By Ron Larson, Staff Writer
Nearly 20 years ago, Mark Freedkin helped create a youth festival aimed at introducing young men and their choral teachers to barbershop harmony. That program has now been taken over by the Southern California Vocal Association (SCVA), a professional organization of vocal music teachers at elementary to college levels. It recently put our long-running event under its professional umbrella. This year, it held its second "Close Harmony Festival" at West High School in Torrance, California, and over 170 singers took part in the event. Throughout the day, the attendees received excellent coaching by The Newfangled Four (Joey Buss, Jackson Niebrugge, Ryan Wisniewski and Jake Tickner). In the evening, the audience responded enthusiastically to the Festival Chorus, several high school quartets, The Newfangled Four, the Masters of Harmony and The Westminster Chorus. Congratulations to Mark and to his SCVA counterpart, Antone Rodich, former MOH member and current Westminster member, for keeping this excellent program alive!
Thanks to meticulous sales and logistics work done by the "Valentines Central" program of the Orange Empire Chorus, Larry Icenogle, Mark Travis, Bob Hartwig, and Alan Greenberg were able to take the love of Valentine's Day music to a number of surprised and delighted recipients throughout Orange County.
For over a year, Sun City resident and former MOH President Bernard Priceman had been driving the 240-mile round trip to MOH rehearsals in Santa Fe Springs. He won the approval needed to perform in Sun City, and Tim Truesdell's excellent advance promotional work brought in two very enthusiastic audiences, most of whom had never heard a Masters performance. Among the numbers were:'50s Medley with Les Weiser on sax, the contest set for the 2020 International (which has subsequently been canceled due to the current health crisis), "Unclouded Day," and "This is the Moment." Audience response to these shows indicates that Bernard should have more opportunities for future trips to the auditorium parking lot in his golf cart!
In late 2019, the Masters of Harmony established a unique partnership with City of Hope, one of the world's leading centers for cancer and diabetes research and treatment. The chorus offered to donate a portion of the proceeds from the November 30 Christmas Show to City of Hope. Between shows at Sun City, Masters President Joe D'Amore presented a check for $2,000 to Kevin Kate McQuhae, Senior Director of Development in City of Hope's Office of Philanthropy. Hopefully, this is the start of a long, mutually beneficial relationship to both MOH and COH.
For over 30 years, the City of Santa Fe Springs has provided an excellent, centrally located rehearsal and storage facility at its Town Center Hall. The ability to use this facility has been a major reason for MOH success over that span. In return, the Masters sang at the city's annual Tree Lighting Ceremony for 28 years and provided quartets for the nine days of the city's truly unique early December Christmas Float Program. During that time, MOH also contributed many thousands of dollars to various Santa Fe Springs organizations. However, the two parties recently disagreed over long-standing terms for facility usage. The MOH could continue to use the facility but at rates the Board felt the chapter could not afford so, sadly, the established partnership came to an end. However, the Masters left this excellent facility with enormous gratitude for the benefits our long-term association made possible.
Leaving Town Center Hall in Santa Fe Springs necessitated a thorough search for a new facility that would meet MOH rehearsal and equipment storage needs. Pending resumption of open rehearsals, a search team found a temporary rehearsal and storage site at a church in nearby La Mirada.
Since the era of stay-at-home orders has ruled out even section rehearsals, over 80 Masters of Harmony members have been video conferencing regularly using the Zoom app. President Joe D'Amore and Director Alan Gordon have kept the members updated on ways they can learn new music, polish current repertoire, and do exercises to maintain vocal quality and stamina until such time as we meet again. Common reactions to the lack of the ability to do what we love so much have been shared in a kind of healing group therapy. One thing we quickly learned when we tried to end a session with "Keep the Whole World Singing" – Zoom is a terrible platform for that!
One of the lasting effects of the enforced stoppage of group singing is the rise of virtual choruses and choirs.
Since the last issue of Westunes, Harrison Cooke, Jim Kline and Evan Shyer were welcomed into membership.