Emilie Begin

OMGQ!: Barbershop with a Contemporary Soul

My first time hearing GQ was when my group, Capital Blend, competed against them at SingStrong six months ago.  I was in tears when they performed their a rendition of Regina Spektor’s “Samson”, which you can hear here:

UPDATE: We wanted to make sure that the original arranger of this version of Samson, Jessica Graham, got full credit for this beautiful arrangement!  It’s one thing to sing a beautiful piece – it’s another to have the vision enough to write it.  Jessica Graham is a professional musician and available for custom arrangements.

As you can see, it’s not hard to hear why I put on the waterworks. Between the tight harmonies and Amanda McNutt’s beautiful solo, this group deserved the accolades it received that evening. They also performed an arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine” and a “Something Good/So Happy Together” medley. They ended up not only winning the “Audience Choice” award that night, but were SingStrong Aca-Idol champions as well. Incredibly, this group has been together for about a year and have already won the SingStrong Aca-Idol competition and several awards at the Mid-Atlantic Harmony Sweepstakes, including “Crowd Favorite”,” Best Arrangement”, and oh, yeah, the whole competition. At Nationals, they placed second, behind a group that has been together for six years.

When they’re not singing, they’re a bunch of normal sushi-loving twentysomethings, who goof around during rehearsal breaks, which is probably why I was more than happy to lose to them at SingStrong (oh, and they’re super-talented). They also taught me a few obscene gestures in sign language the first time we met, which makes them cool in my book. Coming from an all-female group myself, I chose them as my first interview since joining the Embassy as a Diplomat.

GQ is a group based out of Towson, Maryland, and though the group is new, the members are seasoned barbershop/choir veterans. It all started when members Katie Gillis and Amanda McNutt studied with the same voice teacher. Both girls sang for a radio gig together, and then a jazz choir, where they met other member Katie Macdonald. Katie M then met Ali Hauger, who has been doing barbershop since the 9th grade, through another music group, and the rest is history… or should I say, “her-story” (yeah, I know, I can’t help myself).

When I interviewed them back in April, they were having a coaching session with Ryan Griffith from Da Capo (2011 Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions), prepping for the Harmony Sweepstakes Finals. They spent a good part of the rehearsal practicing “You Are My Sunshine” and a mashup of “Something Good” and “So Happy Together”.  When watching the quartet, you can tell they seriously feel the music. They’ve only been together for a little less than a year, and yet their flawless tight harmonies make them sound like a Sweet Adelines group that’s been around for fifty years. To the barbershop/Sweet Adeline genre, GQ is a breath of fresh air. They’re in a league where most groups’ members are the same age as their parents. The group’s arrangements also stand out, in that they’re clearly barbershop harmony-wise, but with a clear a cappella influence. Griffith notes that “it’s a nice marriage of the two… a cappella is rhythmic in nature, and barbershop is very harmonic in nature, it’s all about vowels and chords, and when you can marry the two, it’s perfect… you get to hear all those awesome chords, but also still have the coolness that makes a cappella so unique, and they got it.” Katie G is the brains behind most of these unique arrangements, and Katie M has also helped create the harmonies that have won several awards.

Another thing to note is what the girls wear when performing. They generally wear matching jeans and blazers, which they attest to wanting to feel comfortable but look good on stage. It’s these fresh spins on the barbershop look and sound that inspire GQ in wanting to show younger generations that they’re part of a genre that can be cool, and from what I’ve heard in the last few months, and so far, they’ve done an awesome job. I highly recommend checking this group out the next time they perform.

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