Front row: Isaac Jestus, Matthew Petersen, Alex Long, Riley Brennan, Shawn Paradise, Riley Truax - Second Row: Cory Wentland, Sam Haefner, Eli Johnson, Jens Knutson, Anders Long, Chad Grube - Third Row: Nate Lillestol, Michael Bouchie, Thomas MacGregor, Jay Puffer - Back Row: Nate Velander, Sam Marolt, Matthew Shupert, Cole Arndt, Zach Dykes, Ryan Thompson. Photo submitted
By Andrew DeZiel
At Byron High School, 22 eager young men and an enthusiastic veteran barbershopper are helping to "Keep America Singing" long into the future.
The Byron Boys Barbershop program, a highly unique, unusual offering for a smaller high school, began with conversations between Ms. Braun, the high school choir teacher, and Dennis Schilling, a longtime barbershopper whose grandson Jason was in Ms. Braun's choir. Mr. Schilling's beginnings as a barbershopper trace back to 1961, when he became a charter member of a group in Poughkeepsie, New York. Four years later, Mr. Schilling moved to Rochester and joined Rochester's barbershop group, Rochester Music Men.
When the concept of a boys barbershop chorus was first suggested by Mr. Schilling, Ms. Braun liked the idea, but was unable to drum up enough interest to get a group going. But in 2006, with students settling into the brand new high school building, Ms. Braun decided to have the school's boys choir try some barbershop music.
"The kids had a blast with it!" she said. "And so" she continued, "I said 'Hey, why not do this as an ongoing thing?'"
Over time, both younger and older students became increasingly interested in barbershop music. Ms. Braun was determined to keep them in the same group, so that the older students could share their experience and wisdom with younger students. This meant that the group would have to move towards the model of being an independent, extracurricular activity, with a small activity fee (although Ms. Braun still introduces barbershop music to all 9th and 10th grade guys in choir). Still, the popularity of the barbershop ensemble has grown - having started with 12 singers, the group's enrollment has increased to 22 as of last year.
Ms. Braun attributes the group's success to several factors - in particular, how older singers are mixed in with younger ones. Older singers frequently help the younger singers to learn the traditional barbershop repertoire.
"The older kids love to show the younger kids what they know and help them lead through their parts and learn their parts a little faster," Ms. Braun said. In addition, singing barbershop is a more comfortable and rewarding experience for many younger guys, as their voice may still be in the process of changing, and their ranges can fluctuate a great deal. According to Ms. Braun, "it gives them some reassurance that their voice can fit, no matter where it's at - you know, last month they were singing bass, now they're singing lead. Or they were singing tenor, now they're singing baritone two months later. So that is a great thing for their vocal development."
The group has also received a great deal of support from the Rochester Music Men. Mr. Schilling comes to Barbershop practice from time to time, to check in with the guys and give the group pointers. The Rochester Music Men has given the group live demonstrations on the unique structure of four part, a capella barbershop harmony, which Ms. Braun says has been very helpful. The Rochester Music Men even paid for Ms. Braun to go to "Harmony University", a two week crash course in conducting barbershop. And this spring, the Rochester Music Men and the Byron Boys Barbershop Chorus held their very first joint concert at the middle school auditorium.
A favorite tradition of the group has been to sing at a Minnesota Twins game in the summer, along with other barbershoppers from the Barbershop Harmony Society's Land O' Lakes District, which includes all of Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as parts of Michigan and Ontario. The assembled group ranges from men with decades of barbershop involvement, such as Mr. Schilling, to those just beginning to sing Barbershop.
For his part, Mr. Schilling is confident about the future of Barbershop singing, in Byron and across the nation. Reflecting on his work mentoring young Barbershop singers here at Byron, he says ""I just enjoy getting the boys to sing Barbershop... I know they're all going to scatter all over the country, but maybe they will pick up barbershop sometime, and that's the important thing. I just feel singing one of those things that you never stop doing."
Posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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Great article! Can I submit it to the Pitch Piper?