The Expanding MOH Membership

Bill Roth, Emeritus, Jan 11, 2006

President Ken Custer reported to the board of directors in December (MasterLink 12/22/05) that the Masters of Harmony is now the second largest chapter in the Society, with 206 members! The #1 chapter (the long-running Alexandria Harmonizers, founded in 1948) has only six more members, with 212, but the 10-time champion Dallas Vocal Majority (founded in 1972) is one member behind us, with 205.

I don’t know about you, but I found these statistics amazing; within the next year the MOH could well become the biggest chapter in the Society! How can this be, as only 134 men (65%) sang with the chorus in Salt Lake City?

It certainly did not start out this way. When the Masters of Harmony chartered as the Foothill Cities Chapter in 1985, it had a very stringent “Active Members Only” policy. In short, to become a member of the chapter you also had to be in the performing chorus. If your attendance ever became unsatisfactory, you were considered to be “inactive” and ineligible to perform. Indeed, the board could actually refuse to renew one’s membership in the chapter due to poor attendance. All of these provisions, incidentally, remain in force today.

The “AMO” policy was put in place because the founders had seen that many chapters were often run, or greatly influenced by, people who were not actually performing on the risers—a situation that could easily cause a disconnect between “management” and “workers.” Other reasons for the AMO policy were to ensure regular attendance (so that rehearsals would always be meaningful), and that when the chapter committed itself to a performance the “real” chorus would actually show up.

But shortly after the first international championship was won in 1990, a new category of “Associate Membership” was created by the board. It recognized that members who once had been active with the MOH, but no longer wished to perform, might nonetheless “still desire to retain their membership in the Foothill Cities Chapter and their correlative membership in the District and Society.” Over the years more and more inactive members have chosen to become Associate Members, and in December 2000 a further category of “Emeritus” membership was created to cover Associate Members who had won at least one gold medal with the chorus.

Still, why do so many inactive men choose to retain their membership in the MOH, whether Associate or Emeritus? In 2000 I wrote an article for The Masters Voice that suggested the reason:

Not a day goes by that I do not think about the Masters of Harmony. I expect that shall always be the case. Even though I now live 8,500 miles away, the MOH remains a profound presence in my life. There is truly something very special about what we all, together, have been able to accomplish—the many magical moments at rehearsals, at retreats, at concerts, and on stage at International. These are not things that can be expressed well in words; rather, they must be experienced, together. But these shared experiences also create a lifetime bond. To paraphrase a saying from the U.S. Marines, “Once a Master, always a Master.”

The chapter keeps Associate and Emeritus members well informed by sending them the MasterLink and The Masters Voice, and many also elect to receive the Masternet postings as well. For us “old-timers,” our feelings about the chorus are akin to a parent (and in some cases a grandparent!) whose offspring have gone on to become something even better. While we do not at all “take credit” for what the current chorus has accomplished, we do, however, take immense pride in those achievements.

The close link that the Emeritus members, in particular, continue to feel for the chorus is something that every gold-medal winner will one day carry with them after they leave active membership. The very process required to win a championship with the Masters of Harmony (“the journey”) binds one for life with this ever-evolving and improving chorus. Remaining a member allows one, almost on a daily basis, to vividly recall the wonderful memories of the past, and to vicariously experience and enjoy the activities of the present.

We all know that the Masters of Harmony is very special, and we also know that it is different from other choruses. But what, exactly, are those differences? It is difficult, if not impossible, to list all of the reasons (let alone prioritize them), but here are certainly some of the most important factors which, in combination, have come together to make us what we are today:

“Dedicated to Musical Excellence” is not merely a slogan or a motto; it is the defining attribute of the chapter. There must also be, of course, a music director who shares this vision and possesses the talents to carry it out. But excellence requires resolve. Keeping the entry and performance bars high and constantly pushing for improvement are unusual in amateur endeavors. While humanitarian considerations are always important, maintaining excellence requires that our standards for the chorus not be compromised on account of friendships or political correctness.

Professionalism in all that we do. The aspect of excellence is not limited to the musical, but carries over into all manner of chapter life. While new members are initially attracted because of the music, they also tend to stay because of the way we do things: with class!

Excellence attracts excellence. Really talented people want to be around others with a similar dedication and work ethic. This is another reason for not relaxing our high standards. The better the chorus sings, the better the quality of people who will want to join. (Just look at the impressive backgrounds of the new members profiled in the “Masters in Review” column of The Masters Voice!) The continuing pursuit of excellence is also why so many accomplished quartet singers remain a part of the chorus. But our excellence also attracts singers who possess advanced skills in important areas other than music, such as stage production, marketing, publishing, construction, etc. Quality simply attracts quality, whatever the form.

Music concerns come first, with the board understanding that its primary role is to logistically support the musical plan of the director and Music Committee. Personal and “political” agendas are out; the ‘good of the chorus’ is paramount.

Rehearsals are to rehearse. To be a championship chorus there is simply not time each week to do all of the “other” things that many chapters like to do. The MOH is not for everyone, and no apologies are needed; there are other chapters in the area where interested singers can find what they are looking for. We like what we do each week, and it is why we keep coming back.

Stability in leadership. Many chapters have frequent turnover on their chapter boards and committees. By contrast, the MOH allows competent people to remain at the same position, year after year, thus retaining (and increasing) their knowledge, experience, and effectiveness.

Good organization. There are detailed, published guidelines and regulations concerning almost every aspect of chapter operation, leaving more time to think deeply about other issues. Moreover, all members are expected to have a job within the chapter. Not only do “many hands make light work,” but wide participation beyond just performing fosters a greater feeling of involvement with, and commitment to, the chapter and its chorus.

Effective communication. The membership is continuously kept informed of things they need (or may like) to know by the means of multiple, high-quality publications and the Internet. As a result, announcements at rehearsals are kept to a bare minimum. Constructive feedback from the members is welcome, but should be phrased in a positive way and directed to the person(s) who have responsibility for the issue. (Alas, it would seem that some members forget this last part, and view the Masternet as the appropriate conduit for whatever question or comment might be on their minds!)

Having the Harmony Sweethearts. While many chapters use wives and significant others to assist, our ladies, on their own, have created and developed a strong parallel organization to support the MOH. The advantage their assistance gives the chapter is simply incalculable, and truly makes real the concept of an MOH “family.”

The members are real “barbershoppers,” interested and active in quartetting, district and Society affairs.

Humility. A determination to treat all barbershoppers with kindness and respect, regardless of their chapter or level of performance. We recognize that membership in the MOH is an honor and a privilege, and that we are blessed to be a part of this unique organization. With this privilege, however, comes a responsibility to do what we can to share our talents with others and further barbershopping in general. There’s no place, or need, for arrogance.

Positive youth outreach, done primarily to expose young people to barbershop singing in general, rather than to attract new members. Nevertheless, many young men have joined the chapter, making it increasingly more attractive for their peers to join. (A corollary to this is the chapter’s ongoing and selfless support and encouragement of the Westminster Chorus.)

Undoubtedly there are other reasons as well which contribute to the synergy of the Masters of Harmony. But whatever the reasons, who wouldn’t want to continue to feel a close connection to such a wonderful and worthwhile organization? I certainly do, and view my continued membership as an investment which just keeps on growing!

[Editor’s Note: Bill Roth joined the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1969 and was a charter member of the Masters of Harmony (1985). He won three gold medals with the chorus (1990, 1993, 1996), was chapter music vice president (1988-1995), MasterLink editor (1990-1995), Barbershopper of the Year (1991), and in 1999 was inducted into the MOH Hall of Fame. Since August, 1996, Bill has been living and teaching in Bangkok, Thailand, and may be contacted at bbsbill@gmail.com.]


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