Barbershop Beginnings - How I Came to Be a Chordsman

Type of post: Chorus Documentation
Sub-type: No sub-type
Posted By: Marc Schechter
Status: Current
Date Posted: Sat, Jan 2 2021
Chapter 1 - My Barbershop Beginnings

One day shortly after New Year 2010, I happened upon the Westchester Chordsmen web site.  It said that anyone was welcome to drop in on any Monday night rehearsal at the Highlands School, but recommended calling ahead.  I called the Membership VP, Alan Ferris, who was very friendly and I arranged to come to the rehearsal on Monday, January 11, 2010.

When I arrived on Monday night, Alan met me with excitement and his trademark big smile.  He promptly introduced me to Keith, Scott Coleman, Joe Dempsey, Tom Pease and many more.  Scott Coleman, who was at that time an Assistant Director, Music/Performance VP, and bass section leader, did my voice placement, and assigned me to the Lead section. Joe Dempsey agreed to be my mentor.

On that night, the Chorus was rehearsing the classic Cole Porter song Anything Goes for the upcoming Spring show.  I was buddied up with Chet on the risers. Since I was familiar with the melody, I was able to sing and follow along looking at the lyrics on Chet's music chart. The notes on the chart were Greek to me.

Next, Keith introduced a beautiful song that I had never heard previously, Prayer of the Children.  At the very beginning of the song I had no trouble singing along with the melody by ear.  But almost immediately as I tried to continue to sing along with what I thought was the melody, Chet started pointing to the notes on the chart as he was singing something into my ear that was very different from what I was singing.  Later I learned that Prayer of the Children starts in unison, and the Lead section then moves to a harmony part.

During the evening, I met lots of other members.  Everyone was friendly and encouraging.  The music was excellent, and the chorus sounded fantastic.  Keith's leadership and direction were marvelous, fun and best of all educational.  As I found in the following weeks, each rehearsal was a mini group singing lesson.  After each meeting, I was invited to join the afterglow at Emmas to sing polecats with the regulars including Scott Coleman, Steve Delehanty, Bill Kruse, Scott Kruse, Ed Kane, Bob Lohaus, Al Fennell, and more, while savoring a frosty mug of Smithwick's Irish Ale.

In the subsequent weeks, the chorus worked on other classic songs for the Spring Show: Silhouettes on the Shade, As Time Goes By, Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.  On various evenings, I was fortunate to have Irv and Howie as riser buddies, in addition to Chet.  On February 1, I passed my audition, and I was ecstatic to join the Chordsmen.

Very soon thereafter (on March 1), Keith introduced the contest set for the upcoming Division Contest in Scranton, PA on May 1, 2010: the fabulous Music Man I and II.  Tom Pease, who was Wesco President, invited me to help with the ordering, payment and distribution of the Chorus contest photo (attached).  I appreciated the opportunity to participate, and gladly accepted.

In this time leading up to the contest, Neal Kellog and Howie Sponseller organized a quarteting program.  They recruited 10 or 12 novice quartets to compete at the contest.  My quartet chose the name "All Four One" with Bill Kruse as tenor, Scott Coleman as bass, Bob Lohaus as bari (last minute replacement for Steve Kane, Ed's nephew), and me as lead. We were fortunate the be the first of the 10 or 12 Wesco quartets to perform I Don't Mind and Wild Irish Rose.

Following the contest at Scranton, the Chordmen held the "4th (sporadically annual) Wesco Talent Revue" on Monday, May 17, 2010, organized by the very talented Bob Stevenson. To the best of my recollection, some of the highlights were Al Fennell and his son performing on the percussive garbage cans, Ed Kane's fabulous art work, Bill Ferns on the harmonica, and Dan Rendich on the ukulele.  And the winner was . . .  multi-talented Dan Rendich.

During my early days at Wesco, I was honored to meet long-time member John Finkbiner.  John was wheel chair bound and he needed a ride home after each rehearsal.  A group of generous Chordsmen volunteers rotated responsibility for driving John Finkbiner home, even though for many of the voluneers it was far out of their normal route home.  Since I lived only 5 minutes from John, I was pleased to join the volunteers to help out.

In these first months, it did not take me long to realize that I wished I had found the Westchester Chordsmen many years earlier.

Chapter 2

So many other wonderful Wesco experiences that they will have to wait for another day to write them all up.

Happy New Year 2021 to all