Barbershop Beginnings - How I Came to Be a Chordsman
|Type of post:
||Thu, Jan 7 2021
Chuck Morrissey – Journey into Music
While still on a bit of an extended sabbatical from Wesco, I will return shortly to continue my tenure as a Chordsmen, and I was so inspired by the outpouring of great stories from my Bros in Harmony that I decided to contribute a bit of my story.
Music entered my life at an early age with my mother being the sole influence. She played piano (well) and sang for enjoyment, and of the 4 children in the family I was the ‘designated recipient’ of her musical efforts. I started piano at age 8, and was an admittedly reluctant participant in the endeavor – but she persisted. Thanks mom! During grammar school years, I was in choir and did most of the male soprano vocals in school productions, radio gigs the choir periodically qualified for, and in church. By high school, I was in most of the school productions, but began resisting the pop/classical genre in my mid teens in favor of doo-wop and rock (British Invasion) music. Was in several rock bands during HS years where we did 60’s doo-wop, and music of the day. I mostly sang up-front, as well as did background vocals, and played keyboards. Mostly private parties and school dances were the gigs we got. We entertained thoughts of taking it into the studio, but that never happened. We were a group of 5 teens (with a good sound) whose parents didn't relate to our idea of making a recording. Mostly, we did it for fun – and made a few bucks along the way!! Great memories.
Then it was off to college (undergrad and grad), followed by several post-doctoral degrees, and a busy and fulfilling career as a clinical psychologist. Private practices in NYC and No. Westchester, an adjunct gig in my doctoral university program (Hofstra), forensic work (NYC Criminal Courts), expert witness work (Family Courts), consultant positions at various welfare agencies, and several private and public school psychology consultancies were totally time consuming. Mostly involved in shower singing and car radio singing during those years, and a few hastily thrown together gigs (with friends) for the kids school fundraisers.
My wife (Maria) and I got the bulk of our professional training done before we decided to start a family (in our mid 30”s), so between careers, family life (a son and a daughter), and extended family involvements, the decades of the 70-80-90’s left little to no room for extracurriculars. No regrets, but in retrospect given the opportunity to rearrange the timing of things, I might well have done it differently so as to allow some serious singing into that 3 decade period pretty devoid of musical merriment.
A fortuitous set of circumstances came together for me toward the start of the new millennium that allowed me the choice to selectively scale back my professional life (leaving only the most interesting and rewarding activities), and pursue other interests if I wanted to. I jumped at the opportunity. Music/singing, photography, travel, ham radio, tennis and golf were now in queue to move gradually back into my life.
In 2005, following some time in Florence, Italy where my daughter was studying Art, I checked out various Westchester Choral Grps with the aim of getting involved in one , and after spending a Monday night at the Highlands School I decided the Chordsmen were a good fit for me. I was warmly welcomed by Steve Berkwits (who was Membership VP that year), and auditioned shortly thereafter by Al Garfield. Al organized and ran our Vacation Camp for the Blind sing-outs for several years, followed by the traditional pizza parties at his home. We were 70+ strong during those years, and under the direction of Dusty Schlier we were doing well at Divisional contests, and optimistic about making a splash at District level. A lot of excitement. Some contention about forming “A” and “B” level choruses (competition vs non-competition groups) – it never happened. I was mentored by Alan Ferris, a fine gentlemen and able tenor, a past-president and WESCO Hall of Famer, who had a background in Education and Human Development – so we had much common ground to chat about, as well as our shared love of music. He also lived close by, and we regularly traveled to rehearsals and many many contests together. When Dusty moved on the work at the Society (BHS), there were many disconsolate Chordsmen feeling replacing such a talent would be improbable, if not impossible. Who knew!!! We encountered a third-generation Barbershopper (who also happened to be a Opera singer) during our interviews, and the rest is history!!. Hard to believe Keith has been with us 10+ years to date.
Fast forward to 2015 after Maria retired (Corporate Finance), and we purchased a winter home in FL – enough northeast snowy winters for us!! We typically spend Dec – May at our home there. I sing with a men’s chorus (Brothers in Song -TTBB) during those months, and when up North I’ve branched out into classical choral singing, and now sing with two classical choirs (Croton Chorale and The Taghkanic Chorale) – a different experience, but equally enjoyable. Unfortunately, like WESCO, we’re all zooming – blah!!
The therapeutic value of music is something I can attest to on both a personal and professional level. The impact it’s had on my life, at various stress points as well as in augmenting great celebrations and successes, could fill a tome. Its positive effect in enhancing the lives of those in great emotional pain is empirically validated. I’ve always been a strong proponent of the inclusion of a music therapy component into milieu treatments in settings where I was fortunate to exercise administrative prerogatives and policy making decisions.
A couple of WESCO highlights for me: Carnegie Hall (East Meets West Concert), China competition (2010), the Christmas CD Recording sessions (Joy of the Season) at Maryknoll, my first contest (Wildwood, NJ – 2005), new friendships and the camaraderie.
Looking forward to many more years of harmony, chord ringing, and a return to normalcy where we can practice together and the Covid virus is behind us.