Coastal Harmonizers, an all-men’s barbershop melody group, is back in action and accepting new members.
Singers can create a magical world separate from the venue where the audience gathers. The Coastal Harmonizers, a group of 22 men who sing barbershop melodies, fit this description. When COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the group began practicing again at Camp United Methodist Church in Shallotte with their musical director Barbara Berry, the only woman accepted in the group.
Berry says she puts “fun” as her priority.
“If the members are not having fun, they are not likely to return,” she says. “Basically, I encourage laughter and often silliness at our rehearsals.”
This is evident as the men welcome each other with smiles and friendly greetings.
Coastal Harmonizers developed in 2011 when a dozen men left rehearsal with the Cape Fear Chordsmen and returned to Brunswick County believing it needed a barbershop group of its own. Bob Zinke, who formed a barbershop quartet with Berry in 2005 and knew she had experience directing Sweet Adelines in California, asked her to consider being the musical director. She began rehearsing with the group in April 2012. “She and the Coastal Harmonizers have been making music together ever since,” Zinke says.
In April 2013 Coastal Harmonizers received its charter from the Barbershop Harmony Society and were added to the Carolinas District of barbershoppers. The members sing as a unit when performing to large audiences, as they did at Odell Williamson Auditorium in 2015 and at the Baptist Assembly Auditorium in Caswell Beach in 2019. Often a quartet performs at smaller venues such as local clubs, nonprofit organizations and private parties.
Bill Clegg, a founding member, explains that a barbershop quartet is four-part harmony with tenor, lead, baritone and bass singing a capella.
“We don’t have qualifications,” he says of the Coastal Harmonizers. “We accept anyone who wants to come in. They just have to have the desire to sing.”
“It’s enjoyable to get together with three other voices and be able to blend your voices to produce a very good sound,” adds Dick Geiger, another founding member.
All those in the group have some musical background. Zinke, who sings bass, has 50 years of experience in barbershop. Geiger has sung bass since he was 19. Each of the two quartets he sang in won a championship in the Mid-Atlantic States District.
“I thought this was the greatest thing, to sing in a quartet,” he says. “You didn’t have to have a piano playing.”
Clegg, a baritone, sang in choruses, including Oklahoma State University’s, and played baritone horn in bands since grade school.
Berry has a background playing the piano and organ and began singing barbershop after high school graduation. She sang in the all-female Sweet Adelines in Illinois and California before moving to North Carolina.
“[Coastal Harmonizers] accepted me because they needed somebody, and I was able to fill the shoes,” Berry says. “I don’t think they really cared [that I am a woman.]”
Berry especially likes when everything comes together. “Not just the notes, the feelings and the nuances, but the dynamics that tell the story the song is supposed to tell,” she says. “The chorus enjoys it. I enjoy it, and the audience enjoys it.”
Geiger cites two memorable performances. After singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the meeting of the Civil War Round Table at Caswell Beach in 2019, the audience of 500 gave them a standing ovation. “It felt so good because we had worked very hard to learn new songs, and they were appreciated,” he says.
Also in 2019 at a senior care facility, a blind resident went to the piano in the room and accompanied the group as they sang. “He somehow knew the key we were singing and finished with a great flourish,” Geiger says. “Meanwhile, a lady walked up to the chorus and danced with each of the singers in the front row while we were singing a love song. How can that not be a fun time?”
Berry says Valentine’s Day quartet performances are popular and a source of fundraising. Typically a husband or a boyfriend pays the $40 fee, and a quartet sings two love songs to the man’s Valentine, who receives a rose. “If the woman isn’t crying by the time we’re through, then we’re failing because it moves them so much,” Berry says.
“It’s fun to meet people and sing to small groups,” Clegg adds. “The reward is the appreciation of the audience.”
Want to join?
Coastal Harmonizers is ready to perform again and welcomes new members. No audition or knowledge of reading music is necessary. However, only males are accepted. Teens as young as 15 qualify as long as an adult attends with him. Members must join the Barbershop Harmony Society and the district and local chapters. The Brunswick Harmonizers do not charge a membership fee but require the men buy a gray vest to go with their own black pants, black bow tie and long-sleeved white shirt.