Hi-Fidelity: 2005 Kings of the Far Western District

Rick Veder, Jan 13, 2006

The Place: Pasadena, California
The Date: October 13-16, 2005
The Event: Far Western District (FWD) Convention

My name is Rick Veder, and I was the “Man on the Street” (or in this case, the “Man in the Auditorium”) on hand to witness one of the most satisfying events in recent Far Western District history – the crowning of Hi-Fidelity as the new 2005 FWD Quartet Champions. As most folks are aware, it has been a long, long, LONG time in coming. Let me say right now that this article will NOT be a “history lesson” on our champs. If you have been out of the country or living in a cave for the last several years, you can catch up on Hi-Fidelity’s story by visiting their website at http://hifidelityquartet.com and by reading their article in the Winter 2005-2006 issue of Westunes. Instead, this article will attempt to pin down why our newest champs are so endearing to the hearts of their many friends and fans, and why they were the Sweethearts of our recent convention.

The host for the 2005 Fall Classic was the 2005 International Chorus Champion Masters of Harmony. As “Backstage Authority,” I was able to take in much of the convention from my vantage point directing the flow of contestants to and from the stage. I took this opportunity to hobnob with other FWD members and friends, some of which I only get to see once a year at this event, and I was in a position to pick up the ongoing street talk about contest predictions and scuttlebutt. Well, there certainly was a “buzz” in the air as 22 competing quartets from all over the FWD prepared for the big showdown.

Let me take a moment to interject that it is well known that barbershoppers (both men and women) are some of the greatest and friendliest people alive. As a result, most barbershop contests are “friendly” (unlike sporting events, where death wishes and voodoo curses are common!). A barbershop audience is tops when it comes to being supportive of each group that has the courage to strut onto the contest stage and do their stuff. But the biggest difference here is that even the competitors are supportive of each other. Nowhere else in the world does the saying “May the Best Man (Men) Win” hold more truth. In my younger days (oh, those good old ‘80s), I was fortunate enough to be in a Top 10 FWD quartet, and I used to find it amazing that even right before taking the stage in barbershop battle, the guys in the other competing quartets would be wishing each other the best of luck. After all, some of our biggest competitors were some of our best barbershop friends! Everyone just wanted to sing their absolute best, and let the chips fall where they may. Well, I’m bringing this point up for a reason.

Once in a while, a quartet wins the respect and the hearts, not only of the audience and fans, but also of their competing peers – a quartet that is so well thought of and admired that everyone wants to see them win. Sure, all quartets hope their group will be the ones to come out on top. But now and then a quartet comes along that has worked so hard and long, and has gone through so many setbacks, that even their competition wants to see them win. Such is the case with Hi-Fidelity.

In my travels out and about the convention, I took in numerous conversations (some between convention-goers, and some among the other competitors – an advantage of being backstage) alluding to the outcome of the contest. One name kept coming up over and over -– Hi-Fidelity. This was no sympathy call, believe me! Not that they didn’t deserve some, as evidenced by their 2nd place District standing for three years in a row, a disappointing scratch at International in 2003, and other anomalies on the long road to the championship. But sympathy doesn’t win a contest and most judges, although compassionate, won’t translate their feelings of sympathy to a score sheet.

Anyone that has heard Hi-Fidelity knows they definitely don’t need sympathy to sing great and win a contest. Hey, you try to sing their “Blackbird” tune with its 24 key changes and you’ll see exactly what I mean! That’s some complex stuff. Besides, we’re talking here about a group that has represented the Barbershop Harmony Society with honor outside of its own circle. They wowed their audience (and us) when they were crowned “Grand Champions” at the Buckeye Invitational Contest in 2002.

In my 24 years of barbershopping, I’ve heard time after time that it takes more than superior singing to be a champion. Here are some of the other qualifications: Dedication and hard work, persistence, inventiveness, humor, likeability and friendliness. The list goes on and on. Hi-Fidelity certainly fits the bill to a tee. Let’s take a look at these qualifications, shall we?

  • Dedication, hard work and persistence: They’ve been at it since 2001, with 53 shows, eight educational events, 16 contests and two television commercials under their belt.

  • Inventiveness and humor: Addams Family package! ‘Nuff said, right?

  • Likeability and friendliness: Do I need to elaborate? Anyone that knows these gentlemen knows that they’re some of the friendliest guys around! And if you don’t know them, make it a point to introduce yourself and you’ll see what I mean!

A little first-hand personal history about these consummate performers:

I first met bass Martin Fredstrom in Tucson around 1980. He was attending the University of Arizona and I was in the Air Force. I also worked part-time in a restaurant that Martin used to frequent. We hit it off right away, both of us being so “outgoing” (and maybe the free beer I used to sneak him may have had something to do with it). In any case, when I left the Air Force, I returned home, back to good old California. What a shock, when years later I ran into him at a barbershop convention in Anaheim. And it’s been a real pleasure having him as a friend for the past 25+ years. He’s one of the few people around that remember me when I was young and thin!

I met superb tenor Craig Ewing back in my quartetting days, and it was immediately apparent that he was someone an aspiring tenor would want to know. Once again, back in the 1980s, my wife, Debi, and I were fortunate to run into Craig and his wife, Marie, at a convention hotel restaurant and had dinner with them. Craig may be the “quiet” type, but I can tell you that a nicer guy you’re not likely to meet.

I met lead Tom Moore in 1996 when I joined the Masters of Harmony. At that time, Tom was singing tenor with both the chorus and a quartet named Countdown, and always had a smile on his face – as he does to this day. If you’ve had the chance to hear Countdown’s CD, you’ll remember that it includes a game called “Whack-A-Barbershopper,” similar to those games you find in your local Chuck E. Cheese establishment. I informed Tom that he is the only member of the quartet that I personally chose to “whack,” but the smile never left his face – it only got bigger as he proclaimed, “Have at it!”

Baritone Gregg Bernhard is the gentleman I know the least in the quartet, but he also is one to wear a great smile, and seems like just a genuinely nice guy. I also met him in 1996 upon joining the Masters, and won my first chorus gold medal on stage along with him. Thanks for the help, Gregg!

Well, as you can see, Hi-Fidelity has definitely earned the right to be called the “Kings” of the Far Western District. Their musical talent, humor and downright friendliness all contribute to the true champions they are. I know I speak for everyone in the FWD when I say that we’re all proud to have them as our champs, and I personally feel privileged to know them and count them among my friends. Here’s to a continuing great year as champs for you guys - YOU DEFINITELY DESERVE IT. And as a final note – GO GET ‘EM IN INDY! We’re all with you.

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