Do you appreciate masterfully executed acapella music delivered with charm and humor? Do you like American music from the turn of the 19th to the 20th century? You won’t have to look far if you live in Grays Harbor. Enjoy a performance by ‘Livin’ Harmony’, a local men’s quartet specializing in singing barbershop style gospel and popular music.
Livin’ Harmony are four musically gifted retirees: Jim Daly, tenor; Jim Thomas, lead; Ken Born, bass; and Dave Seymour, baritone. Their promotional flyer describes their philosophy: “We find great joy in vocal music and wish to serve our Lord by making a joyful noise in ministering to all who would like to hear our musical message of faith.”
Livin’ Harmony, in its current lineup, began in 2004 when lead singer Jim Thomas from Centralia joined the group. They practice every Monday at Montesano United Methodist Church, the spiritual home of Dave Seymour. Advertised by word of mouth only, they perform 30 times per year on average at parties, weddings, retirement communities and the occasional fundraiser. Recent Grays Harbor performances include the Heart and Hands Pregnancy Center’s Annual ‘Call to Supper’ fundraiser and the Hoquiam Push Rods’ Christmas party.
VFW District 5 Senior Vice Commander Jim Daly of Aberdeen is a number’s man. He recounts that he served in the Marine Corps for 22 years in 27 countries and 21 states and has served in the VFW for 35 years. For ten years, he held the position of executive director for the Grays Harbor Community Foundation. He has been singing tenor with Livin’ Harmony for 15 years. The largest sum from his biography reflects the years of combined barbershop singing experience computed by the group members: an impressive 226 years.
Ken Born of Olympia, the bass of the group, started accumulating barbershop experience at age nine when he began singing tenor in his family’s quartet consisting of Ken, his brother Glen and their parents. Since then, Ken has sung in 20 barbershop quartets. He founded Livin’ Harmony while he was singing at the now closed Elma Music Factory. He had asked his friend Don Seymour to come along and the idea of a barbershop quartet was born. Dave was singing tenor in the original line up.
Today Dave Seymour sings baritone with Livin’ Harmony. The retired Aberdeen school teacher looks back at 37 years of teaching at H.J. Elemenary West School. His musical background includes five years of piano lessons and singing baritone in high school, college and church choirs. He has taught Sunday school for approximately 50 years and enjoys volunteering at the Hoquiam Polson Museum.
Jim Thomas from Centralia is the only professional musician with Livin’ Harmony. He came to Centralia from the Midwest where he played guitar and bass guitar in several bands. He serves as music director at his church and previously sang with the Two Town Tuners, a Centralia barbershop choir. An acquaintance of Ken Born, he is the most recent member of Livin’ Harmony recruited as lead singer in 2004.
Livin’ Harmony sings various genres of music highlighting gospel and popular tunes from the 1890s to 1920s. At a recent performance at the Montesano Health and Rehabilitation Center, their repertoire included several gospel songs as well as ‘Turn the Radio On’ and ‘Shenandoah’ with ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Christmas Chopsticks’ added for a seasonal touch. All songs were delivered in the irresistible, ringing harmony of barbershop. There were many smiles on the faces of the audience. One resident chimed in with tunes familiar to him.
Barbershop music is an American vocal style consisting of acapella, four-part men’s close harmony singing. Barbershops were places where men gathered socially, spawning the name association. In the beginning, barbershop music was predominantly sung in the African American community. The style became popular when minstrel groups performed in radio shows of the early 20th century.
The theory behind the ‘ringing chords’ of barbershop is rather complex. The group members take some time to explain:
Barbershop singing focuses on the circle of fifth (to the lay person, this may sound like a secret brotherhood in crime but it is actually a basic concept in Western music theory). The four men sing four notes in a chord in such close harmony that a fifth note is created and the overall sound is expanded. To execute this technique requires great skill and lots of practice. Livin’ Harmony has mastered this technique to such an extent that the volume of their singing makes them sound like a much larger choir.
The four singers of Livin’ Harmony are not only masters of song. Their stage show includes telling stories about the musical selections, comedy and audience interaction. Most importantly, the men’s joy in their music is obvious and infectious. A spontaneous comment by a Montesano Health and Rehab staff member sums up what many feel about Livin’ Harmony’s performances: “They are so good!”
If you would like to book Livin’ Harmony for your church, organization or party, please contact Dave Seymour at 360-532-7960.