Posted: 02/11/2007 03:52:55 AM MST Author: Randy Johnson
The chorus ended the song with a swelling series of chords that left me amazed and breathless. Hairs standing up as goose bumps covered my arms, I felt like I was inside a huge speaker... No, I was the speaker - the song sheets in my hands, the risers under my feet, my skin, my teeth - everything vibrating and resonating to that remarkable harmony voiced by the 100 men surrounding me. I would later learn that type of ending was called a tag - a cascade of chords that gain in momentum, tension, and often volume, until the song culminates in the final chord.
Five and one-half years after that first introduction to a Sound of the Rockies chorus rehearsal I am still amazed by the sound that 100 men singing unaccompanied, four-part barbershop harmony can produce - and yes, there are still many goose bump moments. As I reflect back over those years of chorus membership, HARMONY is the word that best describes my experience. Not only the vocal harmony, but the harmony of chorus members working together toward a common goal of musical excellence, harmony within the wider community of barbershop singers and family members, and a personal harmony where experiences gained as a chorus member reinforce other areas of my life.
My journey into harmony began on a Friday afternoon in November 2001 with a phone call at work from my wife, Carol. She had just noticed an announcement from a local church promoting their Fine Arts Series that we posted on the refrigerator several months earlier and had forgotten about. "There's a concert this evening featuring Sound of the Rockies, a barbershop chorus," she said, and did I want to go? Neither of us had ever heard of a barbershop chorus, but we had heard some good barbershop quartets. We were intrigued by the idea of a men's chorus singing barbershop songs, and nearly any entertainment alternative would be better than the typical Friday evening TV fare.
Carol and I arrived at the church early, found seats in a front-row pew about 15 feet from the stage, and waited for the performance to start. As the show began, about 100 men dressed in black tuxedoes, purple vests and bow ties, and white spats marched onto the risers. The director stepped in front, raised his hands, and the chorus launched into song. From the opening chord until the concert ended 90 minutes later we were mesmerized - completely awash in the richest sound either of us had experienced. We had both heard a variety of vocal groups before; accompanied and unaccompanied choruses, church choirs, concert chorales and other ensembles with a mix of male and female voices. This sound was different - Bigger, fuller, more energetic and resonant - quite addicting. Although Sound of the Rockies was billed as a barbershop chorus, the repertoire included all types of music, from patriotic to Broadway, from silly to gospel.
It's interesting how opportunity, providence, and choice work together to shape destiny. If, after the show, there had been no reception planned, if Carol and I had decided we were tired and gone directly home after the concert, or if we had attended the reception and I had filled my plate then melted into the background like I normally do, I would have missed out on one the most remarkable and exciting journeys of my life.
As fortune would have it, we decided to attend the reception; I did fill my plate, but before I could fade off into a corner, Roger, a very enthusiastic chorus member, introduced himself. He explained that the barbershop style was not a group of archaic, turn of the (19 th) century songs but a type of four-part harmony that could be used to arrange many contemporary songs - like those we had just listened to. I also learned that the amazingly rich and resonant sound we heard was partly due to overtones produced and reinforced when the four voice parts tune exactly to each other. Overtones (or ring) are something that all good barbershop quartets and choruses work very hard to produce. The four harmony voice parts plus the overtones create a distinctive sound not typically heard in other types of vocal music.
Roger invited me to join him at rehearsal the next week. "Anyone can get on the risers and sing with us," he said. "We are not professional singers, just a bunch of ordinary guys who like to sing. Come on and give it a try." Those were true statements - and still are. What he neglected to say was that, while anyone can get on the risers and sing with the chorus, one must be able to demonstrate the ability to carry a tune to STAY on the risers. Roger also failed to mention that Sound of the Rockies was formed as a competitive chorus, and members were anxiously waiting to hear if the chorus had earned a wild card invitation to the 2002 Barbershop Harmony Society International chorus competition in Portland Oregon after placing a disappointing 2 nd in the Rocky Mountain District contest the previous month.
I arrived at chorus rehearsal more than a little apprehensive. I had never been in a choir, and the only singing experience I had to my credit was self-taught folk singing during college - many years earlier. However, I was immediately hooked by the harmony of the music, the rich sound I experienced on the risers, and by the camaraderie of the members. I determined at that first rehearsal to become a member of this harmonious brotherhood. It took me nearly six month to learn enough of the barbershop harmony craft and to wear down the music team to the point where they finally approved one of my auditions. I joined Sound of the Rockies as a proud bass (that's a voice part, not a fish) just in time to participate in the Spring 2002 concert. Several months later, in July, Carol and I traveled to Portland, and I was on stage as Sound of the Rockies placed 8 th in a field of 16 district champion and 4 wild card choruses from across North America.
Since March 2002 I have been privileged to be a member of a chorus that has competed in and won five consecutive Rocky Mountain District contests and qualified to represent the District in the last four International competitions (finishing 7th 6th, 7th, and 6th). During that period, the chorus also recorded three CDs, and produced five annual Christmas shows and four annual Spring concerts, presented the National Anthem at Rockies games, and participated in a number of other benefit and community performances, including several of Rick Crandall's (KEZW AM radio) Colorado Freedom Memorial benefit concerts.
It is now February 2007, the snow seems to be melting, and soon quartets from the chorus will travel around the Denver area to deliver Singing Valentines - an annual tradition the chorus members and Valentine recipients look forward to with great anticipation. Chorus rehearsals are focused largely on the upcoming show in March, which will celebrate the 50 th anniversary of Meredith Willson's ever-popular Broadway musical, "
The Music Man ", and as always, the next contest looms on the horizon. This year the Barbershop Harmony Society International competition will be held right here in Denver, and the chorus is working hard to prepare a Colorado/Western-theme contest package, with the goal of winning a medal.
I am most fortunate to be a member of this remarkable organization, and the experience of participating in a chorus devoted to producing extraordinary harmony has enriched my life immeasurably. If there is any lesson to this tale, it would be an encouragement to step out of your everyday rut, turn the TV off, then take a chance and try something new and interesting... It may just change your life.
If you enjoy singing, I would like to offer you the same invitation my friend Roger gave me, "Come on over and join me at a rehearsal. We are not professional singers, just a bunch of ordinary guys who like to sing. Come on and give it a try." You can be a part of this year's International Convention and Contest in Denver where Sound of the Rockies hopes to bring 130 or more men to the stage and compete in front of 10,000 roaring barbershop fans!
All rehearsals are open, and Sound of the Rockies encourages visitors and prospective members to visit our rehearsals - both singers and non-singers alike. There is an abundance of good music and fellowship for you to enjoy, whether you sit back and listen in the audience or try your hand at singing on the risers with the chorus. Sound of the Rockies rehearses in Highlands Ranch but draws members from Colorado Springs to Longmont, from Parker to Evergreen. Several intrepid members drive from Nebraska to rehearsal every week.
Some Relevant Links:
Sound of the Rockies
America the Beautiful Chorus - Colorado Springs
Longs Peak Chorus - Longmont
The Denver Mountainaires - men's barbershop chorus
The Timberliners - Boulder
Barbershop Harmony Society - for men
A special NPR feature on the history of the barbershop style
Barbershop harmony is not just for men!
Sweet Adelines - women's barbershop organization
Skyline Chorus - local women's barbershop chorus
High Country Chorus - local women's barbershop chorus
Harmony, Incorporated - women's barbershop organization
Copyright � 2005, Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.
|Updated January 2016|