Barbershop comes to the beach

Local singing group Nautical Sounds has been singing out of Ocean View for the past 16 years, sharing their traditional barbershop-style tunes to generate an appreciation for a form of music that was most popular more than a century ago.

“The reason barbershop music was popular was because it was easy to sing and easy to harmonize, so families could stand around singing these old songs,” said Nautical Sounds Director Mike Burkhart. “We want to preserve that grand old style of music.”

Nautical Sounds performs classics that both young and old would recognize and appreciate, such as “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Bicycle Built for Two.”

The 29 male volunteer singers range in age from mid-30s to mid-80s, and despite being generations apart, all find common ground in their enthusiasm for the music.

“The only two requirements to be in the group are you’re able to carry a tune and you have fun singing,” said Burkhart. “If you show up and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ without too much help, you’re OK.”

There are two quartets in the group — named Ebbtide and Marlin Spikes, respectively — which travel to perform at smaller shows. Like the larger chorus, where parts are shared by multiple members, the quartets are made up of a lead voice, a tenor, a bass and a baritone part.

Assistant Director Joe Lobb said the performances and efforts of the organization help preserve a traditional pastime.

“If we all die off, then all the barbershop is going to die off — because with music like hard rock and rap, we’ve had a difficult time getting young people to join,” Lobb said. “We are trying to encourage junior high schools and high schools to have groups like ours and get younger generations interested.”

Nautical Sounds performs throughout the Delmarva Peninsula, and occasionally travels to Maryland or Pennsylvania for competitions. While the group does charge for most performances, members also make visits to nursing homes, non-profit organizations and hospitals, where they do not charge.

According to Burkhart, the group’s two largest sources of fund-raising income are their annual spring concert at the Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes and private concerts given on Valentines Day. For about $40, the group will send a quartet to any requested location and perform for the romantic occasion.

All funds raised by the organization go toward music education and appreciation, whether for the members’ own interests or programs in schools throughout the country. A portion of the money also goes to a Wisconsin-based charity called the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing, which teaches children to speak through singing.

Nautical Sounds is the Ocean View chapter of the Barber Shop Harmony Society, an international organization based in Canada and dedicated to fostering an appreciation for music.

The larger group was started more than 65 years ago and is currently the world’s largest all-male singing society, with 30,000 members and more than 800 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

The organization encourages “advocacy at all levels of society to keep recreational and social singing an important part of our culture” through charities, youth outreach programs and community service, according to the society’s Web site.

The traditional style of Nautical Sounds will be featured at a free concert at the Fenwick Island park on Saturday, July 30, at 5:30 p.m., sponsored by the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee.