Ashley York is a second-generation barbershopper — and no, that doesn’t mean he cuts hair. Ashley, an electronic marketing specialist for RJ Schinner Co., a New Berlin, Wis.-based re-distributor, sings barbershop music.

“I started to sing with my dad when I was seven years old, and I’ve been singing barbershop music for about 18 years,” says Ashley.

Barbershop music is a cappella music that features four-part harmony.

Ashley sings tenor in a barbershop quartet, Rooftop Rhythm, as well as in a barbershop chorus, The Midwest Vocal Express. He is also a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, an international barbershop singing organization of about 30,000 men.

Rooftop Rhythm consists of two brothers who sing lead and baritone; Ashley, who sang with one of the brothers in college; and a bass singer who sang with the other brother about 10 years ago.

“We naturally jelled. One of our first activities — besides singing, of course — was to re-roof one of our member’s sheds. We sang a few songs up on the rooftop, and that’s where the group’s name came from. The roof is a special place for us.”

Even though the four members live three hours from each other, they still find a way to rehearse about three times a month.

Rooftop Rhythm recently participated in the international barbershop singing championships held in Kansas City in July, and finished 49th in the competition. Midwest Vocal Express didn’t compete this year, but in the past, it has held the Bronze Medalist Chorus position three times.

“When we compete, we’re judged in three categories: singing, musical value and presentation.”

Musical value, Ashley explains, refers to such things as getting louder and softer, going faster and slower, and the ability to have, for example, a lighthearted, joyful voice while singing a happy song. Presentation involves the singers’ ability to bring a song to life, helping audience members relate to a song.

“There is nothing like singing for 5,000 people, which is what we did in the international competition,” says Ashley. “Every quartet has its own style and character. Rooftop Rhythm typically sings older songs, but we’ve also been known to sing opera and gospel.”

The group sang, “That Tumbledown Shack in Old Athelone” and “The One I Love Belongs to Someone Else” in the recent contest. The group’s biggest audience so far was a crowd of about 9,000 arena football fans in Chicago this summer when they sang the national anthem at a Chicago Rush game.

Barbershop singers never use instruments. Everything is strictly a cappella.

“One of the beautiful things about barbershop music is that we can sing anywhere. We sang in a gas station on the way to the competition in Kansas City,” says Ashley.

As for his favorite song, it is currently “Daddy’s Little Girl,” which has a lot to do with Ashley’s young daughter Ava, born in May 2011. And yes, Ashley sings to his daughter, especially “Lullaby in Ragtime,” along with a lullaby that he wrote just for her.  

Very important to Ashley is the artistic expressiveness to barbershop music.

“Even though the genre includes just four parts, we create emotion and sound and texture. We do our best to connect with our audience members on an emotional level,” he says.