PITTSTON TOWNSHIP —After 80 years, the barbershoppers are going co-ed.
We’re not talking about your corner barbershop, the place with shaving cream, hot towels and a twirling red-striped pole. Not necessarily.
But in keeping with a decision earlier this year by parent organization the Barbershop Harmony Society, the local Wyoming Valley Barbershop Harmony Chorus will welcome women, as well as men, to attend a “Hot Dogs, Harmony and Hamburgers” membership picnic on Aug. 19.
The idea is, they’ll see and hear what this style of singing is like, and consider joining.
“It’s just a kind of music that you fall in love with,” said Phil Brown, of Shavertown, who has spent almost 62 years with the Harmony Chorus, most recently as co-director. “It’s a great feeling. Once it gets in your blood, it never leaves you.”
Member Ralph Gillespie, of Hanover Township, said he’s looking forward to having women’s voices swell the ranks.
“I‘m all for welcoming women. Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “I go to all the international conventions, and two years ago in Nashville they brought in a co-ed chorus from Germany. It was spectacular. I loved it.”
“We’ll welcome women and they could sing, starting in our tenor role. They could sing that easily,” co-director Justin Davis, of Plymouth, predicted. “If they have lower voices, they could sing lead. Then if we had enough women to form at least a quartet, we’d form a quartet and try to grow it into a women’s chorus.”
“Eventually we could have concerts with a men’s chorus, women’s chorus and mixed chorus,” said Davis, who recently returned from Harmony University in Nashville, where he took a week of barbershop courses.
New quartets could also form with two men and two women, or three men and one woman, Brown said. “My mind is open to anything at this point.”
Members of the Wyoming Valley Barbershop Harmony Chorus have some experience singing in a mixed chorus because they have been joined onstage during recent concerts by young women and men from The Nomadic Chromatics, a vocal ensemble of Marywood University students that Davis, who is a music education major at the university, also directs.
Recruiting women as well as men is an effort to boost membership, Brown said, noting the Barbershop Harmony Chorus has about 30 active members. Decades ago, it boasted more than double that number.
“Seventy-eight men may have been the most we ever had, and 60 would go to competitions. That was when men had (fewer) things to do on a Monday night (when rehearsals are held),” he said. “You need at least 12 members to have a charter.”
Making music with other people, barbershop style, is so enjoyable, Brown said, that even when his military service took him out of state, he looked for a group in that community so he could sing with them.
Watching the audiences’ reaction is rewarding, too, he said. “It’s wonderful, just to bring a little entertainment to people and make them happy,” he said.
The chorus meets at 7 on Monday evenings year-round at the Irene Raeder Community Center, off Roberts Road at Wesley Village. During the Aug. 19 membership picnic, the chorus will perform songs from its 2018 concert “Radio Time Machine,” including several Doo Wop selections, and review the history of “Barbershop History, a truly American art form.”
Refreshments will be served and, Davis said, “you won’t be forced to sing, but you’ll be invited to sing.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT