When Benjamin Brekke moved to Cloquet a few years ago to teach at Queen of Peace Catholic School, he wanted to take his favorite hobby with him. Down in the Twin Cities, he was part of the Barbershop Harmony Society in the North Star Chorus.

"I sang with them for nine years and loved my time there," Brekke said. "When I moved up here, the first thing I did was look for a barbershop group."

He found one in Duluth, the Duluth-Superior Harbormasters, but didn't like driving to Duluth weekly and he didn't feel like he was being challenged enough to grow as a singer in the group.

"At that point, I decided, well, if I need a bit of a challenge, I'll have to start one myself," Brekke said.

What exactly is a barbershop chorus?

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Music books full of the 12 basic polecat barbershop songs sit on the table at the Cloquet Barbershop Chorus rehearsal on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
Music books full of the 12 basic polecat barbershop songs sit on the table at the Cloquet Barbershop Chorus rehearsal on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The Barbershop Harmony Society started in the United States in 1938. The society promotes the barbershop choral style of music. A barbershop chorus is made up of four different parts: the tenor, the lead, the bass and the baritone.

"The baritone part is interesting because you pretty much sing any note needed to complete a chord," Brekke said. "Baritones are the butt of every barbershop joke you'll ever hear, but the truth is that they're the most important part."

It doesn't matter how many members make up the chorus, from a quartet to a group of over 20, as long as the song is split into those four parts.

Most barbershop choruses tend to be centered around male singers, and indeed Brekke said he'd like to keep this a men's group since that's who he has experience working with.

Cloquet eighth grader Memphis Magdzas rehearses a song at the Cloquet Barbershop Chorus practice on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
Cloquet eighth grader Memphis Magdzas rehearses a song at the Cloquet Barbershop Chorus practice on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Someday, ideally, Brekke would like to see the chorus grow into a competitive group. In the Twin Cities, there are several groups that participate in the society at different levels. Some are more hobby groups, people who sing simply for the joy of singing and socializing. Others will get together and compete in singing contests.

"I think it'd be fun to get a group together who was able to one day compete," Brekke said. "But first we need a steady group of singers who can show up each week and work on their parts."

Right now the group meets on Sunday evenings in the Carlton VFW basement at 6 p.m. The group has fluctuated in size since Brekke started it. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he had a group of three men who would get together with him to sing for shows at Queen of Peace.

"But the pandemic kind of killed off any momentum we had," Brekke said. "So we're starting again with a chorus and hoping to get enough people to get some songs going."

Singers do not have to have experience with the barbershop style to join the group. Right now the group is focusing on the 12 basic barbershop songs called "polecats" which Brekke said any barbershop group should know by heart.

"The great thing about them is that you can go just about anywhere and if someone else says they sing barbershop too, you can say 'Great, then let's do 'Heart of My Heart' or 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' and they'll know it," Brekke said. "It's a great tool for getting people who have just met to sing a song together."

Those interested in joining the chorus can reach out to Brekke at cloquetbarbershop@gmail.com or show up to a practice on Sunday. The group also has a Facebook page where they post practices and other information.