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A cut above: Local barbershop singers continue tradition

August 26, 1998

Barbershop quartetBy TERI JOHNSON / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




The repertoire of Hagerstown chapter of Mason-Dixon Chorus includes many old chestnuts, but its membership is vibrant and growing.

The barbershop choral group includes men from their teens to their 80s.

Each Monday night, they gather at Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown to sing songs from the heart.

The 70-member organization is like a family, says Don Carson, the group's public relations manager.

--cont. from lifestyle--

"The fellowship is absolutely great, and when you visit another chapter, you fit right in," he says.

The Hagerstown chapter, formed in 1957, is part of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. There are 806 chapters in the United States.

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Howard Nicholas, dubbed "Mr. Barbershop" by the other members of the group, has been singing that type of music for more than 50 years. The 72-year-old baritone sings in two quartets: Mason-Dixon Quartet and Harmony Legend.

"I get just as much of a kick out of this now as I did back then," says Nicholas, chorus manager of the group.

Thirteen-year-old Shawn Rhoderick of Keedysville says he enjoys the music.

"We get to sing a lot of fun songs," the eighth-grader at Boonsboro Middle School says.

His father, Phil Rhoderick, and his 15-year-old brother, Christopher Rhoderick, also sing with the Hagerstown chapter.

The distinctive sound sets barbershop music apart from other styles, says Phil Rhoderick, 45.

"When it's right, it raises goosebumps on your arms," he says.

The four-part harmony in barbershop singing is created by a lead, baritone, bass and tenor.

Songs include familiar numbers such as "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," "My Wild Irish Rose" and "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie."

The musical style drew its name from the fact that barbershops were the places men gathered while women were shopping, and the men would sing as they waited.

Barbershop singing became popular in the late 1800s during the vaudeville era, and it died out when vaudeville did, Nicholas says. In 1939, O.C. Cash and Rupert Hall of Tulsa, Okla., got the idea to bring back that type of singing, he says.

Barbershop quartetIt truly is a gentlemen's group, says Nicholas, a Hagerstown resident.

"In all these years, I've never seen a barbershopper do anything that would embarrass me," Nicholas says.

Carson says he hadn't sung a note until he heard the local chapter perform at a show. His neighbor was a member of the chorus, and he took him to a rehearsal.

Carson was hooked, and the 69-year-old Hagerstown resident has been singing barbershop music for 19 years.

Members of the society, with the motto "We sing that they shall speak," use their voices to help others.

One charity the society supports is Heartsprings in Wichita, Kan., which helps correct children's speech impediments.

The Mason-Dixon Chorus, which has a show each spring, also is planning a CROP benefit performance this fall. The chorus will be joined by other barbershop groups Saturday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at First Christian Church, 1345 Potomac Ave., Hagerstown. Admission is by donation of canned food or money.

Carson says the group would like to become more involved in the community.

Men of all ages are welcome to join the chorus. Singing experience isn't necessary. "Your ear is more important than your voice," Nicholas says.

Nicholas says barbershopping does have its downside.

"There are thousands of songs you can never sing, because you can't live long enough," he says.

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For information about Hagerstown chapter of Mason-Dixon Chorus, call Don Carson, public relations manager, at 301-790-3494 or Howard Nicholas, chorus manager, at 301-790-2024.

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