By Ron Larson, Staff Writer
On March 11, 2020, 100 Masters men met with Tony De Rosa for a rehearsal designed to hone their contest set for the 2020 International Convention in Los Angeles. Because of rehearsal restrictions related to the COVID pandemic, that was the last in-person chorus rehearsal of 2020. Keeping together the brotherhood of one of Barbershop Harmony Society's most successful choruses became a real challenge. Starting in March 2020, the Masters became one of the first barbershop choruses to meet regularly online using Zoom. That allowed the 60 plus regularly attending members to receive a modicum of rehearsal opportunities, training on the finer points of vocal production, and it helped keep the bonds of fellowship alive. However, Zoom's technical limits made it impossible to hear ensemble singing in real-time since it can currently handle only 2-3 audio channels simultaneously, not the 60-plus that would be needed. The differences in sound delay (latency) from the many different chorus members' Internet connections would have to be equalized or at least minimized to performance levels deemed acceptable, a technological dream for now-isolated choral singers all over the world.
After considerable research, the Masters of Harmony board of directors decided to make JackTrip Virtual Studio equipment worth $300 each available to all chorus members as long as they remain members. This became possible when Rich Owen and Walter Tang collaborated to win a generous grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture. The equipment consists of a Rasberry minicomputer with a sound card designed to reduce signal latency down to 28 milliseconds or less, which is considered CD quality sound; professional-level headphones, microphone and adjustable tripod stand so that members can sing while standing up. Preliminary experiments with members between Los Angeles and San Diego singing from home using the JackTrip equipment produced harmony considered satisfying. Once in-person rehearsals resume, the equipment can be used for extra full chorus rehearsals or just sectionals. It will also make coaching sessions easier to schedule by eliminating the time and expense of travel.
The Masters of Harmony decided to use a mixture of songs from previous Christmas shows while adding two songs, "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night," recorded at home by 58 members using their smartphones. The recordings were sent to MOH members Peter Burt, in charge of audio production, and Gary Stone, who handled video production. Director Alan Gordon worked many hours with Peter and Gary to mix these individual recordings into something that looked and sounded like the nine-time gold-medal-winning Masters of Harmony chorus. The show was titled “Making Spirits Bright.” Barbershop Harmony Society funding made it possible for the December 5 show to air at no cost to viewers who registered online and free to all viewers thereafter until December 31. Since viewers were encouraged to make donations to the Masters of Harmony, Harmony Foundation International managed that aspect of the performance. Many viewers took advantage of an opportunity to help the Masters maintain a viable presence online and elsewhere by making donations. The show drew rave reviews from places as distant as South Korea, Rome, Israel, as well as many of the 50 states, with many viewers hearing a MOH performance for the first time!.
One year ago, President Joe D'Amore said 2020 would be a year like no other, and it certainly was! The road he envisioned for us disappeared under the weight of COVID-related restrictions imposed on people all over the world. In his opening remarks for this year's online event, Joe retraced our path from that last public rehearsal on March 11, 2020. He called on members to embrace "The Wondrous Road Ahead" as the chorus seeks to remain on the cutting edge of our Society and the choral world. The keynote speaker was Erin Howden, for many years our dear friend, coach, and mentor. Barbershop Harmony President John Donehower was installing officer. The top awards were granted to the following members; Director's Award–Peter Burt, Grant Goldstein, and David Tautkus; President's Award–Rich Owen, Ed Schackman, and Gary Stone; Doug Maddox Master of Harmony Award (Barbershopper of the Year)–Bart Halberstadt.
In an enormously popular decision, the Masters of Harmony board honored one of the chapter's most productive members ever with this rarely granted honor. Here are some of Mark's notable accomplishments: winner of nine chorus medals (seven golds); President's Award (1999 and 2017), Director's Award (2010), Barbershopper of the Year (2001); Auditions Coordinator, Grant Proposal Writer, Assistant Baritone Section Leader, Choir Genius Administrator, Truck Driver, Vocal Assessor, Webmaster, Masters of Harmony Youth Festival doyen (1994-2017). We offer many thanks to Mark's wife Shellie for supporting Mark and graciously sharing him with us over these past 25 years!
It was with great sadness that the Masters of Harmony announced the passing of two of its beloved multi-gold medal members Gene Clements and Ed Sweatt.
Tom Fazekas (bass) was welcomed into membership and Don Shively (bass) was reinstated after a seven-year absence.