Barbershop Beginnings - How I Came to Be a Chordsman
Type of post:
Sat, Jan 2 2021
At my age to write about my life gives me the impression I’m doing my obituary, a bit disconcerting.
OK, so here’s how I got started with the Chordsmen. In 1982 a neighbor of mine in Greenwich took me to the Chordsmen show, The Time Machine, at SUNY Purchase. I had seen them perform from time to time at the shopping malls in Stamford and White Plains at Christmas time, with Dave Schuman directing and Walter Peek, the MC. The guys told me to come to a Monday night rehearsal as did their Ernie Matson who worked in same Mamaroneck, NY TMC telecommunications company as did I. And Fridays we’d go out to JFC’s (James Fennimore Cooper) house, now a Bar/Grill, for lunch. Ernie passed out charts of some polecats expecting our 3 or 4 voices in the same car to contribute. As with so many of us: I was “too busy”, kids, family, etc. But at that 1982 show I did fill in the little card saying I wanted to apply and would be there on the following Monday. Freddy Steincamp took our group of applicants aside and had us learn My Wild Irish Rose in parts he allocated amongst the 15 of us and, of course, we got the usual wild applause from the forgiving chordsmen’s fine-tuned ears. I was hooked as all are when hearing that seventh chord, and I soon found myself in the front row alongside Bob Stevenson where I stayed for about 20 years. I had taken music lessons in high school: piano and flute. As an only child my practicing didn’t bother any siblings. And I sang to my own chords on the piano. From high school choral singing and upon my 1944 enlistment in the US Navy I found myself in the Navy V-12 ROTC program at Cornell. I joined the 110 piece band playing trumpet and flute. Cornell was mostly deserted during the war, and there was no chorus or choir. The band was preparing for a halftime presentation at Franklin field in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving day, a traditional football date for years: Cornell Vs Penn. The Director announced that our Drum Major was sick and would not be able to lead the band. . . . Who would be willing to take his place so that we could go on with our presentation? Since no one was appearing to volunteer I stuck my finger up in the air and said OK I’ll try it, to applause that our gig would not be cancelled. And it was color televised using the 1939 World’s Fair sequential color TV system invented at CBS laboratories in Stamford by Dr. Peter Goldmark who also invented the long playing record and the audio cassette tape recorder system. Of course only TV techies saw anything of that TV, there being no receiver sets and no tape recorders yet. So I can’t prove that it happened. I ended up later working on installations of color TV equipment using the then new all electronic RCA system invented by John Wentworth which the FCC later declared the US-NTSC national standard for color TV. Various modified versions of this same system then appeared the world over. In 1985 the Chordsmen were still offering two or three presentations of each of our two yearly shows to SRO audiences. Champion quartets happily accepted our invitation to be featured. Three months before a forthcoming show date I auditioned for Shamus, the lead part in Leprechaun, an original play by Chordsman Bob van Wart. I thought I would get the chance to sing all the songs, whatever they might be. Alas, the script didn’t have Shamus singing, so all I did was get bruised all over from making appearances by tumbling onto the stage in various settings as the Leprechaun who was told to search the world and “find the true meaning of life”; which we all know is found by SINGING ! To catch up on the repertoire and to learn new songs I’d go around with a portable audio cassette player and two microphones to record two separate cracks. When I heard a quartet during break time I’d hold one mic in front of the Bass and the other at the Lead. I taped some beautiful old time arrangements. Besides singing in many pickup quartets with fellow Chordsmen my own Tri-County Connection has been singing since 1983, and now temporarily stopped only several weeks ago due to covid. Since the other three parts live across the Hudson I always go to them for rehearsals which for years were weekly. And I’m now hoping to get back with them soon, and also on the WC risers at Kol-Ami. Here’s to a better 2021 ! - - - - Lyn Kaufman