When she fractured her pelvis in a car accident three weeks ago, the Beaver Creek, Ore., 16-year-old was determined to return for a second summer of Harmony Explosion.
The singing event in Parkland is an experience that lets youths ages 12 through 21 experience the joy of barbershop-style, doo-wop and other unaccompanied vocal music.
Once she found out her injuries didn’t require surgery, Fox said, her first thought was, “Why would I not go to Harmony Explosion? I’d choose Harmony Explosion over everything.”
She was propelled around campus in a wheelchair, with help from a friend, and had to sit in front of the risers onstage for rehearsals.
But she was singing, and that was what mattered.
Fox joined 168 other young voices Thursday when HX, as it’s known, got under way on the Pacific Lutheran University campus. Singers come from throughout the Northwest and British Columbia.
Joy Scott and Shane Polley are among nine singers from Pierce County.
Polley, a member of the event staff from Gig Harbor, is a veteran HXer. It’s his fifth year there.
“I like standing on stage and singing with a couple of hundred people,” said the 22-year-old recent Whitworth College graduate. “It’s a great aura – everyone’s having fun.”
Scott, a 15-year-old from Tacoma’s Wilson High School, is participating in her first HX. She said she was nervous coming by herself.
“But within a few minutes, I was with a group of people,” she said. “There’s a big sense of family. Everyone’s super nice.”
Singers arrived around midday Thursday and immediately broke into sections to rehearse. By 4 p.m., the group had gathered to sing together for the first time. They’re rehearsing for a public concert tonight.
A pitch pipe sounded, and the chorus was off, weaving eight-part harmonies that sounded to the untrained ear as if the students had been practicing together for weeks. But HX staff knew better.
“Let’s hear the last part again – doo-en-doo-doo-wah,” urged Russ Young, an Arizona music teacher who is one of the musical conductors.
Sounds from the rehearsal
Soon, the singers were crooning a medley, “Sing a Little Doo Wop/In the Still of the Night,” a piece of classically smooth ear candy.
“In the Still of the Night,” popularized in 1956 by the Five Satins, covered by Boyz II Men in the 1990s, stands as an example of the resiliency of the kind of music HX organizers are working to keep alive.
"Sing A Little Doo-Wop/In The Still Of The Night"
The singing style has roots that run from African American spirituals through the popular songs of the early 20th century that neighbors sang while socializing in their local barbershops, explained Nick Papageorge, a California music teacher who’s also working with HX singers.
Barbershop music is noted for having the second tenor voice carry the melody, he said, while harmonies float above and below.
“Once you sing it, you’re hooked for life,” he said.
Most of the young HX singers acknowledge that the music they’re singing this week is not what’s on their high school friends’ iPods.
“I always thought barbershop meant getting your hair cut,” said 18-year-old Daniel Christiansen, from Eagle Point, Ore. He was introduced to the musical style by a school choir teacher.
He says there’s very little intelligent music on the charts these days.
“People who listen to the popular stuff don’t know what real music is,” he said.
The tunes featured in today’s concert may be most familiar to a 50-plus crowd. But the intricate four- and eight-part harmonies have a hypnotic hold on these teens.
Fox’s friend Erick Kelly, 18, from Beaverton, Ore., proudly boasts of being “third generation barbershop.” His grandmother and his mom got him hooked. This is his sixth year at HX.
“This camp is my once-a-year link to the barbershop world,” he said.
Kyle Henderson, 14, of Camano Island sums up the beauty of barbershop and its musical cousins: “You’re not using any instrument to tune your voice. It’s all natural harmony. It’s all the voices locking together, and it sounds so sweet.”