Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In barbershop group Crystal-Aires, it's all about harmonious fellowship

PALM HARBOR — Anyone wandering by the Palm Harbor Community Activity Center on Monday evenings is in for a treat: the sound of singing.

In four-part harmony, a dozen or so barbershop singers known as the Crystal-Aires launch into old-fashioned favorites.

Wes Branch, who founded the group here in 1980, has been singing barbershop music for 45 years, beginning in his native Virginia. At age 80, he remains a true aficionado.

"The harmony appeals to me," he said one recent evening at a rehearsal.

As president, he allied the group with the Barbershop Harmony Society, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. From that parent society, barbershop groups around the country gather songs that lend themselves to the barbershop sound.

"We have basic songs that everyone in barbershop learns so you can go anywhere to sing them," Branch said.

Barbershop music has a distinctive style. It utilizes four male voices — lead or straight melody, with bass, baritone and tenor carrying the harmony. The music emphasizes long vowel sounds.

"In barbershop, you hold the vowel as long as you can," said Jack Rickert, 83, who drives up from Largo to direct the singers.

The resulting sound is smooth and soothing.

Rickert said that music from the 1890s through the 1920s works best.

The songs are classics, readily recognizable by seniors. Favorites include Sweet Adeline, Heart of My Heart, My Wild Irish Rose and Hello Mary Lou.

Branch noted that one of those oldies, Down by the Old Mill Stream, goes back to the roots of barbershop music.

Many more modern songs don't lend themselves to the barbershop style, said Rickert, but a few have proved adaptable. That evening, for example, the men gave a rendition of For the Good Times, by composer/singer Kris Kristofferson.

The singers appear to have found their home in barbershop.

Fritz Weizel, 83, who grew up in a musical family in Pittsburgh, moved to Palm Harbor 25 years ago, bringing his musical ear along.

"It's a unique and challenging way to sing," he said. "You hear the pitch pipe and then you're on your own with no accompaniment."

Donning white pants and shoes, along with blue knit shirts, singers with the Crystal-Aires perform at clubhouses, nursing homes, churches and social events. They don't charge to entertain nonprofit organizations.

For $50, they also provide singing valentines delivered to homes or offices on Valentine's Day.

Branch said that going to the Barbershop Harmony Society conventions reminds him of what is special about barbershop.

"No one cares about your job, your politics or your religion," he said. "We all have a common interest in singing and the fellowship you can derive from a group like this."

If you go

See them perform at the picnic

The Crystal-Aires will perform informally at Picnic in the Park, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Edgewater Park in Dunedin.

Rehearsals are at 6:45 p.m. Monday evenings at the Palm Harbor Community Activity Center. For information, call Wes Branch at (727) 784-8052 or Norm Gordon at (727) 738-2704.

In barbershop group Crystal-Aires, it's all about harmonious fellowship 10/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 7:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  2. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”
  3. Romano: Time is up chief, make a call on police body cameras


    Excuse me chief, but it's time to take a stand.

    St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway
  4. Potential new laws further curb Floridians' right to government in the Sunshine

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — From temporarily shielding the identities of murder witnesses to permanently sealing millions of criminal and arrest records, state lawmakers did more this spring than they have in all but one of the past 22 years to chip away at Floridians' constitutional guarantees to access government records and …

    The Legislature passed 17 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, according to a tally by the First Amendment Foundation.
  5. Fennelly: This season's Chris Archer is a pleasure to watch

    The Heater


    At this time last season, through 10 starts, Rays pitcher Chris Archer was 3-5 on his way to 9-19.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, May 21, 2017.