Mississippi College

MC Professor Terry Dent Sings Barbershop Tunes

September 8, 2009

Terry Dent first got hooked singing with barbershop quartets as a high school student decades ago in Holly Springs. He was always a huge fan of the long-running Broadway show and movie classic "The Music Man" starring actor Robert Preston.

Now he's a 52-year-old Mississippi College biology professor whose favorite hobby has opened the door to singing engagements around metro Jackson. Barbershop harmony features solely human voices that come together to sing understandable lyrics.

Dent performed with the Barbershop Harmony Society's Magnolia chapter in Jackson as the group belted out crowd-pleasing tunes at a Mississippi Braves baseball game earlier this summer.

Thousands of M-Braves fans cheered the singers after they trotted out patriotic tunes like "God Bless America" at Trustmark Park. Before a fabulous fire works show lit up the Mississippi evening skies, the entertainers won over a capacity crowd of more than 6,000 fans during July 4th festivities at the Southern League ballpark.

For the Clinton resident and his singing brethren, the crowds were fewer in numbers, but very enthusiastic during a recent performance at the Old Depot in Byram. They've entertained senior citizens at nursing homes and travel to other spots where barbershop quartets are popular.

"My wife lets me out one night a week," Dents says of his regular rehearsal schedule at a Presbyterian church in North Jackson. Even their practice sessions are music to the ears of listeners who love their classic Americana style of music.

Dent began singing barshop at Marshall Academy back in the day as a high schooler. He later polished his craft as a high school teacher in Nashville. For 15 years, Dent was a member of a barbershop group around Music City USA. They were booked for appearances at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, among other venues.

A biology instructor and lab coordinator at his alma mater, MC, Dent got busy teaching on the Clinton campus and gave up his hobby for a few years. But last spring, he returned to singing early 1900s American tunes. He discovered just how much he missed performing in barbershop groups.

A 1981 MC graduate, Dent began his undergraduate studies on the MC campus as a music major, but switched to biology. He later went on to receive a master's degree in the field.

Despite all his musical experience (he also sings in the Morrison Heights Baptist Church Choir in Clinton), Dent insists that music is just a hobby. Students and colleagues will be happy to know he plans to keep his day job at Mississippi College.

The beauty of singing in a barbershop group is that we "all sing a capella - it makes a sound that cannot be reproduced," he said. It is basically the sound of unaccompanied vocal music. The sound isn't manufactured with gadgets in a recording studio.

Being a member of a barbershop group opens up opportunities for Dent to connect with people without ties to Mississippi College or to his church. They are just good folks, both young and old, who enjoy the harmony of American musical classics of yesteryear.

There are no plans for the group to go national on "American Idol," or cut a CD. Favorites that they perform include "Heart of My Heart" and "Sweet Adeline." Another showstopper is "Lida Rose." As many as 20 men perform in their group in Jackson. The Mississippi organization is linked to a national and international barbershop society.

Before heading to practice Tuesday night, Dent said he's hoping the M-Braves invite them back to the minor league ballpark in Pearl next summer.

Based on the baseball crowd's reception to their rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," the chances look good they will return when the M-Braves take the field in 2010. The group is directed by Clyde Satterwhite of Jackson.

You won't find barbershop quartets singing around barber shops these days.They did so many generations ago. Dent looks the part. He and other barbershop singers often wear different costumes often with formal vests and bow ties as they crank out the up tempo tunes reflecting the nation's heritage.

Fans of barbershop quartets will want to be in Philadelphia, Pa. from June 28-July 4, 2010. That's the date for the Barbershop Society's International Convention. For those who don't want to travel that far, Dent and the Barbershop Society's Magnolia chapter is a sound alternative. Dent can be reached at 601-925-3976 or tdent@mc.edu.

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