Perfect Harmony

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The Four Coursemen celebrate 25 years of music making.

Every time the Four Coursemen sing the National Anthem, the Wildcats win. At least, that’s what men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop had to say during a post-game interview Feb. 20, following the quartet’s 25th anniversary performance.

The Coursemen have become a fixture at college and community functions, dabbling in opera as the bumbling police force in a college production of The Pirates of Penzance, sharing the stage with co-ed a cappella group Androgyny and adding to the cheer of Christmas in Davidson festivities, singing their way from Ron Raeford’s barbershop all the way up Main Street. They’ve performed at venues big and small, from Time Warner Cable and Belk arenas to farmers markets to retirement homes.

Musical comedy brought the original Coursemen together in 1991, when professors Dave Grant, Dennis Appleyard, Homer Sutton and Robert Williams, all of whom were members of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, tried out for and were cast as the barbershop quartet in the Davidson Community Players production of The Music Man.

The Four Coursemen performing in "The Pirates of Penzance."

The Four Coursemen performing in “The Pirates of Penzance.”

When the production ended, the professors decided they enjoyed what they were doing too much to stop.

“It’s such a ball, and we knew we were going to stay with it,” Grant says. “One of our numbers is Ain’t We Got Fun.”

The membership of the quartet has changed over the years, with a total of eight professors filling the four voice parts.

“This is a group effort. I ended up being the de facto manager because I was the first one to retire,” Grant laughs.

An early lineup of the Four Coursemen with Ron Raeford of Raeford's Barbershop.

An early lineup of the Four Coursemen with Ron Raeford of Raeford’s Barbershop.

The Coursemen are part of a long musical tradition, the roots of which extend to the mid-1800s and arguably, beyond. Immigrants brought with them hymns and folk songs performed in four parts, and black southern quartets brought street corner, or “curbstone,” harmony into the barbershops.

An ecologist by training, Grant appreciates not only harmony but also dissonance.

“Diversity is what makes the world go round as far as I’m concerned. Barbershop harmony is four voices all the time, every note, every chord—it’s not the easiest singing to learn, but I love it,” he says. “Dissonance is what makes vocal music interesting to me.”

Listen to the Coursemen give an impromptu performance at Raeford’s Barbershop in downtown Davidson.

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