Breaking A Chord

A few years back, I worked as a newspaper columnist for the Daily Sun-News which is based in the heart of a retirement community in Sun City, Arizona. In that role, I had many opportunities to write about  people and their passions. I would often set up interviews in a small cafe called the Point of View.

One time, I met with several members of a forty-man barbershop chorus. The music director described the effect that the group’s singing had on him. “When you have a bunch of guys who can really sing barbershop,” he said, “it raises the goose bumps on your arms.”

He then began talking about a phenomenon known as breaking a chord. “If you have four guys that can match up their vowel sounds and sing in tune, you can create a fifth part just by the overtone that’s heard. Sometimes that sound is louder than any of the individual voices.”

The gentleman sitting across from him nodded his head knowingly. “It’s the time when God visits the room,” he said. “That’s the glory of barbershopping—when the chords ring and you get that vibration.”

Another fellow added his take on the breaking of a chord. “When you break a low tone, you think you’re experiencing an earthquake,” he said. “If you break low and you’re standing on risers, you can feel the vibrations.”

I asked them if they could demonstrate this phenomenon with a song, and when they began an impromptu rendition of “Down Our Way,” I felt the goose bumps. So did all the diners sitting nearby as the small barbershop quartet began harmonizing.

Perhaps God is that vibration or overtone we need to listen for a little more closely.


About Rich Kenney

Rich Kenney is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Social Work Program at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Faith, Life, Music and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Breaking A Chord

  1. hmjkatie says:

    THAT is my favorite part about Choir. It’s so amazing when our mishmashed group of Church members hit it just right. I’ve had the goosebumps, and I’ve even had tears. God is a phenomenal singer.

  2. Rich Kenney says:

    Amen – just wish I could sing…

  3. Dee's B's says:

    I love the Barbershop Choirs!! And a very good thought, thanks Rich!

  4. Rich, I don’t know much about barbershop quartets but feel like I will hear them differently the next time I listen to one sing. Lovely story. And my family is from Phoenix, and my mother-in-law a hospice nurse in the Valley so I enjoyed your bio very much. Thanks for visiting my place and leaving a comment. So nice to meet you.

  5. Rich Kenney says:

    I felt the same way – never really appreciated barbershop until I did the story about the barbershoppers. And breaking a chord – what a remarkable phenomenon. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Anton Armstrong, director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota, expressed a similar thought in an interview last December on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. He said, “In the minute when that chord locks and we’ve been struggling with it and it finally works, it’s as if, yea, God is there.”

  7. I like how you incorporate your work into your writing. You make your story easy to see visually. I also like barbershop quartets! 🙂

  8. Oh yes I know what they are talking about! I joined choir last year even though i really don’t know how to sing nor do I read music but….God does show up, it’s amazing. I’ve said the closest I feel to God is worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth with fellow believers. Imagine heaven singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ thank you for this reminder 😉

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