Stories From Main Street: Westchester Barbershop Quartet Offering Free Lessons

Westchester Chordsmen
Photo credit Sean Adams/WCBS 880
By WCBS Newsradio 880

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — A music group in Westchester County is keeping the American tradition alive.

The Westchester Chordsmen, this week’s WCBS 880’s “Difference Maker,” is a non-profit that offers free singing lessons to folks who want to try their hand at four part harmony, or barbershop quartet.

“It’s actually an Americanized art form that grew out of, a lot of the slave music, actually, of the south,” explains Scott Kruse, assistant direction for the Westchester Chordsmen.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams notes that many people may instantly recognize a lot of the songs they perform.

“Anything that we do, from what we call like the polecat book – it's a group of twelve songs that every barbershoper should know,” Kruse explains. “But, it'll be songs like ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart,’ ‘Heart of My Heart,’ ‘In the Good Old Summertime,’ ‘Down by the Old Mill Stream.’”

His father, Bill, has been harmonizing for nearly 60 years. He says he got “goosebumps” the first time he heard four voices melding together.

He tells Adams that the style of music is unlike anything other when you get it right.

“Those four notes, once you're really in tune, create a buzzing sound and many times it creates an overtone so you actually have a fifth sound going on,” Bill says.

The Westchester Chordsmen offer lessons for anyone who is interested in learning. There’s no prior experience needed. It’s also totally free.

Westchester Chordsmen

“They don't need to actually know any music theory, they don't know how to read music, they don't need to learn to read music,” Kruse says.

In fact, president Steve Banker had no experience before getting started with the group.

“My knowledge about barbershop was ‘The Music Man,’” Banker says.

The group’s “Ready, Set, Sing” program also goes on the preform for free at veteran hospitals and senior centers.

Steven Bartel, one of the members, says one of the most poignant moments he can recall was when the group performed at a Alzheimer’s ward.

“We got about halfway through what we were singing and her head came up and her mouth started to move and both of her daughters looked at her, they leaned in and they could actually hear her singing,” he says.

The song literally struck a chord and triggered a distant memory for the woman.

Adams notes the group is especially busy this time of year as they are available for hire for Valentine’s Day.

You can sign up to have a quartet come, sign songs and give you a rose.