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Barbershop Singers

Descend on the Bay

By David Tirrell-Wysock / Fiddlehead Contributing Writer

Wander around Alton Bay on the weekend of Aug. 17 and you’ll see many groups of four folks dressed alike – colorful shirts, maybe some matching vests or bow ties. But don’t just look. Listen, and you’ll hear a couple of tenors, a baritone and a bass.

It’s Harmony on the Lake, the 58th Annual Alton Bay Barbershop Jamboree that attracts hundreds of barbershoppers from all over New England. Activities are centered at the bandstand in Alton Bay and Prospect Mountain High School, but expect lots of singing, day and night, all over town.

“While singing is going on at the bandstand Friday afternoon, there’s apt to be a quartet or two going on by the Welcome Center, there’s apt to be a quartet up by the Chinese restaurant or if you are having lunch down on Main Street, there’s apt to be singing outside the restaurant there,” said Dave Snell, director of the Laconia Chapter of the Lakes Region Chordsmen, which is hosting the gathering along with Alton’s Parks & Recreation Department.

Barbershop singing used to include only men, but Snell expects several female quartets and possibly a couple of mixed quartets at this year’s event. The harmonizing starts Friday afternoon with a free concert at the bandstand right next to scenic Alton Bay.

If you and a few friends get inspired by the Friday performance, Saturday’s “mock competition” may be your ticket to “mock” stardom.

“Yeah, the judges can be bribed,” said Snell. “It doesn’t have to be a professional quartet, it can be four guys getting together who say, ‘we want to sing on the stage for this.’”

How do you win a mock competition?

“Sometimes the winner is the funniest, other times – it’s hard to say. Everybody wins as long as they have fun, and that is the idea,” Snell said.

The big event is Saturday night’s Great Gathering. Last year’s show featured about 25 groups from around New England including well-known quartets, pick-up quartets, choruses (10-75 voices) and other groups called VLQs, or very large quartets.

“That’s any group larger than four people, but not really a chorus,” Snell said.

The length of the concert depends on how many groups show up – which is an open question.

“We’re not sure who’s coming ‘til they pull up,” said Snell. “We don’t print the program until late in the afternoon.”

Snell anticipates a large crowd of singers. He hopes for the traditional large crowd of listeners.

“We have a lot of fun singing, but it makes it a lot more fun if we have somebody to sing to,” he said.

The Alton Bay barbershop tradition began in the 1940s, when a visiting quartet from Norwich, Conn., began singing at Downing’s Landing, then a marina owned by the Downing family at the tip of Alton Bay. According to the Lakes Region Chordsmen, the family helped make the one-time show an annual event of barbershop singing.

Over the years, more and more barbershoppers added their voices. More than one leaves their voice behind after belting out their last chord.

“It’s not unusual for some of us to come home with very little voice left,” Snell said.

Get all the detals: nedistrict.org/alton/


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