By now, regular readers of this column will know that I love vocal harmonies — the genre matters not, as long as voices are raised together in song. Such is the case this coming Sunday, March 11, when the Concerts at Jewett series will present Maine-ly Harmony joined by the Back Bay Four quartet for a celebration of barbershop splendor.

In a recent telephone interview from her home in Brunswick, Maine-ly Harmony director Kathy Greason took time to fill me in on her group’s upcoming performance at Jewett Hall Auditorium on the University of Maine at Augusta campus.

Q: I understand that you have performed at Jewett before?

Greason: Yes.

Q: How many times? Will this be the second or third, or more?

Greason: It’ll definitely be the second time and possibly the third; I’m pretty sure it’s the third. The confusing thing is that a couple of times we’ve used that hall for an annual show that we would do ourselves, so I don’t know if what I’m remembering is the Concerts at Jewett or our own annual shows. But it’s a nice venue.

Q: I agree, when I lived up in that area I frequented it a lot over the years. I loved the acoustics and stadium seating; there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Greason: The challenge for us is sometimes there’s a grand piano on the stage and we have to put up our risers, so the stage can be just the right size or it can be a little bit small.

Q: Because you aren’t using the piano anyhow, correct?

Greason: Right, unaccompanied a cappella is what we do.

Q: How many are in your group?

Greason: There are about 30 of us.

Q: That’s a few more than four.

Greason: Yes, it’s a barbershop chorus; it’s not a barbershop quartet. But there are four in the Back Bay Four quartet.

Q: As far as material, what do you draw upon for the music that you perform?

Greason: Well, we sing arrangements of old songs and new. There are lots of resources out there, arrangers in this barbershop style.

Q: Do you do any arrangements yourself?

Greason: I do, but it’s incidental — not for the chorus to sing. It’s very challenging to me to be sure that they’re legal. We want to be very comfortable with not stepping on copyrights.

Q: What’s in your repertoire?

Greason: Here’s what we’re singing currently, “Five Minutes More” by Frank Sinatra; “Blue Skies”; “Get Happy,” the Gaither Vocal Band medley, kind of spiritual; “59th Street Bridge Song” …

Q: Oh, Simon & Garfunkel!

Greason: Right. “Yesterday I Heard the Rain,” a 60s ballad; “Africa,” that’s our most modern song; “It’s A Good Day”; “Chapel of Love”; “Pennies From Heaven”; “Could I Have This Dance,” by Anne Murray, 1980; “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” from the 40s. There’s also “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, that’s pretty new also; “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book; and we have a few we haven’t learned yet. So that’s pretty much what’s on our list, and we have “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The State of Maine Song,” some things that you just like to have at the ready.

Q: Now when you breakdown into parts is it soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto and contralto?

Greason: Well, we call it by the same names that the men call it: tenor, which is the highest voice; lead, which sings the melody; baritone, which fills in the chords; and bass, which sings the lowest notes. And the ranges are kind of as you described them, except the bass is lower than most choral music for women.

Q: How does that break down by the numbers? Is there an equal balance?

Greason: In our chorus we have three tenors, we have about 12 or 13 leads, and then we have six or seven baritones and six or seven basses — and we wouldn’t mind seeing more basses because the balance of parts is sort of from low to high, more to few, but you never want to lose the melodies so we have some extra leads.

Q: Do you do much performing over the course of a year?

Greason: Yes, especially around Christmastime. We have a Christmas repertoire that we use, and I would say, on average we perform about 12 times a year, but that’s more than concentrated at Christmastime.

Q: Honestly, Kathy, I really love vocal harmony.

Greason: It is wonderful. It’s an ear hobby, you get to listen while you’re singing and that’s part of the fun. You hear the harmonies while you’re singing. It’s just an amateur hobby the way we do it. We work hard but none of us are professional singers.

Q: Could you give me a little background on the Back Bay Four?

Greason: I went on their website in anticipation of your asking me a few questions about them. They’ve been together since 2001; they used to compete in the Men’s Barbershop Harmony Society. They’ve won novice awards and they’ve been the division champions. They don’t compete anymore, now they are an entertainment quartet.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Greason: Just to tell them to come. That should be the opener, but it’s women of all ages and walks of life that come from all over the state. I drive up from Brunswick to Augusta for rehearsals and some of them drive down from Bangor. I live in Brunswick now, but I used to live in Hallowell for a number of years.

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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