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Barbershop Quartet Winners Rural Route 4 on the Joys of Harmony

Rural Route 4 in 1986, pictured (left to right): Jim Bagby, Willard Yoder, Calvin Yoder, Don Kahl.
Rural Route 4 in 1986, pictured (left to right): Jim Bagby, Willard Yoder, Calvin Yoder, Don Kahl.

The idea of the Barbershop Harmony Society hatched in Kansas City when two Tulsa, Oklahoma businessmen - and barbershop enthusiasts - had a chance meeting at the Muehlebach Hotel (now the Kansas City Marriott Downtown).

By Laura Spencer


Kansas City, Mo. – Founded in 1938, the organization promotes and preserves barbershop music - and has nearly 30,000 members. This week, many of those members are in Kansas City for the Society's convention, which includes performances and an international competition.

KCUR's Laura Spencer caught up with the 1986 international quartet winners, Missouri-based Rural Route 4.

"Hi, I'm Jim Bagby. I sing baritone.
And I'm Willard Yoder. I sing the bass.
Calvin Yoder on lead.
And Don Kahl. I sing the tenor line."

MUSIC ("On the Farm in Old Missouri"): "Just beyond the newmown meadow..."

Calvin Yoder: "Well, we got together first in 1971. Willard (Yoder) and I are the only two that are from the beginning. The baritone at that time was a man by the name of Rufus Kenagy. And Everett Roth was our tenor. All four of us were farmers, at least grew up as farmers."

Laura Spencer/KCUR: "Was that (barbershop) a big part of your community growing up? How did you start singing as a barbershop quartet?"

Calvin Yoder: "Our dad sang in a quartet for years. Not barbershop, it was a gospel quartet. We grew up in a Mennonite church, which sang a cappella, all our lives. So we knew how to sing harmony from (when we were) little.

But when I first heard barbershop in 1965, boy, that was a different dimension. I flipped over that. I'd rather listen to barbershop record than eat back at that time."

Laura Spencer/KCUR: "What is it about the barbershop style that appeals to all of you?"

Calvin Yoder: "The tight harmony, I just loved it. I would hear that, some chords like that once in a great while in a gospel number that I really liked. But when I heard barbershop, it was all the time, you know. And I, boy, I loved it."

Willard Yoder: "Calvin (Yoder) and I growing up together, him being older than I, when I heard the first barbershop, it didn't appeal to me like it did him. It did, but in a different way. It took longer for me to learn to appreciate and know the chords. And when he'd play these records over and over at home, it was like, 'Oh, come on, play something different for awhile.' (all laugh). But, after joining the quartet, it didn't take long until I was hooked."

Don Kahl: "It's the chords. I remember when I was 14 years old, my dad took me to a quartet parade. (It was) a bunch of shows in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was born and raised. And we went down to the auditorium on a very hot August day. And he took me down a back hallway and we walked right into the rehearsal room of the headline quartet (The Confederates, 1956 International Quartet Champions) that night. They came up and sang a tag for us as we were standing there. And I'll never forget. I was 14 years old, and I remember looking at dad and said, 'Man, I hope I can do that. I'd love to do that when I get bigger.' And it came to pass 30 years later."

Jim Bagby: "The joy of barbershop is the four parts create a sound bigger than just those parts. So nearly everyone who comes to it and hears it, or takes part in it, is surprised by the sound. Those chords ring, we say. They literally do; they make overtones. And they make harmonics that you hear and feel. And a lot of guys just get goosebumps...

MUSIC ("On the Farm in Old Missouri"): "...that is where she waits for me..."

Jim Bagby: "I'm a third-generation barbershopper. My grandfather, who was a charter member of the Colorado Springs chapter took me to meeting when I was 11, (he) took my brother and me. He sat me down in the baritone section.

Music that they used to use, he (Bagby's grandfather) sent an entire book to my mother. And she taught us, the four oldest Bagby boys, all this music by rote. So we had the Bagby Brothers Quartet when I was 12 years old. So I've been singing barbershop literally all my life. It's a part of my life, it's ingrained. I couldn't exist without barbershop. I am a barbershopper and I love it."

Laura Spencer/KCUR: "So what's it like for you to sing together now?"

ALL: (laughter)
Don Kahl: "It's not as easy as it used to be!"
Calvin Yoder: "When we don't practice, you know, you don't keep your voice in shape like you did. (laughs) We have so much fun. And that's still the key is having fun. And if we're having fun, they're having fun. And they're having fun, then we're really having fun. And it really feeds off each other."

MUSIC ("On the Farm in Old Missouri"): "...On the farm in old Missouri, dearest spot on Earth to me."

The 73rd Annual Barbershop Harmony Society International Convention in Kansas City, Mo., July 3 - 10, 2011.

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