Jadyn Johnson was born into a family in which barbershop music was the norm.
Her grandfather sang barbershop and passed his affection for it along to Johnson’s mother and uncle. As she grew up, Johnson watched her family members do what they loved.
She observed as her uncle and high school music teacher, Darin Drown, along with his quartet called Storm Front, won the National Harmony Society’s gold medal in 2010 in the International Quartet category. Through Drown’s experiences, Johnson saw how barbershop music could bring people together.
As a high school student, she found a passion of her own in barbershop, and she has brought that passion to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Now, she and fellow junior music education major Emily Freeman have partnered to share their love of the musical style, involving four-part harmony and no accompaniment, with the rest of Lincoln.
Knowing that Johnson had an interest in barbershop music, Emily Freeman approached her in February of this year with the idea of launching an inclusive all-female barbershop group at UNL. Johnson agreed and from there, the two formed Star City Sound.
Inclusivity is central to the objective of Star City Sound, so Johnson and Freeman have distinguished themselves from other on-campus choral groups by establishing the group as a non-audition-based organization with no experience needed.
“There’s a lot of groups around campus that are exclusive and audition-based,” Johnson said. “And I think that kind of strays away from the importance of music, and getting together and just creating.”
Star City Sound started inviting high school music students from around Lincoln to promote inclusivity. Johnson said allowing high schoolers into the group is important because it presents an opportunity for them to branch out with different music styles before heading off to college.
“Barbershop is really difficult,” Johnson said. “I think it’s extremely underrated for how difficult it is. So when high schoolers are getting this experience before they’re going off to college, it’s just gonna strengthen their musicianship even more.”
Barbershop music is a challenging and exacting style that incorporates the use of four-part harmonies with each member singing different notes at almost any given time.
But Freeman said these challenges are what makes barbershop fulfilling.
Within the last two months, Johnson and Freeman came to the conclusion that to continue to push for inclusivity in the group, it would only make sense to allow men to join instead of remaining an all-female group.
“It kind of went against our ideals saying that it was all women,” Freeman said.
Not only does allowing men to join Star City Sound add another means to be more inclusive, but it also adds more opportunities to perfect their barbershop music.
“Now that we have decided to make it mixed chorus, it should be easier to kind of take an idea and actually be able take it from start to finish,” Freeman said.
But Johnson and Freeman have not been on their own in building Star City Sound.
Pius X High School in Lincoln chorus teacher Todd Krier has been instrumental for the progression of the group. He has promoted Star City Sound to his students and has provided guidance for the development of the organization. He even accompanied Johnson and Freeman to Nashville for the yearly Harmony University program where they learned how to collaborate in teaching the basics of barbershop to the organization’s members.
Krier said he knows that forming an organization like Star City Sound, which mixes high school and college students, will be difficult. However, he said he thinks Johnson and Freeman have the persistence to make the group successful in the long run.
“They’re just kind of in love with it,” Krier said. “They just kind of keep chipping away. They have great energy and determination.”
Johnson and Freeman said they hope that in the future they will be able to grow the number of members who regularly attend rehearsals.
After reaching that goal, they plan to compete at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Midwinter youth chorus competition. At Midwinter, they will test their barbershop abilities against other groups from around the country. In the meantime, they plan on performing at nursing homes and making their group as community-based as they can.
“We want to interact with the community and with the students, and we want to spread the love of music and of singing,” Freeman said. “People say about barbershop that ‘you come for the music and you stay for the people.’ And that’s something that we really like to focus on.”