Share This Page

Steel City Harmonizers relishing harmonious Monday night ritual

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Harrison King, III leads the Steel City Harmonizers during a rehearsal at Trinity Christian School in Forrest Hills Monday, Nov. 12, 2013. The harmonizers, at 41 strong, are at their highest number in years.

More than 20 men locked their eyes on Harrison King III as he led them through “Silent Night,” a song the Steel City Harmonizers will perform during Saturday's Christmas Parade in McKeesport.

The barbershop-style version they practiced on Monday in Trinity Christian School in Forest Hills sounded sweet and somber. The men swayed, and some stood on tiptoe as they slid into each phrase of the tune. Then, there it was — the note where all four parts of the arrangement worked some kind of acoustical miracle.

The technical term for the harmonization is a ringing chord, but it's also known as the angel's voice, the fifth voice and the barbershop seventh. It makes the typical barbershop arrangement sound like a chorus of mustachioed angels.

The Steel City Harmonizers meet every Monday in the school on Ridge Avenue and are among at least 10 barbershop chorus groups active in the Pittsburgh area. Their membership at 41 singers is at its highest level in years, and they invited guests this week to try barbershop singing.

For members, it's easy to explain why singing in this style is so much fun.

“The camaraderie of being able to hang out with other folks who like to sing, that regularity of being to once a week get together and not worry about anything else but just make beautiful music together, it's very therapeutic — cathartic,” said King of Heidelberg, who sings baritone and is assistant director of the harmonizers.

“It's what I look forward to. I get to start my week every Monday night here.”

The group is a charter member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, an international organization with more than 25,000 members that is celebrating its 75th year. The Steel City Harmonizers have existed for about a dozen years.

The group takes part in several singing contests each year, including the Barbershop Harmony Society's national competition. The harmonizers compete in and are members of the Johnny Appleseed District, made up of 50 groups in Midwestern states.

Similar to collegiate athletic conferences, groups in the regional district compete for a chance to face the best in the world. The Johnny Appleseed District is broken down into divisions, and the Steel City Harmonizers were champions in their division in 2012 and 2013.

At the nationals four years ago in Portland, Ore., Daniel Krackhardt became hooked on barbershop. The Fox Chapel Area High School senior was 14, and was watching his cousin's quartet perform and win. The youngest member of the harmonizers, he plans to major in acting in college.

When barbershoppers get together, they tend to drift into groups of four and sing at random. That happened after Monday's main rehearsal, and it's a phenomenon that Krackhardt, who sings bass, enjoys.

“I sang a tag once with a guy from Sweden, a guy from New Zealand and a guy from Spain,” he said. “We didn't know one another. Half of us didn't speak English, but we all knew one tag and we all sang together.” A tag is a part of a song.

Krackhardt and his friends have their own barbershop quartet, Blocked. Block is a term used to describe a way to build a chord.

Luke Reynolds, who sings lead, joined the Steel City Harmonizers in September 2012. After Reynolds moved to Edgewood, a neighbor, Jim Thompson, invited him to an open house.

“I never even knew barbershop was still a thing. I was awestruck,” Reynolds said. The web developer's only musical experience was with karaoke, but he fell in love with the genre.

“The one thing about barbershop music that makes it different from other types of music is barbershop is for the everyday person,” he said. “Anyone can sing it.”

Joe Novelly of Murrysville, the harmonizers' vice president of chapter development, has been singing barbershop for 32 years and considers harmony and music a big part of his life.

“I want to be Frank Sinatra,” Novelly said. “In my dreams.”

Bob Pajich is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.