Every week a group of about 30 men gather at the Olathe United Methodist Church to share their love of music. These men comprise the Black Canyon Chorus, a vocal music group that sings four-part harmony.
The music, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to travel throughout the area performing for appreciative audiences have kept this group going since the late '70s.
Four-part harmony is music in its purest form, created with nothing but human voices coming together to create a rich and satisfying texture that is pleasing to the ears and invigorating to the soul. Other groups sing a cappella, or without instrumental accompaniment, but barbershop groups create a unique blend of chords that soars beyond any one individual's voice.
Perfecting this musical artform takes commitment, but it's a labor of love for the men who have embraced singing as one of their favorite hobbies.
Rex Pierson, one of a handful of charter members still active with the group, recalls meeting with a representative from the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America about 38 years ago. It took a year for interest to spread and for the organizers to sign up the 25 singers needed to create a full-fledged chapter of the SPEBSQSA. On March 1, 1976, the chorus received its charter with 36 members. "It's been fun ever since," Pierson said.
Gene Bond of Delta is another charter member who became part of a quartet that came together in the early '90s to deliver singing valentines. The four men who made up the "Silver-Haired Daddies" enjoyed singing together so much, they stayed with it for 15 years. Bill Sutton, who sang tenor with the Silver-Haired Daddies, explains that a quartet is comprised of the lead singer, a tenor, a baritone and a bass. As with the larger chorus, the key is listening closely to the harmonies weaving in and around the melody produced by the lead singer.
An exercise called "woodshedding" helps choir members develop an ear for harmonies. Just for the fun of it, the men gather in a circle with their eyes closed. Without referring to a written score, the lead singer takes off with the melody, and the choir members join in.
The ability to read music is not required for barbershop. "Your ear will tell you where to go," said one chorus member. Of course some training helps!
Clinics, coaches, officer training, competitions and arrangements are all organized under the auspices of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc., now known simply as The Barbershop Harmony Society. The society's music library is the best source for four-part arrangements as well as learning CDs. Most four-part music has been arranged by barbershoppers who have developed an ear for the dimension of sound that can be produced from great showtunes, gospel favorites and barbershop standards like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Many of the arrangements are older songs that are no longer protected by copyright, but there's an effort to update the library with the Beatles, Billy Joel and the like to attract younger singers.
The Barbershop Harmony Society also produces a basic packet of 20 "barber pole" arrangements which even the newest singers are expected to master. These are the songs which unite barbershoppers wherever they gather. It's not unusual to hear men from Durango, Grand Junction and Montrose break out in one of these familiar songs when they get together in Silverton every summer.
While the members of the Black Canyon Barbershop Chorus have chosen to steer clear of the regional and national competitions conducted by the Barbershop Harmony Society, they love the opportunity to learn and sing at the Silverton Harmony Festival. The get-together started when members of the Durango and Delta-Montrose chapters decided to meet halfway for an evening of singing and drinking beer. As it grew, the event moved out of the bars and into the county courthouse. The audience quickly filled the courtroom benches, and the event was moved to its current venue, Silverton High School.
On Friday evenings, the quartets gather to rehearse with a well-known arranger. On Saturday, 100 or more singers get together to rehearse the songs to be presented at that night's show. During the lunch and dinner breaks, four-part harmony can be heard emanating from the restaurants lining Silverton's historic streets. These are men who love to sing at any altitude. The show is free, but they pass the hat to raise funds to support music programs in the local schools.
"It's just a lot of fun to get together and sing with people you've never met before," said Bond. "We get people coming over from Denver, from Salt Lake City and New Mexico."
While several members of the Black Canyon Barbershop Chorus have found inspiration in the outstanding level of singing at the regional and national level, they say they're just not willing to invest the time, money and travel that's needed to excel in elite competition. Instead, they deliver singing valentines, perform at Ridgway State Park twice a year, sing at the Chapel of the Cross, and add patriotic flair to the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Olathe High School.
"We prefer to remain a happy band of singers," said Larry Wilkinson, who is serving his second term as president of the Black Canyon Barbershop Chorus.
This happy band of singers welcomes any man who loves singing as much as they do. They pursue musical excellence every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the Olathe United Methodist Church at 518 Hersum Street. For more information call Kevin Cohenour at 964-4775.
They are confident the popularity of TV shows like "The Voice" will generate more interest in vocal singing groups like the Black Canyon Barbershop Chorus. Their two newest members, as a matter of fact, are Olathe High School students, dispelling the impression that all barbershoppers are gray-haired men.
The decision to hire MaryAnn Rathburn as the chorus's paid director has also been a boon. The teaching expertise she brings to the chorus has raised their level of musical performance and helped the singers focus on their technique and stage presence.
The former director, Tom Chamberlain, is a charter member of the Montrose Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society who was recognized as the 2011 Barbershopper of the Year in appreciation for his efforts over the past 36 years.
The Black Canyon Chorus is available to sing at your fundraiser, party, or social event. More information is available from program vice president Larry Cooper at 209-9331 or on the chorus's website, www.blackcanyonchorus.org.
And mark your calendar for the annual show, to be presented Saturday, April 28, at the Montrose Pavilion.blog comments powered by Disqus