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Local barbershop group wins 3rd in the world in international singing competition

Atlanta Vocal Project, which started in 2005, joined forces with Tampa-based Heralds of Harmony to medal in the contest.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — At St. John United Methodist Church, four-part harmony rings strong thanks to the barbershop choir, Atlanta Vocal Project (AVP). The 35-member group rehearses in Sandy Springs once a week and performs at parades, festivals, funerals, weddings, birthday parties and nursing homes. 

Fresh off one of their biggest performances in Louisville, KY, AVP spoke with 11Alive about their third place finish, cementing them as one of the best barbershop groups in the world. AVP president Zack Dunda has been in the group for 11 years. He said the group also does community service projects and works with local schools to introduce music and barbershop to young people. 

"We like songs that pull on people’s heartstrings and make beautiful music," Dunda said. "We call those ballads. But then we also like to have fun, upbeat songs and get people dancing, get their toe tapping.”

John Strain, who sings lead in AVP, brought his barbershop training from Oklahoma to join the group in the Atlanta area seven years ago. He said the group was founded in 2005 and has members from age 16 to 88. 

“We often say the angels are the ones singing those overtones," Strain said. "The people I sing with, whether it’s with my quartet or chorus, they’re my brothers and my family. We just have a special bond that’s there that we can do by bringing harmony to this world.”

The versatility of the group stems from the differences in each member. Nick Daley, a bass and original founding member of AVP, called himself a chameleon in life. After a career in the military, as an ultrasound engineer, and telecommunications, he became a massage therapist. He said he found more than a hobby when he found barbershop. 

"We say it’s a hobby. It’s more of a calling," Daley said. “When this group formed, it was because we wanted something more. Our goal was to be the most excellent of excellent acapella groups. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We all define fun differently. Fun to us is ringing things and making people’s eyes well up for the better.”

AVP combined with Tampa-based group Heralds of Harmony during the July 4th weekend to take home bronze in the Barbershop Harmony Society's International competition. Ryan Fuller, another founding member of AVP, said the two groups did not sing all together until the day of the competition. He said the group is set to sing in Normandy, France next summer to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. 

"I can have a really bad day, and I can show up to a barbershop rehearsal and that gives me three hours where I don’t have to think of any of that," Fuller said. "I can just think about my friends singing beside me and the wonderful music that we’re making together. That refreshes, renews me as a person. With our success, we are certainly considering what lies ahead. But we’ll be at this for a long time.”

While the group's sights are set on finishing first in the world at the next barbershop, they're looking forward to a bit of rest and some more concerts in the Atlanta area before embarking on their next journey. 

"Singing is just that great way to have fun and escape everything else in life and find something everyone else agrees on," Dunda said. "No matter what they disagree on, this really does bring us together for a common purpose.”

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