Singing Buckeyes uphold barbershop tradition
For more than 60 years, a group of Columbus-area men have sought to keep a piece of Americana alive through four-part, harmonized singing.
Since 1950, the Singing Buckeyes have shared their barbershop stylings through performances and open membership to their chapter, which is affiliated with the international nonprofit organization for choruses and quartets, The Barbershop Harmony Society.
Over the decades, the group has moved its unofficial headquarters throughout the Columbus area, but in recent years, it has called Upper Arlington home, largely due to its membership and because it stages weekly rehearsals at Advent Lutheran Church, 3660 Kenny Road.
Consisting of approximately 100 members -- including 60 to 70 active members who perform throughout the year -- the Singing Buckeyes already have represented the Johnny Appleseed District (Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) 17 times at The Barbershop Harmony Society's International Contest.
They'll do so again this July 2-7, when the competition is held in Toronto.
But to members, the pursuit of excellence is secondary to barbershop singing.
"The organization's directive is to try to preserve barbershop harmony, which is an American art form," said Gary Wulf, a retired Dublin resident who spent much of his 30-year teaching career in the Upper Arlington school district. "The only way we do that is by bringing in new members."
Wulf currently is the Singing Buckeyes' assistant director; he's been a group member since 1971.
"It brings so much joy to us," Wulf said. "There's something about harmonizing, singing together, that fills your tank.
"It's just been so fulfilling. It makes people happy to hear us and it makes us happy to do it."
The Singing Buckeyes are supported by membership dues, a portion of which are used to fund a four-day barbershop summer camp for boys and girls at Ohio Wesleyan University, and to provide music materials to area schools.
Wulf said the majority of current members are from Upper Arlington, but Singing Buckeyes also hail from throughout the Columbus area and as far away as Dayton and Mansfield.
"We have a full range of ages in the group," Wulf said. "With barbershop, people think it's a bunch of old guys singing but, in part because of the harmony camp, we have all ages.
"We have kids in their teens, all the way to guys in their 80s."
That includes Wulf's 13-year-old grandson, Tyler, a student at Hastings Middle School in Upper Arlington, as well as Wulf's sons, Chad Wulf, the Singing Buckeyes' director, and Jason Wulf, principal at Greensview Elementary School in Upper Arlington.
Gary Wulf said he's hoping all three generations of family barbershop singers will make the trip to Toronto this summer for the international competition.
There, he said, a group of about 60 Singing Buckeyes will participate in the chorus competition, and about four different Buckeye singing groups will vie in quartet competitions.
The Singing Buckeyes qualified for the International Contest after qualifying at the district level.
They're hoping to bring back the competition's title after a Swedish quartet won last year.
"We've finished in the top 10 several times," Wulf said.
In the meantime, Wulf said, he wants the Singing Buckeyes to work toward maintaining the American tradition of barbershop singing, and he hopes barbershop groups will increase from about 25,000 nationwide to the 40,000 to 50,000 that were performing in the 1960s and 1970s.
To that end, he said, those interested in barbershop singing are welcome at the Singing Buckeyes' weekly practices, which are open to the public.
They also can learn more about the Singing Buckeyes online at singingbuckeyes.com or by calling him at (614) 793-8864.
"Any man who's interested in singing would be a welcomed guest on any Tuesday night," Wulf said. "There is an audition process, but mostly if we find someone who likes to sing, we teach them how to harmonize."