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No Barbers, No Shops

A chorus of approval for the Masters of Harmony. The 135-member group, with many singers from O.C., wins a 3rd international championship. In a rare sweep, its Nightlife quartet also is honored.

August 02, 1996|DAVE WIELENGA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The drive for the gold begins in local competitions, progressing through the Southern California regional and Southwestern district levels. The Masters of Harmony are so intent on victory that each member of the chorus must re-audition before competition.

"Five men didn't make it. Their performance was not up to standard, so rather than hurt our chances, we asked them to step down," Briner said. "Maybe it sounds a little impersonal or harsh, but that's the culture of this organization, and everybody knows it. Nobody's surprised by it. They are still our friends."

This approach may strike some as contrary to the culture of barbershop singing, born of man-on-the-street participation.

"Competition forces excellence in performance and therefore improves the art form," countered Briner, who sang noncompetitively for 30 years before joining the Masters of Harmony. "I found that intense competition really floats my boat. But there's room for everybody in barbershopping."

Barbershopping may nearly owe its survival to competition.

The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America was born in 1938 out of concern that movies and radio were destroying the art of four-part harmonizing.

The extended title of the organization was a jab at the alphabet soup agencies that proliferated during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The SPEBSQSA, headquartered in Kenosha, Wis., has about 40,000 members worldwide.

The best of them, however, are in Southern California.

"This year was the most prepared we have ever been," Fullerton said. "I knew it because when we began to sing I wasn't at all nervous. We had peaked. We went out and gave the performance of our lives. We're not called the Masters of Harmony for nothing."

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