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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Quartet, featuring third-generation barbershopper, finds success

  • The four members of the Brovertones sound like old pros when they start talking about the golden age of barberhop harmony.
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      Tickets to the Cody Choraliers' annual concert cost $15 for adults and $8 for children 12 years old and younger. Tickets are available at ...
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      Tickets
      Tickets to the Cody Choraliers' annual concert cost $15 for adults and $8 for children 12 years old and younger. Tickets are available at www.codychoraliers.org or by calling 913-651-7464.
  • The four members of the Brovertones sound like old pros when they start talking about the golden age of barberhop harmony.
    They express affinity for the Tin Pan Alley school of songwriting, upon which much of the form is based. They know the ins and outs of the history of the Barbershop Harmony Society, how a meeting in the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City in 1938 ultimately resulted in the formation of the official barbershop organization that is still alive today, and they talk about the finer points of champion quartets from 50 years ago.
    But with a average age of about 23, the Brovertones ― native Leavenworth County resident David Freeman III, Kyle Batchelder, Andrew Rembecki and Luke Pherigo ―represent the future of the art form, not the past. They can sing 90s reggae crossover hits in barbershop style, crowdsourced their name on Facebook and talk about the effect that a barbershop quartet can have on a particular segment of the audience.
    “In high school, even if you're not any good, if it's four guys singing, girls just go crazy,” Rembecki said.
    The Brovertones will perform as part of the annual concert for Leavenworth's own barbershop chorus, the Cody Choraliers, which is scheduled to feature international champion quartet A Mighty Wind and will begin at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 in the auditorium at Lansing High School, 220 Lion Lane in Lansing.
    The Brovertones are fresh from a successful 2013 ― in the spring, they won the collegiate championship in the Central States District at the Barbershop Harmony Society's convention this year. That took them to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for the international BHS collegiate quartet contest this year, an experience that Batchelder said he'll never forget, though nerves have rendered some parts a little fuzzy.
    “You get up there and there will be 6,000 or 7,000 people staring you dead in the face,” he said. “The only thing I remember is getting on stage and getting off stage.”
    For Rembecki and Pherigo, interest in barbershop came in school, through teachers or from other groups. Batchelder said he discovered the form in a decidedly millennial fashion ― Youtube videos.
    For Freeman, who graduated from Lansing High School in 2013, barbershop is a family legacy ― his grandfather was one of the founders of the Cody Choraliers in 1970 and his father also sang with the chorus and immersed his son in the style.
    “Growing up, I've always heard barbershop music, my dad always had barbershop music playing in the car or he would try to show me DVDs of quartets,” Freeman said. “My first international convention I went to was when I was in kindergarten, so my first barbershop memory is that.”
    None of which is to say that he always wanted to pursue that same path ― just the opposite, actually, for a long time, Freeman said. Hearing his father rehearsing the song “Friends,” about a friend leaving, got him to reconsider. Freeman said he assembled three friends with the intention of learning only that song to sing for a friend going away.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We got hooked as soon as we came to the first rehearsal,” he said.
    Freeman said he joined the Cody Choraliers in 2008, but was more recently lured to join also Central Standard, a Kansas City-based a capella chorus. It was from there that he was also recruited to join the Brovertones.
    “When I joined that chrous, Andrew and I formed a big-boy quartet,” he said. “After the fall concert, that quartet broke up and these two guys approached us to join their quartet.”
    The new quartet's first practice was in January 2013, with the district preliminary competition in April ― by which time they knew two songs together, Pherigo said. Their success surprised even them.
    “I think we were excited about it and expected to do well, but not as well as we did,” Rembecki said.
    Though they came up short of another championship at the international convention, the quartet still have concerts booked through the next year across the country. However, because of rules limiting the age of quartet competitors in collegiate competitions to 25 years old ― a ceiling that Rembecki is near ― The Brovertones are at a crossroads.
    “That's the position that we're in now, now that internationals is over, it's do we stay together and then go on to the big-boy level or do we find new members?” Freeman said.
    It's one of the challenges in a landscape that is transforming somewhat in other ways. Rembecki recognized that the membership of barbershop choruses has in the past tended to be older, but that is changing, thanks in part to a growing interest from youth because of videos on Youtube and, partly, TV shows like “Glee.” As a result, Rembecki said the competition is growing in number and getting tougher, but the culture of barbershop is also enjoying more popularity among younger audiences.
    Explaining the appeal to the 20-year-old crowd, Freeman said it owes to some extent to its timelessness ― the music and the chords used in barbershop are based on the progression and production of overtones ― tones above or below the notes being sung when two or more voices are perfectly matched. It's “the purest music you can sing,” he said, making it easy as an audience member to listen to.
    “And as soon as you create one of those suckers,” Batchelder said, “It's the best feeling in the world. You are hooked for life.”

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