Barbershoppers celebrate 44 years of harmony

Barbershop quartets bring out music in its truest form.

It’s classic and beautiful in its simplicity; perhaps not as brutally honest as a murder ballad or broken love song, but there is some devout genuine content within the lyrical quirkiness. With no instruments to hide behind, the listener gets voices that are the instruments. There are no tricks, no effects and what you hear is what you get.

It’s an art form that spans American history. Barbershops were community centers where the men would kill time harmonizing while waiting for a haircut, and Durango was and is no different. The Durango Barbershoppers meet weekly for practice at Christ the King Lutheran Church; Saturday will be their annual fundraiser. It’s a night of barbershop music titled “Grandpa’s Attic” at the Smiley Auditorium featuring local groups The Durango Narrow Gaugers, Women’s Prerogative, Durango A Capella and First Class Delivery, along with The Crew from Denver. The Denver group is the reigning Rocky Mountain District Champion Quartet.

Carrol “Pete” Peterson, a life-long singer who performs with First Class Delivery and The Durango Narrow Gaugers, has been involved with the Durango Barbershoppers since they formed in 1968. As a kid and even into teenage and young adult years, he remained a singer and performer. Then life, family and work got in the way of singing, until he came to Southwest Colorado.

“We moved to Durango, and I saw a note in the paper that said somebody was trying to organize a barbershop group,” Peterson said. “I went and I was hooked after that. I’m the only charter member that’s left now.”

Despite a few highs and even more lows in the popularity of barbershop, it remains a style of music, and a tradition, proudly carried on by its performers.

“It’s ebbed in popularity. The whole boomer generation was out of touch with the music I grew up with. Rock ’n’ roll was becoming popular, and that’s a long way from traditional barbershop music,” Peterson said. “Although a lot of barbershop groups sing music from the rock ’n’ roll era, especially doo-wop. That’s what doo-wop is, somebody singing melody while other people back him up. That’s what barbershop quartet singing is, a lead section with three other parts backing him up.”

Saturday’s performance will dip into the classic American songbook, as well as the not-so-classic. Listeners may recognize barbershop versions of ’50s rock and a cut by the Fab Four mixed into the set lists.

Peterson breaks down his love of barbershop to two things, music and friends.

“I love the close harmonies, that a capella harmony, you can’t equal anywhere else. You can sing it in a choir, but there are too many people and it’s often accompanied by a piano or orchestra or something like that. It doesn’t have that pure harmonic sound,” he said. “The other thing is the good fellowship and companionship. I know people well whom I never would have met otherwise. I cemented fellowship and relations with lots of people from this hobby.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him