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Young Singer Attracted To Barbershop's Vocal Harmony


Next, we'll report on people who pour their passions into something beyond their work. Many people must do things to pay the bills but also have a separate life. And in the coming weeks, we're going to hear from people talking about their weekend selves, a side some may not be able to express at work. We're calling our series Alter Egos, and today, we begin with Kevin McClelland. Our colleague Renee Montagne caught up with this young singer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: He's 26. His day job is something a lot of people might do for fun. He works for the Peoria Chiefs baseball team - a farm team associated with the St. Louis Cardinals. But his passion is old-time a cappella music known as barbershop. He competes with a quartet and also sings in a barbershop chorus composed of 75 singers. Well, I know you brought a member of your group - the Committee - also, a couple of friends who sing with you in the chorus.

KEVIN MCCLELLAND: That's correct.

MONTAGNE: So how about a quick demonstration?

A CAPPELLA GROUP: Absolutely. Hang on just one moment, here. (Singing) Somehow - someday - someday - somewhere - somewhere.

MONTAGNE: That's beautiful.

MCCLELLAND: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Now, you may not be in costume - in dress - right now...


MONTAGNE: ...But what would I imagine you all wearing, normally, when you're performing?

MCCLELLAND: Well, there's always the stereotype with barbershoppers that they have stripped vests and boater hats and, you know, spats on their shoes. And there's some quartets that do kind of hearken back to that. But a lot of modern-day barbershop quartets are wearing regular tuxedos. Some groups wear tails. It's four guys dressed alike, but the outfits can very.

MONTAGNE: So what was it for you? What drew you to a barbershop quartet?

MCCLELLAND: You know, part of it is the style. There's nothing in between you and the audience. There's a microphone, three other guys and the song. And it's so accessible. Ninety percent of the barbershop repertoire is songs are about love or loss, and that is what keeps me coming back to barbershop and it is so life-changing if it's delivered the right way.

MONTAGNE: Well, life-changing - that's a pretty powerful word.

MCCLELLAND: Yeah, one of the stories we heard at the international competition this year was about a quartet that was singing a gig. And they were in a nursing home, and there was this one elderly gentleman who hadn't really responded to any kind of therapy or talk. You know, nothing really got through to him. But when the barbershop quartet came in to entertain, this guy who had been slumped over in his wheel chair, barely paying attention to anything stood straight up and sang "My Wild Irish Rose" in perfect harmony with the four other guys that were singing songs.

MONTAGNE: Oh, my gosh.

MCCLELLAND: And that quartet sang through their entire repertoire, and that guy sang, pretty much, every note with them.

MONTAGNE: It feels like it's openhearted music.

MCCLELLAND: That is a great descriptor, yeah. I think one of the things that the really good quartets, even choruses, you see - they are giving you complete access to their heart. That's been the really fun component is, you know, understanding how to release and allow the audience to see that.

MONTAGNE: Well, we would love to hear another piece.

MCCLELLAND: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: And I'll let you decide what to sing.

A CAPPELLA GROUP: (Singing) Heart of my heart - I love you. Life would be not without you. Light of my life, my darling - I love you. I love you. I can forget you never. From you, I never can sever. Say you'll be mine forever. I love you, only you.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you all. It was really a pleasure.

MCCLELLAND: Thank you, Renee. Again - really appreciate it.

TIM BEUTEL: Thank you.




INSKEEP: Hey, that was our colleague Renee Montagne who, just before leaving on sabbatical, spoke with barbershop singer Kevin McClelland along with his friends Tim Beutel, Bret Reinthaler, and Mark Sheffler.

A CAPPELLA GROUP: (Singing). I call my neighbor - just a kid named Joe. Let him (unintelligible). He'll greet you with a bright hello - hello. Hello, mister, here's your paper. So I get all of my paper from - he's just a kid named Joe - kid named Joe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.