The British Barbershopper: A Study in Socio-Musical Values

bshop book coverBarbershop singing is a distinctive and under-documented facet of Britain's musical landscape. Imported from the USA in the 1960s, it has developed into an active and highly organized musical community characterized by strong social support structures and a proselytizing passion for its particular style.

This style is defined, within the community, in largely music-theoretical terms and is both highly prescriptive and continually contested, but there is also a host of performance traditions that articulate barbershop's identity as a distinct and specific genre.

This book documents and analyses the social and musical practices of this specialized community of music-makers, and extends this analysis to theorize the relationship between music and self-identity.

The book engages with a range of sociological and musicological theoretical frameworks in order to explore the role of harmony, ritual, sexual politics, performance styles and 'tag-singing' in barbershop. This analysis shows how musical style and cultural discourses can be seen to interact in the formation of identity. This book provides the first in-depth scholarly insight into the British barbershop community, and contributes to ongoing debates in the semiotics and the sociology of music.


'… this is an excellent study. Excellent bibliography and glossary… Highly recommended.' Choice

'... a new contribution to the literature which is thought-provoking in its appraisal of musicological and ethnographic research, as well as in its insights on a musical phenomenon which is little known to those not directly involved in its performance... well written and accessible... a vivid and frank depiction of a fascinating musical world, which will stimulate welcome debate about the relationship between repertoire, performance practices and contemporary social values.' Popular Music

'... Liz Garnett's thick descriptions, theoretical foundation and scientific insight give a brand new perspective to the musical and social world of the British barbershopper... Liz Garnett's book is a very valuable study which, I am certain, will contribute to the study of other musics.' International Review of the Sociology and Aesthetics of Music

‘…Liz Garnett's book is fascinating and thorough. As a contribution to the ongoing discussion of how the worlds of performance and criticism are evolving, the British Barbershopper is a valuable addition to the literature of musicology and the sociology of music.’ The World of Music

‘… [a] terrific book… the author has illuminated not just the British form of barbershopping but all of contemporary barbershop singing, and that, in doing so, she has made a signal contribution to the study of how contemporary Westerners further the 'project of the self' through participation in networks and institutions of musical performance.’ Ethnomusicology Forum

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