Four University of North Texas students make up one of the best barbershop quartets in the world.
Singcerity went to Dortmund, Germany, last month to compete in the finals of the International Mixed Barbershop Quartet Championship. The singers — tenor Kimberly Newcomb, lead Caroline Hunt, baritone Marcus Kang and bass Micah Baker — left Germany with the third-place award.
“Only two quartets from the United States made the finals, and the other quartet [Double Date] won first place. So the U.S. did pretty well,” said Newcomb, a junior studying vocal music education in the UNT College of Music. Hunt and Kang are also pursuing vocal music education degrees, while Baker is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music.
Newcomb said she, Hunt and Kang have been singing barbershop for a while. Barbershop music is an American form of music in which four singers perform four-part harmony a cappella. It began in black barbershops, where men would casually sing together, harmonizing, while waiting for a shave or a haircut. In the early 20th century, barbershops were community gathering places. Singers had a ready audience. White minstrel singers adopted the form.
When most people think of barbershop quartets today, they think of men wearing boater hats, striped vests and bright colors. Newcomb said barbershop still includes those kinds of quartets, but it also appeals to mixed quartets who want to interpret modern music in the consonant, four-chord sound.
Newcomb has been singing barbershop music since she was 14.
“A friend of mine wanted to enter a talent show and wanted to sing barbershop,” she said. “He knew I’d been singing barbershop for a while, and he asked if I had any music. I assumed we’d be singing men’s music, because there is barbershop music for women and for choruses, but I figured we sing men’s music because singing women’s music would require the baritone to sing pretty high.”
The friends recruited Hunt and Kang to join them. They lost the talent show, and the singer who brought them together.
“Caroline, Marcus and I wanted to keep singing. We really liked it,” Newcomb said. “That’s when we asked Micah to join.”
Newcomb said that last fall, the four students would gather at one of their homes after class and sing, sometimes well into the evening.
And they don’t stick to the traditional repertory, either. One of Singcerity’s favorites is rock band Queen’s 1980 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” They also sing a four-part version of Pharrell’s recent hit song “Happy” and other titles, too, such as “Ebb Tide,” made famous by Frank Sinatra, and “Cry Me a River.”
“You can take any four-part harmony with a seventh chord and turn it into a barbershop,” Newcomb said. “As a choral singer, you don’t get to move around too much. The only way you show your emotion is through your face, really. With barbershop, you can really show how much fun you’re having.”
In one performance of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” at UNT, the singers joshed each other, mugging and enjoying sight gags. Baker and Kang even showed a friendly competition, with Kang ripping his shirt open to reveal a Superman shirt. After recovering from an elbow to the groin, Baker bested Kang by ripping his shirt open to reveal a Batman shirt. The audience ate it up.
The third-place prize is all about bragging rights. Newcomb said they didn’t win cash or studio recording time. But the prize will open doors in the barbershop world. Singcerity isn’t officially affiliated with UNT, but the group has performed on campus, and it helped pay for their travel expenses with fundraisers that touched the Denton campus.
Newcomb also pointed out that as American as barbershop is historically, UNT students have embraced it on the same global scale that mariachi music has been embraced at the college. Kang is a South Korean-born singer who calls San Antonio home. Hunt is from Houston, and Newcomb is an Austin girl. Baker is South African.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Newcomb said. “We all come together in our love for this music.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Newcomb, tenor
Caroline Hunt, lead
Marcus Kang, baritone
Micah Baker, bass
On the Web: http://youtube.com/UNTSingcerity, www.facebook.com/Singcerity