Brock Brings the Barbershop: The hidden talent of English teacher Vernon Brock

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Photo provided by Vernon Brock

(B)ROCKING OUT IN STYLE: Vernon Brock (far right) places fourth with his quartet, VOX, at the Barbershop Harmony Society competition in 2018.

Kaylie Wang, Staff Writer

In English teacher Vernon Brock’s Contemporary Literature Film Studies class, he doesn’t just analyze literary or rhetorical devices—students also study the film’s music. His musical lens for teaching was shaped by his extensive singing background in choruses and barbershop quartets.

Brock’s music career started in his freshman year of high school when his football coach (who was also the chorus teacher) recruited him and his friends to join.

“When I came into the class, there was just an overwhelming feeling of family and all of this great talent that I had no idea could be at that level,” Brock said. “From then on, I spent all my lunches and breaks in the choir room.”

One year later, he was assigned to a singing role in the barbershop quartet of his first musical, “The Music Man.”

Up until that point, Brock only sang in choruses where singers have to blend their voice with the larger sound. In smaller ensembles like barbershop, there is only one voice singing each part, which creates a unique experience.

“When you have the right voices that blend, there’s a tonal quality and volume to it,” Brock said. “And when all of those things come together and that chord rings, you can feel it; it reverberates inside of you. And once that happens, you’re hooked.”

Brock and some classmates formed a barbershop quartet, the Q.T.’s. From then on, his group was featured in every school music performance, hired to sing outside of school and even perform the national anthem at the Angels Stadium—twice.

He went on to study music at Whittier College and work towards a career in music, but then reconsidered his career and shortly transferred to Cal State Fullerton to study film and English.

“I started realizing that I wasn’t going to make much money in music,” Brock said. “There was another level of talent that was beyond me. I realized, ‘I’ve got to rethink this.’”

Singing became more of a hobby, but he continued dedicating time to practice his craft. In the early 2000s, as a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, he formed the VOX quartet.

The group placed fourth in the entire Western region twice and barely missed qualifying for the international competition.

While his career is not currently in music, he incorporates this passion by teaching the enhancement of music within a story. For example—the folk music that characters sing in August Wilson plays.

“Especially the August Wilson plays we have taught, he is touching on country blues and slave work songs,” Brock said. “I will play examples of those songs in class and show comparisons with the lyrics—how they enhance characterization and theme.”

Music has helped him appreciate various stories on a deeper and more personal level, which he hopes will expand his students’ wealth of knowledge and create curious, life-long learners.

“This is the power of having these hobbies and experiences that are outside the narrow focus of our curriculum or discipline,” Brock said. “That’s what it does—it enriches us.”