A team of four singing students representing Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) captured the Harmony Foundation’s International Collegiate Quartet Championship recently at the 75th anniversary Barbershop Harmony Society International Convention in Toronto.
The Newfangled Four—made up of CSULB’s Jackson Niebrugge (lead), Jake Tickner (bass), Ryan Wisniewski (baritone) and Joey Buss (tenor)—beat out 25 other top college groups and took home the gold on the strength of its performance of the classics “Georgia Mae” and “Mistakes.”
The group now is officially entered into the larger, open division contest slated for the Barbershop Harmony Society’s midwinter convention, Jan. 28-Feb. 2, in Long Beach, where it will compete with international acts like quartet winner Masterpiece and reigning champs Ringmaster of Stockholm.
The big win felt “awesome” to Tickner, a 21-year-old Long Beach resident who is pursuing a bachelor of music degree with an emphasis on vocal performance.
“We worked so hard up until the contest that it felt incredibly redeeming to be recognized for our efforts,” he said, noting that one reason for the group’s distinction, he believes, was its stage presence. “That really resonated with the audience as well as the judges, who are the ones who make the big decisions.”
Highlighting the foursome’s performance was a standing ovation from the 6,000-member audience.
“The competition was a close one and the top competitors all were very skilled,” added Tickner, who pointed to performers from such schools as Florida National University, Bowling Green State University and the University of Minnesota.
Referring to the society’s upcoming midwinter convention, the barbershop star described his group’s strategy. “We will continue to work the way we worked in the days leading up to the contest: smarter, not harder,” he said.
“I love the diversity of this group,” said Carolyn Bremer, chair of CSULB’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music. “Their lead singer, Jackson Niebrugge, is a trumpet major. Jackson has competition experience as a member of the Bob Cole Conservatory Trumpet Ensemble, which placed third in the national competition earlier this year.
“These four musicians really made this win happen on their own. We don’t teach ‘Barbershop 101,’” she continued. “This is a fabulous example of students bringing together everything they’ve learned and setting their own standards. That is one of the fundamental aspects of professionalism. They are true pros.”
Tickner’s first experience with barbershop came at an early age. “I first became interested in barbershop when I was in high school,” he recalled. “I like to joke that I was forced to audition for a quartet but that is literally how it happened.” He dismisses any suggestion that time may have passed by the venerable musical genre. “Barbershop quartets don’t have to be hipper than hip-hop,” he said. “The harmony speaks for itself.
“The Cole Conservatory is an incredibly supportive place," he added. "Everyone is so loving and supportive of each other’s craft. It’s a great environment.”
Tickner looks forward to a continued commitment to performing in barbershop quartets. “The quartet can start to put up some bigger numbers and break into the top 10 at the international level within the next few years,” he speculated. “Other than that, this win will allow us to perform all over California and the United States and to do what we love most—spread the gospel of barbershop.”