Perfect pitch; Barbershop chorus celebrates birthday with performance
It’s their birthday, but they won’t be hearing those familiar happy birthday notes sung in a clamor of off key voices. They’ll be singing to you instead. In perfectly practiced pitch.
The Truckee-Tahoe Sierra Mountainaire Barbershop Chorus will celebrate its first birthday with a charter show Saturday, Sept. 27, in the Tahoe-Truckee High School auditorium. The14 active members will be doing more than just doo-whop and she-bop on stage as their voices blend in a cappella harmony. They’ll be decked out in traditional barbershopper garb. Derby hats, arm garters and bow ties will complete the visual and vocal package for the show.
The two-hour barbershop show, entitled “Barbershop Memories,” also includes a feature performance by more than 60 men from the San Jose Barbershop Garden City Chorus. These well-tuned vocalists will be performing their rendition of “Robin Hood,” complete with a castle, horse and sword fight.
The Truckee-Tahoe barbershoppers may be celebrating their first birthday, but the art of barbershop singing is certainly not new. Almost 60 years old, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America was founded in 1938 in Kansas City.
“The society has 35,000 members nationwide and over 700 chapters in the United States alone,” said Jim Maass, the director for the Truckee group.
Maass, a Truckee resident and 26-year singing veteran, started the Truckee chapter a year ago with fellow vocalist Don Schaller. Maass grew tired of traveling everywhere to sing, so he and Schaller decided to start a local chapter.
Schaller, also a Truckee resident and president of the chorus, began singing in San Francisco in 1965. He’s drifted in and out of the vocal world since then.
“There’s something about singing that’s hard to describe what you get from it,” Schaller said. “If all the notes are hit exactly right, there’s kind of a harmonizing note that nobody actually sings, but it’s clearly there.”
The local Truckee group is an all male barbershop chorus with 19 members, 14 of them active.
“We’re always looking for new guys,” Maass said. “There’s no prerequisite. For any guy who says they can’t sing a tune in a bucket, I tell them to bring their bucket.”
If you love to sing, or think you may want to give your vocal chords a good stretch, the Truckee Barbershop group is a good place to start. You don’t even have to be able to read music, Maass said.
“Pavarotti doesn’t read music.” he said. “We’ll teach you everything.”
Currently, the average age of the group hovers around 45, but there is one deep voiced, Tahoe-Truckee High School teen braving the older crowd.
“I have seen them as young as eight and nine years old,” Maass said.
Some typical songs the group sings are “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Coney Island Baby,” and “Home on the Range.”
The a cappella group practices on Thursday evenings at 7 in the Tahoe-Truckee High School music room if anyone is interested in listening or participating.
Schaller said it’s often difficult to summon the energy to head to practice after a long week of work, but his attitude changes as soon as the voices begin to harmonize.
“Once you get down there and start singing, the energy level goes right through the roof,” Schaller said. “Sometimes I can’t sleep for two hours afterward.”
These barbershoppers don’t just practice, they do perform. They sing at parties, church groups, craft fairs…you name it. The group is also planning to offer their services as singing valentines during February. Anyone can hire the chorus to sing to their sweetie and receive a complimentary flower.
Any proceeds the group makes through shows or events will go to help support vocal music programs in local schools.
“We’re like a service group,” Maass said.
“We’d like to start a quartet at the high school,” added Schaller. “(Singing) is such a positive experience for everyone. And besides that, it’s fun.”
Tickets for “Barbershop Memories” cost $8 in advance and $10 at the door. A sellout is expected, so if you’re planning on attending, get your tickets early from any barbershopper, or at Bradbury’s Office Supply in Truckee.
For mail-order tickets or information, call 587-5244.
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