Some two-dozen singers in Nebraska barber shop quartets are taking part in a regional competition this weekend.
Bob Kerdus is organizing the three-day contest and convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Six Nebraska groups are among the 31 quartets, as well as a dozen large-scale choruses.
“Those 31 quartets will each sing two songs, they’re judged and evaluated,” Kerdus says. “The top ten are announced at the end and those top ten will go into the quartet finals, which will be Saturday evening.”
The choruses may be upwards of 60 members each, but still singing in four-part harmony. That chorus competition starts Saturday morning.
For the first time this year, one of the quartets is “mixed,” meaning, there’s at least one female member. While the majority of participants are male, Kerdus says one place they vary widely is in age.
“We have a couple of high school kids, a couple of college-age guys that sing with us and then all the way up to some 80-year-old gentlemen that sing with us,” Kerdus says. “We are very much a cross-generational organization, obviously, more weighted to the Baby Boom generation than those young people.”
Efforts are underway to inspire more young people to get involved in acapella singing, and T-V shows and movies like “Glee” and “Pitch Perfect” are helping. Kerdus, who’s 67, says the Barbershop Harmony Society is striving to make the music appeal to all audiences in order to keep the art form thriving.
“Our society is trying to modernize that music, get a lot of the ‘newer’ music arranged in the barber shop style,” Kerdus says, “getting songs that are from the 80s, 90s and 2000s instead of a lot of what we call contemporary songs are the 60s and 70s songs.”
Singers are coming from five states: Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri. Quartets from Nebraska include two from Fremont: Beat Street and Home Brewed; and four quartets from Lincoln: Fleet Street, Continental Drift, Just Maybe…, and Paternal Instinct.
The competition runs through Sunday at the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. There are nearly 800 chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society and about 23,000 members in the United States and throughout the world.