Preaching to the choir: Barbershop singers raise funds for choir education |

Preaching to the choir: Barbershop singers raise funds for choir education

Singing a capella is a way to elevate the spirit, says local resident and 35-year barbershop quartet singer Don Schaller.

And he wants Truckee students to have outlets for choral singing in their schools.

“They don’t have any programs like that now,” Schaller said. “If people are able to express themselves in creative ways, it makes them feel good about themselves.”

The Tahoe-Truckee Mountainaire Chorus, which started in 1996 with two members, is now 20 members strong and dedicated to introduce singing programs at the schools.

The Barbershop chorus is holding a concert on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Tahoe-Truckee High School auditorium as a fund-raiser to benefit a singing program in local schools.

Schaller said he hopes the show will spark an interest among middle school and high school-aged students in singing as a form of self-expression.

“Plus,” he said, joking, “barbershop male singers get girls.” Just look at Boyz II Men and N’ Sync as two examples, he said.

“We don’t care what they sing, just as long as they’re singing.”

According to Schaller, there are more than 60,000 people in the United States who are involved with barbershopping.

This year’s concert, titled “Wagon Wheels … Singing Our Way West,” will feature songs from the Mountainaire Chorus and the Truckee Barbershop Quartet, as well as headlining performances by championship quartet “The Top Cats” and quartets “Freckles and His Friends” from the Nevada City area and “The Claim Jumpers” from the Auburn/Placerville area. Cowboy poetry will also be a highlight, and additional quartet performances.

The show is dedicated to Roger Williams, a longtime barbershopper and accomplished musician who recently passed away. Williams was a member of the Reno Chapter barbershopppers who came up to help with the Mountainaire Chorus concert last year. Williams died last week from cancer-related illnesses.

The chorus is currently funding an afterschool singing program at Sierra Mountain Middle School, which is being organized by music and band teacher Randy Humphreys.

“These shows are our fund-raisers,” Schaller said.

The barbershoppers also do “singing valentines” on Valentine’s Day as well as singing at the senior center, the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and other charity organization events. They have been invited to sing at the Plumas County Fair in the past.

Mostly, it’s a fun way to get together with others, Schaller said.

“I’ve never experienced a close-knit group of people as this is,” he said.

Most people who join the chorus come without singing experience, he added.

The Truckee barbershop chorus now has Chris Nelson, the former director of music for Diablo College, involved in its group. Following the show this weekend, Nelson will be the new director of the Tahoe-Truckee Mountainaire Chorus.

“We feel really lucky to have him be a part of this,” Schaller said.

The practice of singing for an audience is a good experience as well.

“They say that speaking is the most fearful thing you have to do in public and if you add singing to that it is even scarier,” Schaller said. “But when people relax, they have a smile on their face and a song in their heart.”

Tickets can be purchased for $12 by calling Schaller at 550-5158.

For those unable to attend the show, tickets can still be purchased and donated to a senior unable to afford a ticket.

A brief history of barbershopping

After the turn of the century, a group of people began singing topical songs of their time in barbershops and they liked the sound of it. Hence the term “barbershop singing.”

In the 1930s, when President Roosevelt’s administration was forming department names with acronyms such as HUD and FEMA, the barbershop singers said they could top the alphabet soup game. The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement for Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America – or, SPEBSQSA – was formed. Their website is

Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note (as opposed to the typical three-part chord). The melody is consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord.

Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center. Singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords while remaining true to the tonal center. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable and sensitive to the song to provide the audience with an entertaining experience.

“It’s addictive in a way,” explained Don Schaller, a longtime Truckee barbershopper. “It’s a form of acting as well. If you can express yourself to an audience and the audience understands you, you will see it in their eye contact. It’s establishing that communication and it just spirals.”

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