to the same show, and neither one of them will have any awkward questions when we’re done,” Nau said. CV