The Tallahassee Capital Chordsmen were founded in 1966 and presented their First Annual Night of Harmony on March 11, 1967. After 53 years of performing a capella music for the community, their annual show was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, after a two-year hiatus, newly minted choir director Norman Young says the group is ready to finally bring their show, “Beach Boys Barbershop” to the Turner Auditorium at TCC on Saturday, June 11.
A typical year for the Chordsmen includes shows at assisted living facilities, holiday concerts and festivals, Valentine’s Day serenades, anniversaries, office parties, and local TV and radio features. Young joined the Capital Chordsmen in summer 2021 as the group cautiously restarted rehearsals for their interrupted 2020 show. Within a few months, he was asked to take on the choir director role.
“You can sense the excitement from not being able to do the show to being able to do it again,” says Young, whose first performance directing the group was during Christmastime. “These are guys who really love to sing. When something like COVID hits, the fact that there are still people making it a point to stay singing, even when shows are cancelled, these are the real core members.”
For Young, the past year has been a crash course in the world of barbershop. The barbershop singing movement originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and was revived during the late 1930s with the founding of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Always sung a capella, the barbershop sound relies on building harmonies, and performances always include what Young describes as “a little bit of schtick.”
“Our quartets have a lot of personality,” says Young. “There’s a lot of comraderie, joking and jesting onstage.”
The fun-loving community of the Chordsmen immediately drew Young to the group. In high school, Young was part of an a capella choir as well as a quartet that sung everything from gospel to barbershop. He took part in musical theater classes and school plays and was continually involved with music at his local church.
Young is grateful for his piano teacher for giving him both music history and theory, which allowed him to enter these spaces with a degree of mastery. In his church choir, both directors also gave him opportunities and experience in singing a variety of styles.
His favorite memory is performing at an “American Idol” spin-off competition and making it through the first round of judging.
“Music has been such a big part of my life through church,” says Young. “I got it through osmosis from all around.”
Now, Young is the music teacher at Christ Classical Academy. He’s directed all ages and grade levels and uses many of his classroom strategies with the Capital Chordsmen. After two years of virtually no performances, Young noticed that many of the group’s members were fatigued on rehearsing the same numbers in preparation for a show that was feared may never come to pass.
As a music educator, Young worked with the group on using solfège, a method that teaches aural skills, pitch, and sight reading of Western music. These chord exercises increase a group’s accuracy when it comes to finding the right pitch to sing as well as being able to read written music. Young says the Chordsmen have taught him a great deal as well, including a repertoire of vocal warm-ups.
“There’s no hiding in a capella since everything you do is really exposed,” says Young. “Having a rock-solid bass section is one of the key elements I’ve found in barbershop because then you can build on top of that. The leads can lock in with them and the other two singers can tune themselves to the bass.”
The Chordsmen rehearse at the Tallahassee Senior Center and have been running their “Beach Boys Barbershop” show full-out in that space. Young is excited for the radio-themed performance, which will feature a radio DJ who will introduce songs. The Capital Chordsmen will also perform rarely heard radio jingles during “commercial breaks.”
In addition to the choir, the Chordsmen’s quartets, Half Step Up, 4 Oysters in Search of a Pearl, and The Uncalled Four, will perform along with guest quartet, Throwback, who won the Barbershop Harmony Society 2019 International Silver Medal.
Young recalls listening to Beach Boys music on the oldies radio station with his parents while growing up in Fort Lauderdale.
From “Barbara Ann” to “Surfer Girl,” he says the group has done a great job of showcasing the diversity of the Beach Boys’ sound with interesting vocal arrangements. It’s a performance that Young says could only be done live, and he’s excited to re-establish the Capital Chordsmen’s far-reaching history within the Tallahassee community.
“Especially with barbershop, it’s that feeling when you’re singing out at a tag, which is the good part and juicy part at the end of a song that holds these long, ringing chords,” says Young. “You need to be there so you can hear what’s ringing in your ears.”