By Ron Larson, Staff Writer
On May 11, the Masters of Harmony took the first official step toward the challenging task of hosting an International contest in which they will be attempting to repeat as International champions. They competed as one of 13 choruses in the Southeast-Southwest Divisional, a contest that featured mixed choruses for the first time. The Masters won the Southwest Division Chorus Contest with a score of 89.9%. They thus move on to the Far Western District Contest in Modesto in October where they will be challenged by among others the rapidly improving Fog City Singers, winner of the Northwest Divisional Chorus Contest with a score of 89.2%.
Thanks to month long efforts of Gene Clements, Les Weiser, Tim Truesdell and Maurice Freleaux, Masters members going back to the origins of the chorus in 1985 were invited to a fun-filled evening of singing and reminiscing with members old and new. Director Justin Miller had the men step off the risers then called them up by groups starting with charter members, then members who joined before each gold-medal win, ending with the newest members who were greeted with loud applause as inheritors of the proud Masters of Harmony traditions. Especially moving was Joe Palmquist reprising his introductory part to "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella," one he used to greet many Masters audiences. The Harmony Sweethearts made sure the attendees were treated to a variety of tasty break-time snacks.
In early August, a group of 35 singers, 32 from the Masters, two from Harborlites and one from the Carpe Diem Chorus will take their repertoire to St. Petersburg. The touring chorus will give three concerts in places such as Capella Hall, Philharmonic Hall, and one of St. Petersburg’s great churches. Alan Gordon will direct the group as it sings MOH favorites such as "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder," "Route 66," "Precious Lord," "Deep River," as well as a specialty song named "Moscow Nights." About half of the group will be extending the trip to do sightseeing and undoubtedly, at the drop of a hat, impromptu harmony singing for probably surprised and delighted locals! Special kudos go to Mark Travis who took on the huge task of being the chorus's point of contact for the Russia tour. He handled all the logistics and the flow of information between Maestro Tours and the touring chorus. He helped participating members take care of their payments, passports and visas so the tour experience would be the best possible for them. For making this once-in-a-lifetime tour possible, Chapter President Joe D’Amore named Mark "Master of the Month."
In a much-anticipated showdown of multiple gold medal choruses in the 2019 International Chorus competition in Salt Lake City, The Westminster Chorus defeated the fellow multiple gold-medalist Ambassadors of Harmony Chorus to become the 2019 International Championship Chorus. In the process, Westminster scored an incredible 97.9%, breaking the record of 97.7% it established in the 2010 contest. Congratulations to our nearby brothers in harmony for a performance for the ages! Additional kudos go to the crowd pleasing, steadily improving Masters/Westminster quartet, The Newfangled Four (Joey Buss, Jackson Niebrugge, Ryan Wisniewski, Jake Tickner) for its 6th place finish (89.7%) in the quartet portion of the contest.
The Masters have received word that they have been given a grant of $17,900 from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The LACAC provides grants to various arts organizations in Los Angeles County ranging from large grants to a group like the Los Angeles Philharmonic to local dance companies. These grants are designed to help recipients grow and become more self-sufficient arts organizations. The Masters plan to use these funds to broaden community awareness of the chorus as a singing/performing organization throughout the Los Angeles area. In the process, the chorus plans to take this uniquely American art form across cultural boundaries to groups and communities not previously reached by barbershop groups.
Wednesday, July 31 will be the last Masters of Harmony rehearsal with Justin Miller as its director because he is moving to Oregon. Justin had a distinguished history as a Masters member even before he became its director. He was asked to succeed legendary MOH Hall of Fame member Wayne Mendes as choreography director. Justin developed such skill as a choreography coach that he worked with choreography guru Erin Howden to successfully implement her plans. As director, Justin followed Mark Hale, who had directed the Masters to four gold medals just as the Society was moving in different performance directions requiring the chorus to rethink some of its approach to musical excellence. Justin helped guide the chorus through that transitional period to its greatest-ever gold-medal victory over the legendary Vocal Majority in 2017. Justin is successful because he chooses appropriate songs, teaches them effectively, and has near-genius ability to identify performance errors and then demonstrate clearly how to correct them. His passion for his work is so infectious that it can lift chorus members weary from their workdays to energy levels many would not expect to have. So, we say goodbye to Justin with gratitude for the time we had to work with him and wish him well in his future endeavors in Oregon. Justin, we miss you very much. And you will always have a special place in our hearts.
Since the last issue of Westunes, the Masters of Harmony welcomed Nate Reed into membership.