|Olson, far right, with members of Transy Boys A Cappella (TBA).
LEXINGTON, Ky.—Kristofer Olson wants to make one thing clear—this isn’t your grandfather’s barbershop quartet. “The popular misconception is that barbershop harmony is sung only by old guys in straw hats and striped jackets,” Olson says. “The fact of the matter is, there is such an exciting and growing youth population in barbershop.” Take Olson, for instance, a senior music major at Transylvania, who proudly claims to be “a 22-year-old guy who loves barbershop quartets.”
His love led him to attend a weeklong set of master classes this past summer through Harmony University, a series taught by the best people in the barbershop business – the best quartets, solo singers, and directors.A place where, Olson emphasizes, “you will not see a straw hat anywhere.”
The program, sponsored by the Barbershop Harmony Society, took place in St. Joseph, Mo., from July 26 to August 2, and was an opportunity for burgeoning barbershop singers to hone their craft alongside peers from more than seven countries. The overall experience was what Olson calls, “one of the most fun and intense weeks I’ve had as a singer.” He particularly relished the ability to not only learn from genre masters, but apply his new a cappella knowledge to his other focuses in his major. “I can think of few other fields where this is possible,” he said.
Among the classes Olson took were “Elements of Coaching” with Mark Hale and “How to be a Great Bass” with Tom Metzger. Both teachers are coaches of and singers in national award-winning barbershop groups O.C. Times and Realtime, respectively. Olson also enjoyed the aggressively-named “Tune It or Die” class, which dealt with the science behind a cappella note structure. The class was taught by Joe Liles, a legend in the barbershop world, some of whose arrangements have been performed by the Transy Boys A Cappella (TBA).
TBA, of which Olson is currently the music director, is in its fourth year of existence as one of the campus’ premiere vocal groups. Given his new responsibilities, Olson chose his classes at Harmony University based on their applicability to the Transy program. He has high hopes for TBA currently, claiming that “the group has never been this good at the start of the year before,” something he attributes to good organization and an even better group of singers – ten men, including two first-years. In years past, TBA performed three or four gigs a year, that filled lobbies at best. More recently, they accompanied the Transylvania Choir on a tour of Europe and sang the national anthem at the May 2008 Hillary Clinton presidential rally in Transylvania’s Beck Center. Olson says they plan to fill Carrick Theater to standing room only this May, repeating the success of last year’s annual show.
TBA has also been performing original arrangements, composed mainly by Olson and fellow senior Joshua Motley of Ezel, Ky. Their goal is to record a ten-track CD of these arrangements by April, with the assistance of new music technology professor Tim Polashek.
“Few campus organizations have committed to a goal like this,” says Olson, and “at the least they’ll make great stocking-stuffers.” TBA hopes to eventually sell their finished album in the Transy bookstore.
Olson has invested a lot in TBA, and though he is thrilled to see it pay off, the moment is bittersweet. “The group has really gelled well this year, even though it’s a transitional year,” he said.
Next year will be the first to feature no original members of the organization, which leaves a burden on the shoulders of the current underclassmen. It’s a burden Olson is confident they can carry, citing excellent leadership from even the newest members. He would love for the group to reach past the level of recognition enjoyed by University of Kentucky neighbors, The Acousticats, and he thinks “we have the voices and the leadership to do it.” Olson reminds the Lexington community that “TBA is always up for hire.”
Olson finds no greater joy than singing, and one day teaching, “the kind of stuff that gives audiences goosebumps.” If Harmony University honed his skills, Transylvania University has given him the outlet to use them. Of his experience, he says, “I will graduate from Transy knowing that being a part of TBA has been one of the best things to ever happen to me, and I want the group to be successful enough that the young people in it now can say the same thing.”
He needn’t worry. The future looks harmonious, both for him and for TBA.
For more information on TBA, become a fan of Transy Boys A Cappella (TBA) on Facebook, or visit www.transy.edu/music/tba.htm