A cappella of fellahs
Dylan Sofa’s first public performance of barbershop was a disaster.
“We flat lined,” the 19 year old told Capital Times this week. “We were all wearing waistcoats that didn’t quite fit. No one was on key and we were all off in different directions.”
Sofa and his Year 13 classmates were competing in the talent quest at Mt Maunganui College. They didn’t win, but Sofa had caught the barbershop bug.
Sofa was born in Auckland, but moved to Mt Maunganui when he was nine. His father was Samoan Maori, his mother of Maori and European descent. He never thought of himself as being particularly musical, nor his family, although his father plays guitar. Until the infamous talent quest Sofa was more involved in public speaking and debating.
“I wasn’t a singer at all, I didn’t even sing in the shower,” he says. “We wanted to enter the school talent quest, but weren’t sure what to do. Someone got the idea we should sing so we did a Google search and came across barbershop and found there was a local chorus and went along.”
The four 17 year old schoolboys were welcomed by the local barbershop chorus with open arms.
“We got there and found a chorus of 25 elderly men, and did they welcome us. These guys were having aneurysms over us. It was a youth injection. They gave us sheets of music and told us to join in. It was absolutely fantastic.”
And although it turned to custard at the talent quest, for Sofa the barbershop taste remained sweet. He found his bass voice and went on to compete at the national championships where his chorus came third.
“It was only in the small chorus section, but we all had shiny medals and a big boost in confidence. So I stayed on with the chorus. It seemed the longer I stayed the less I wanted to leave.”
Last year when Sofa moved to Wellington to study at Victoria University he joined the Harbour Capital Chorus, a barbershop chorus of 35, who practice every Monday night at Onslow College. The Wellington region is quite a hotbed of the barbershop style. Another group, Vocal FX, based in Tawa, is currently ranked seventh best in the world and its quartet, The Musical Island Boys, is ranked second in the world. Sofa has sung with both groups, but it’s not all about the music and competitions.
“It’s about the sense of comradeship and solidarity and the Barbershop code of conduct of keeping happy. It’s about getting with a bunch of guys and having a good time.”
He also says it’s about knowing that wherever he goes in the world someone in the barbershop fraternity will have a bed for him and table to be fed at. And that may come in handy in July when he’s off to Canada on a six month exchange programme at Victoria British Columbia University. He’s already lined up a barbershop chorus to join while he’s there.
The Harbour Capital Chorus has an open night at Onslow College from 7.30pm, May 28.