Top 24!

The men’s barbershop chorus I sing with, Harbourtown Sound, competed recently in Orlando FL, at the 2018 International Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society.  The BHS boasts more than a thousand active men’s choruses, most of them in North America.

on stage

Member choruses also hail from such faraway places as Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.  Barbershop quartets are included in the society, as well, bringing the total number of active singers to more than 80,000 worldwide.

The BHS was formally established in 1938 as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).  The current name was adopted in 2004.

quartet

Membership in the society is open to everyone—people of every age, background, gender-identity, race, sexual orientation, political opinion, or spiritual belief. Every person who loves to harmonize has a place in the society.  The BHS vision is to bring people together in fellowship to enrich lives through singing.

It has certainly enriched mine.  Raised in a family that loved to gather ‘round the old upright piano for sing-songs at every gathering, I learned the words to so many songs from the 40’s, the ‘30’s, and even earlier before I was ten years old.  For a long time, my favourite singer was Al Jolson, for goodness sake!

For reasons that escape me, however, I never pursued a music education.  Not until I was cajoled a couple of years ago to audition for Harbourtown Sound, did I even sing in a choir.  But I was always a singer, mostly in the shower, sometimes in karaoke, and frequently while alone in my car.  And I always the loved the good old harmonies.

Now I get to sing many of them, and more, with a group of brothers on a weekly basis—and in performance in front of live audiences on frequent occasions throughout the year.  What’s not to like!

final rehearsal

Our chorus—almost a hundred men strong, most of us at or beyond the venerable threescore-and-ten—is not of the calibre of the top choruses in the world.  But of all such groups worldwide, we do rank in the top 24, based on the results of our recent competition.  We’re proud of that.

The 2018 champion is a chorus of more than 150 men from Dallas TX, Vocal Majority, a group that has won the title thirteen times dating back to 1975.  Listening to them is an emotional happening.

But so, too, is listening to us.  And you don’t have to just take my word for it.  Many of our songs—including Bridge Over Troubled Water, Five Foot Two, Hallelujah, That’s Life, Your Cheatin’ Heart, You Belong With Me, and You’ll Never Walk Alone—are available on YouTube.  A performance of one of them may be found right here—

I’m sure you’ll agree with my assessment after giving us a listen.  After all, in the whole wide world of barbershop singing, Harbourtown Sound is near the top.

Top 24, in fact!

 

 

Only Words?

Away back in 1967, the year I was married, an Australian boy band, the Bee Gees, wrote and recorded a song entitled Words.  The chorus of that song became an anthem of sorts for a generation of young people—

words

As an author and blogger, words are my stock and trade.  And the writing of those words can be, of necessity, a lonely endeavour, deliberately shut away from the everyday toil and turmoil that too often consumes us.

Which is why I beg to differ with the sentiment of the Bee Gees’ statement.  Words, in fact, are not all we have.  When music is added to words, the result can provide a tremendous emotional impact for an audience fortunate enough to be part of it.  And when that music is made in the company of others, the loneliness and solitude of the writing process is greatly mitigated.

The men’s chorus to which I belong, Harbourtown Sound, provides teamwork, mutual support, and a sense of purpose to everyone who is a part of it.  And our audiences tell us they experience those same things when they listen to our performances.

See and hear for yourself by listening to a recent rehearsal tape, recorded in the setting in the picture below, punctuated in a couple of places by exhortations from the directors.

HTS Rehearsal

If you aren’t convinced by the blend of words and music here presented, well…..I guess all I can say is that I’m at a loss for words.

 

Eradicating Polio

Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast…

So wrote William Congreve in his poem, The Mourning Bride, in 1697.

More than three centuries later, in my own lifetime, there has been practically nothing so savage in choking the life from the breasts of innocent children than the scourge of polio.  During the mid-part of the twentieth century, polio paralyzed or killed over half a million people a year worldwide.

Everyone who grew up in the years of my childhood came to dread the very word.  Who among us does not remember the iron lung—a lifesaving device for so many of the afflicted, but a terrifying monster in our minds—lurking in wait, a spectre that haunted our dreams.

polio-national museum of health and med

Those of us who managed to remain healthy all knew of someone who was not so fortunate.  Richard Rhodes, an American historian and journalist, wrote of polio in his autobiography, A Hole in the World:

Polio was a plague. One day you had a headache and an hour later you were paralyzed. How far the virus crept up your spine determined whether you could walk afterward or even breathe. Parents waited fearfully every summer to see if it would strike. One case turned up and then another. The count began to climb. The city closed the swimming pools and we all stayed home, cooped indoors, shunning other children. Summer seemed like winter then.

Today—thanks largely to the development of effective vaccines, and mass immunization programmes—the disease has been almost eradicated.

Almost.

In 1988, there were an estimated 350,000 reported cases of polio worldwide; by 2016, that number was 37, a remarkable decrease of 99%.  And yet, it lives.

The global effort to combat the disease has been tremendously effective, but as long as even one child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk.  A failure to completely eradicate the disease could spark a resurgence all over the world.

And so, to the power of music to combat all that is savage.  A men’s chorus of which I am a proud member, Harbourtown Sound, recently partnered with Rotary International in support of their Polio Plus campaign, hailed as “one of the finest humanitarian projects the world has ever known”.  Rotary fundraising has enabled the inoculation of more than 2.5 billion children, at a cost of $1.3 billion.

Twenty-one local Rotary Clubs recently joined with our chorus in a special Christmas concert to add to this global initiative.  Thanks to those committed Rotarians, to philanthropic sponsors working with them, and to the organizational efforts of one of our singers, a Rotarian, more than $130,000 was raised in one afternoon.

3_International_2015_side_shot

For us on stage, it was a labour of love, singing glorious songs of the season—melodies as familiar to us today as the fear of the polio scourge was in days gone by.  For those in the audience, it was more than just a concert; it was an opportunity through their generosity to assist in the eradication of polio forever.

The Rotary International outreach is described at this website—

https://my.rotary.org/en/take-action/end-polio

More information about Harbourtown Sound can be found at our website—

http://www.harbourtownsound.ca/,

or on our Facebook homepage—

https://www.facebook.com/harbourtownsound/?fref=nf

HTS award