April 11th is National Barbershop Quartet Day, a day to mark the creation of one of America's characteristic musical forms (read: one of the most surefire methods of embarrassing oneself).  Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of rather ridiculous group activities – a few of which, for posterity’s sake, are better left undetailed – but my most bizarre experiences always seem to stem from my involvement in musical ensembles.

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Happy (happy) [happy] {happyyyyy} birthday to youuuuu.

For example, there was the time I spent my summer vacation in a small New Mexican town with my dad – a town where extreme boredom drives most teens to join either the local gang (and let’s be honest – I’m not built for that) or the mariachi band.  As far as I know, the only lasting evidence to come out of this experimental period is a handful of Polaroids in which my band mates and I can be seen sporting cartoonish, tire-sized sombreros, and which by now have probably been buried deep beneath the town’s drifting sand dunes.  I hope.

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A forensic artist's close approximation of the incident in question.

Without a doubt, though, the award for Singular Most Scarring Adolescent Experience Involving Music and Costume goes to my role as “Quartet Member #3” in our middle school’s performance of The Music Man.  As one might safely deduce from the fact that my character is numbered, rather than named, my personal role in this production was quite small.

But baby, did we steal the show.

You see, it turns out that harmonizing with three other young men at a time when puberty has just started to mold our girlish voices into their older, more masculine equivalents – or, in my case, its older, slightly less girlish equivalent – is really quite difficult.  It certainly didn't help that our group’s soprano (somehow, miraculously, the music teacher had managed to unearth a boy whose voice reached even greater heights than my own) thought it would be funny if he made his voice crack during the last bar of our song, effectively profiting from his own puberty.  The music teacher – damn her to hell – agreed.  And thus, what was supposed to be a simple musical number quickly devolved into a four-man comedic act.

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The gents. (I'm second from the right.)

Each rehearsal, I would beg the soprano to give up his little voice-cracking thing, because really this was about all of us – not just him – and I wasn’t comfortable with the group’s artistic direction.  I wanted us all to be serious, yet musically cohesive; he wanted to go for laughs.  I saw myself as the band’s lead guitarist, trying in vain to prevent one of my back-up instrumentalists from making us into a joke.  But the soprano had our music teacher’s blessing, and he wore it like a talisman.  I was powerless to stop him.

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Some would say I have a diva complex. #noshame

A few weeks later, after our opening performance, I went up to my mom and grinned at her through my stage makeup.

“What’d you think, Mom?” I asked.

“Oh, you guys were hilarious!  Your voices sounded so awful together.  Everyone in the audience was cracking up!”

Dear God.  I hadn’t expected that.  Honestly, I had begun to think our quartet sounded quite good – considering, you know, everything mentioned about it already.

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Still, though, there comes a time in a young man’s life when he realizes it’s better to accept certain praise – misplaced as it is – rather than none at all.  Unexpectedly, our quartet had become one of the highlights of the show, which is why I finally decided to stop fighting our quartet’s little shtick and just go with it.

“Did you like the way the soprano’s voice cracked right at the end of our song?”

Mom laughed.  “That was my favorite part.”

My grin widened.  “It was my idea.”

Note: This story has been modified slightly to make the narrator appear more devious and clever, but essentially that's just how it happened. 

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