Four Minus One Equals Zero

l. to r., Joe (tenor), Pete (lead), Bill (bass), Dave (baritone)

4 – 1 = 0. The equation is quartet math. With a quartet you have to have all four parts. If even one part is missing, you have nothing.

I’ve been singing with these guys since 1997 when a local high school chose The Music Man as their annual musical production. The director tried valiantly to recruit four high school boys to be the barbershop quartet the show requires, but she had no luck. Finally, she turned to parents, and Joe, Bill, Dave and I stepped forward. I knew the other guys already since we all sing in the same church choir.

As I understand it, the director said something to the kids in the show to the effect that they should be grateful that parents were willing to support their production. The kids responded by giving us our name: The Grateful Dads. In the picture here, I’m the beardless one.

I have said many times (and meant it every time) that quartet singing is more fun than a person probably should be allowed to have. My vocal range is what is called second tenor. In quartet terms this turns out to be lead—I get to sing the melody almost all the time!

In the beginning we stuck to traditional barbershop. It wasn’t long, however, before Dave got the itch to write arrangements for us. With Dave’s arrangements, we began branching into doo-wop (aging white guys singing the music of young black guys of 50 years ago). Then came Elvis. Then came the Beatles. One of our doo-wop numbers is Gene Chandler’s classic Duke of Earl. As lead, I get to do all that swooping falsetto business at the end.

When my daughter Elizabeth first heard us sing the number, I wanted to know her opinion of the performance. She thought for a moment and said, “It would be worth the price of admission for me just to hear my own father make a noise like a little girl on a roller coaster.”

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