Compass takes the stage with barbershop a capella


Justine Liu, staff writer

A barbershop is not just a place where people get their haircuts, it is also a term traditionally associated with straw hats, bow ties, and striped shirts, the name of an a capella style brought to life at South by Compass barbershop quartet which will be presented on May 24 in a concert.

Compass was started in 2015 by a group of students interested in barbershop quartet music, Choir Director Robert Shellard said. Originating in the 1930s, barbershop is a vocal genre consisting of a bass, baritone, tenor, and lead, Shellard said. This year, the group includes seniors Joey Rabor as tenor and Greg Neppl as bass, and juniors Peter Hitzeman as lead and Anthony Tu as baritone. 

Within the quartet, each voice carries its own lines while the melody bounces around the group. Shellard describes the music as a comedic style of a capella, where Compass combines a contemporary style with old-fashioned music.

“Barbershop as a genre is goofy [with] sort of a Disneyesque ‘Smile with everything you do’ [music],” Shellard said. “This year’s Compass is great with choreography and humor that appeal to a more contemporary audience. They have tons of little gags [where] they make you laugh because they did something physically rather than something verbally or auditorily.”  

To this day, Compass is the only student-run a capella group at South, with the four members picking out music, rehearsing, and preparing for performances without assistance from the choir teachers, Tu said. The group was able to perform during V-Show, and is currently preparing for their first solo concert since before Covid-19, which will take place on May 24 in the choir room, and Tu is excited for the opportunity to share their work to his peers once again in the concert. 

“We’ve been working hard on all of our music, and we’re really excited to showcase barbershop music because it’s not a common genre of music that people listen to,” Tu said. 

Compass is also the smallest a capella group at South, and Hitzeman explained how the size of the group forces each member to take on more responsibility with their parts. His first taste of independence with Compass was during his audition, when students had to sing a new piece of music on the spot while demonstrating good tone and pitch, Hitzeman explained.

“You have to learn on your own and be prepared to [perform in Compass],” Hitzeman said. “That shows that you have a good sense of musicianship and independence.”   

Barbershop music heavily emphasizes chord structure because the voices are constantly producing a four-part harmony, Tu said. For Rabor, being a part of a quartet that focuses on a close harmony helps him strengthen his skills in working in a close-knit group and pushes him to sing in a different style than what he’s used to.

“I mainly sing R&B, so I dial it down for barbershop,” Rabor said. “Blending with a group is more important than trying to be the one that’s shining, and the four of us put a lot of effort into sounding good together.”  

Most of all, the music produces unique bonds among the artists, Neppl said. He described Compass as a group of four friends who all share the same passion for singing. 

“I would say that [Compass is] an outlet for us to explore [our passion for] barbershop music,” Neppl said. “The fact that we’re willing to put in so much time makes the group as cohesive as it can be.”