While men dominate the world of rock and roll, church choirs often go begging for guys to join, and fans of the traditional American art form known as barbershop quartet are working hard to fill the ranks. In Charlottesville, one chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society is offering free lessons to any man who’d like to raise his voice in song.
On a Monday night at 6:15, about a dozen men are sitting in the second floor rehearsal room of University Baptist Church, waiting nervously for a lesson in something they like to do.
"Men do like to sing, but we like to do it in private," says Ty Hilliard.
" I always sing in my car," confesses Jimmy Lord.
"Maybe if you’ve had too many drinks doing it at a karaoke where nobody seems to care," Hilliard adds.
Gil Orejudos says he's a "shower singer," and Joe Ky admits he's nervous.
They can’t say why, but Nico Scopelliti, president of the Jeffersonland Chorus, says it’s all about ego."We’re afraid of it sounding bad. We’re afraid of the cringes that might come."
In truth, he says, there’s no reason to fear, because anyone can sing.
"You might not be able to hold a tune in a bucket right now, but that doesn’t mean that you’re tone deaf. There are some people who are naturally good at singing, but for most of us it takes some work."
Which is why he’s hired Alexa Beale and Dan Signor to teach the fundamentals and techniques of the trade. If you can talk, Beale says, you can sing.
“I love to sing! " she says in a sing-song voice.
" I love to sing!" the men echo.
" Beautiful!" Beale concludes. "We’re exploring that range. Let’s do another one: Oh no! Oh no! Beautiful. So you’re singing."
Fellow instructor Signor helps students get acquainted with the complicated male voice.
"Dee, dee, dee, dee," he sings in the soprano range. "That’s the same voice you had when you were a little kid, and then when your voice drops you have your chest voice – that one down there, but then there’s the one in the middle. That’s the money maker right there, and that’s called our head voice. It’s our normal voice but kind of lighter and easier. You have to be able to find all three of those voices and to blend them together to really be able to match pitch."
Even the falsetto is in reach for most men.
"When you say ‘Come here kitty, kitty.’ That’s your falsetto."
"‘Kitty, kitty,'" he demonstrates again. The group follows his lead, and Signor concludes, "Good for you!"
On the first night, more than a dozen guys will also learn a bit about breathing technique, posture, how to open their mouths and relax:
"Tension, because tension anywhere in your body will work its way into your singing somewhere," says Beale. "One more time, let’s put a hand on your belly and take a nice breath."
Over the next few weeks they will also learn to listen – a critical skill for any musician according to chorus president Scopelitti.
"Listening is probably 80% of being a good singer," he explains. "That’s one of the most fundamental skills that apply not only to singing but to life."
And they’ll find what more seasoned musicians like Jack Marshall and Dan Ray have already discovered.
Jack Marshall has been singing for 30 years
"Regardless of the mood I’m in when I come to a rehearsal, I’m in a better mood when I leave," he says.
"When it works and it comes together, there really is no greater feeling," adds Dan Ray.
And if, after six weeks, they’re infected with the vocal bug, they may choose to join the Jeffersonland Chorus to entertain around town.