Do you live in the greater Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area? Do you ever sing in the shower? Do you like making new friends? Do you like being happy?
Yes-yes-yes-yes? Sit in on a rehearsal with the Huron Valley Harmonizers.
I participated in a Harmonizers’ rehearsal recently and chatted with their director, Rob Pettigrew, and was struck by two things: one, they’ve figured out how to keep it going in a pandemic, and two, they’re a great bunch of guys–full-on Midwestern nice. Does singing together appeal to nice people, or does singing soothe and nurture? Does it matter?
The Harmonizers are part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, the largest men’s singing organization in the world. Pre-‘pandemic, about twenty-five guys would show up for rehearsals; mid-pandemic, from ten to fifteen are getting on Zoom; post-‘pandemic, they’ll resume rehearsals at the Stony Creek United Methodist Church in Ypsi. They’re eager for more members. Call it the missionary impulse–when a person finds beauty or happiness or joy, they want to share and lobby for it. Like walking in nature, dancing, gardening, or bonfires, singing together are things that just work for some people.
Yes, this is currently a men’s singing group. Women are welcome (and might have a blast), but so far it’s all guys. There’s a separate all-women group, the Voices in Harmony Chorus. And while it’s called a barbershop group for historical reasons, the connotation no longer applies–no striped jackets, spats, boaters, not much Stephen Foster. No Bach, either, but they do the rest: jazz, standards, doo-wop, pop, Celtic, you name it. A particularly appealing aspect is that they serve as a recruiting ground for the formation of quartets (or trios or quintets) for people with a particular jones, such as a beloved Manhattan Transfer number, a Frankie Valli tune, or Phil the Fluter’s Ball.
You don’t need to be a singer. Most of the members never sang in groups before and started with no training. They make it easy to learn one’s part. To practice a song in four parts during Zoom rehearsals, four different recordings are made with a single part isolated on one stereo channel. Everybody sings together but muted (except for the director playing accompaniment), but everyone records themselves and sends their recordings to the director for coaching as needed.
The Harmonizers will resume performing at fairs, parties, summer evenings on Main St., or at retirement homes. They also like to get together with other singing groups, participate in festivals, and compete in the annual statewide tournament. For 2003 and 2018, they won the Pioneer District Barbershop Harmony Society’s championship. The Harmonizers and other local groups have declared Ann Arbor “A Cappella City USA.” Who knew?
The Huron Valley Harmonizers rehearse via Zoom on Wednesday evenings, 7-8 p.m. To sit in on the next rehearsal, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (734)796-7467. For all other info, see hvharmonizers.org. If you sign up for the long term and become a contributing member, modest dues help defray costs.