By Ron Larson, Staff Writer
On Wednesday, March 11, the Masters of Harmony met with their vocal coach Tony DeRosa for work on the contest songs planned for the 2020 International Contest in Los Angeles, a contest the Masters were scheduled to host. It was a very productive session as Tony did his usual stellar job of coaching. However, that would be the last time the Masters men would meet together to rehearse or perform because of measures taken to mitigate the dangers of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.
Just one day before that rehearsal, Seattle's Skagit Valley Chorale held a 2.5-hour rehearsal taking precautions suggested at that time. Although the virus had already been killing people in the Seattle area, one hour to the south, Skagit County hadn't reported any cases, schools and businesses remained open, and there was no prohibition on large gatherings. Sadly, over the next three weeks, 87% of the 61 members in attendance became ill with the virus and two members died. It is now believed that one or more of the singers without symptoms spread the virus through aerosols singers normally produce in large volumes as they sing to fellow singers who breathe in deeply in order to sing. As bad as it became for the Seattle Chorale singers, the outcome could have been even worse since half of its members did not attend that rehearsal. We wish our Seattle brothers and sisters in harmony full recoveries as we wait hopefully for the day when, once again, all of us can rehearse and perform the music we love so much.
The current health crisis has impacted performers and audiences all over the world at a time when the beauty and joy of music has never been more needed. With in-person rehearsals unavailable for the foreseeable future, performers have sought innovative ways to reach their audiences. One ingenious solution has been for performers to record themselves individually, often using just the capabilities of smart phones, and then have them stitched together electronically, to produce performances of remarkable clarity, beauty, sensitivity and power. One of the first barbershop choruses to do this was The Sound of the Rockies chorus, directed by former MOH Director, Mark Hale. His chorus recorded a song aptly named for our times, "Go the Distance." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD4HS0_xN1I. Another example of great virtual barbershop harmony is the recently released "This Is My Wish" sung by Barbershop Harmony Society's AIC Chorus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFWT5--F9ZU.
Since that memorable March 11 meeting with Tony DeRosa, as many as 84 Masters of Harmony members have been meeting regularly online using the Zoom app. The meetings start at 7:30 PM usually with a warm-up similar to those used in live rehearsals. Director Alan Gordon, Grant Goldstein, Dave Tautkus and Dr. Chris Peterson have given instruction on certain music principles. Alan often takes us through sections of our current repertoire, teaching us what he expects to hear when we meet again. A very helpful Zoom feature is the ability to type chat questions or comments which the person in charge can choose to answer during the meeting. On some occasions, members can be sent to "Breakout Rooms" led by section leaders for work as sections or even smaller groups. During these online sessions, the Masters have received excellent online coaching from Mark Hale on the art of performing swing music; Music Judge Steve Tramack on singing elements that help determine contest scores, and two sessions with our choreographer guru, Erin Howden. In particular, Erin's sessions encourage us to become the song we are singing so that audience members are taken to their own stories through our music. One of the blessings of such meetings in this time of isolation is the camaraderie that comes from maintaining contact with our brothers-in-harmony. As Fred King once said, "It isn't music that makes the fellowship; it's the fellowship that makes the music."
Even in the era of limitations posed by the ongoing health crisis, all choruses have ongoing expenses that must be met. Accordingly, MOH Vice President of Marketing Bart Halberstadt has acted to help the Masters deal with this challenge. The "Support" page on the MOH website now lists the ability to accept recurring monthly donations by credit card through PayPal. A brief solicitation video will be sent to our Constant Contact email list. A thank-you/reminder will be sent to supporters who are part of our Masters Circle patron program. Any future performances listed on social media will be provided a link to our website support page for those wishing to help financially.
Larry Icenogle, MOH Vice President of Public Relations has his work cut out for him during this era. As he points out, MOH currently has no performance product to provide for the foreseeable future so his job is to keep the MOH name "out there." Our planned "Walk for Hope" event with our City of Hope partner was going to feature an MOH ensemble, but that event will now be done virtually. Our future rehearsal site at the La Mirada United Methodist Church remains open to the Masters and may feature future concerts there whenever California state requirements as well as Barbershop Harmony Society recommendations and CDC guidelines can be met.