"War Horses of the Chorus" Series, No. 1: Les Weiser

Kirt Thiesmeyer, May 22, 2007

(No. 1 in an erratic series preserving the history of the Masters of Harmony and highlighting the contributions of illustrious members most in need of preservation.)

Les Weiser, tall – one might say, hulking – occupies the front spot, top row, stage right, of the baritone section, from which he has a panoramic view of the director’s left ear. A fixture of the chorus since joining in 1990, Les has earned five gold medals for repeatedly showing up. He also represents the diversity wing of the Masters of Harmony since, from his riser position, he leaps down with alarming frequency to showcase his musical fluency on the tenor saxophone, bass guitar, calypso carols and blues harmonica that has the audiences standing on their seats. He was Prof. Harold Hill in the chorus’s performances and recording of “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man, and he frequently inhabits Bob Marley or Harry Belafonte for our entr’actes and Christmas shows.

Reported to have been born in a steamer trunk at the back of the old Orpheum Theatre in Baltimore while his parents were on tour in Indiana, Mr. Weiser couldn’t play anything in his early years except the radio, but started singing on it at age 5, in Asheville, NC. Wielding sax and vocal backup with the original Deltones guaranteed his future as a saloon singer. Les started barbershopping over 25 years ago and his senior quartet, Mutual Fun, with Lefty Parasson, Art Taylor and Dave Briner, won a silver medal at the 2000 International Midwinter Convention in Tucson. A new Weiser quartet, California Crossroads, has just qualified for the 2007 District competition in Phoenix.

Les is entirely self-taught (and the teacher’s pet), though he has a degree of some kind or other, probably Fahrenheit. His musical education, such as it is, was acquired on the run between gigs, and he has managed to fake it except when confronted with an actual question, e.g.: What is a diminished fifth? Weiser: An empty bottle of Jack Daniels?

War Horse Interview – conducted between May and April in the comfortable Glendale home that Mr. Weiser is allowed to share with his lovely working wife, Kathy, and an assortment of dogs and other quartet types. Retired from trying to change the world one share of stock at a time in the securities business, Les now occupies himself with finger calisthenics and golf, recumbent cycling and teaching Polecats to the newer fellows. We began the interview with light-hearted banter in order to disarm the subject; then we turned on our recorder and honed right in with the piercing questions:

Masters of Harmony: Why are you so smug?
Les Weiser: All baritones are smug. That’s why we keep our doors unlocked – we don’t need a key and we can come in any time we want.

MOH: We noticed your hair is pretty grey, and you have a lot of it; aren’t you concerned about the Van Cliburn look?
LW: It’s great to have grey hair; ask anyone who’s bald.

MOH: We’ll do the jokes, thanks. Who is your greatest barbershop hero, and why?
LW: Doug Maddox; no reason. He’s always smiling as if from some inner peace, or idiocy. He’s also been around since Moses was a pup. I admire longevity, and long legs.

MOH: I see you have been married for several decades; still with your starter wife?
LW: Yes, something over 40 years.

MOH: Then how is it we see you ogling every pretty girl that sashays in front of the risers?
LW: Just because you’re chained to the porch doesn’t mean you can’t bark at the cars.

MOH: As a seasoned quartetter, what advice can you give to beginning competitors who complain of onstage butterflies in the stomach?
LW: See a gastroentomologist. [Whew! What a stinker. –Copy Ed.]

MOH: What would you like your legacy to be?
LW: I’d like to be remembered as the guy who was alive when some historically significant things happened.

MOH: You are referring to Watergate, the Vietnam War and Leonardo DiCaprio?
LW: No, I mean Saran Wrap, Britney Spears’s first wedding and the soon-to-be-possible faxing of sandwiches.

MOH: What is the last thing you say before you go to bed at night?
LW: “Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”

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Les Weiser, 2004 Barbershopper of the Year, has been a Board Member at-Large, Vice President for Chapter Development, Barberpole Cat Coordinator and an indefatigable promoter of MOH and barbershopping. He holds the History & Organization chair at Masters University. He’s a Christmas Floater and a Singing Valentiner, and he will sing tags with anyone, janitors, presidents, even women. In the warm-up room in Indianapolis, Les was caught harmonizing to a steam boiler. And he is always ready to welcome and help new people, educating them in barbershop joys.

Give him a hearty “howdy”!

[As the perceptive reader will have perceived, the above account is entirely fictitious, except for the parts that are true. There is no actual person named Les Weiser, but there could be. Had this been a real interview, I would already have been punched in the nose.]

The next exciting, unsuspecting and imaginary interviewee – Ron Andreas!


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