"War Horses of the Chorus" Series, No. 5: Bernard Priceman

Kirt Thiesmeyer, Nov 1, 2007

(No. 5 in an erratic series preserving the history of the Masters of Harmony and highlighting the contributions of illustrious members most in need of preservation.)

Bernard Priceman, another one of the people who have been shaping the chorus in their image, is more like a polo pony. He started barbershopping in 1983 at the Santa Monica Oceanaires, becoming president one year after arriving here from England, and was with the San Fernando Valleyaires acting as director before joining the Masters of Harmony in 1996. He rose to the Board soon afterward and has resisted all efforts to get him out. He rocketed into the MOH presidency within six years, leading one wag to observe that the job is foisted on the willing and unwary (a view that is confirmed by the dull-witted grin on the face of the current incumbent) – much like people who can’t get out of jury duty. Dubbed “King” during his chapter presidency (2001-2003), Bernard surveys his realm from the center of the risers, lead section, second row. His greatest asset besides his lovely wife Ruth is probably his lively mother May, age 93, who visits from Leeds, UK, each year and is a great fan of MOH. Bernard has earned three International chorus gold medals. Two years ago, Bernard and Ruth became American citizens.

War Horse Interview – conducted at the Priceman castle in Tarzana, where we sipped tea from ever-so-delicate semi-demitasses and everything was veddy, veddy nice, while Ruth regaled us with tales of pre-Saddam Iraq, where she was born, and what it was like in the Israeli Army. I think she knows seven ways to kill you with a credit card. (She won’t say.) Bernard met her when she visited Old Blighty on vacation. He was her knight in shining Armani. They soon realized their compatibility (“She has great patibility,” said Bernard), got engaged in three weeks, then ran off to Jerusalem and married, lo, these 32 years ago. Forswearing further bellicosity, Ruth produced two fine sons and joined Bernard in their real estate business. Multilingual, she is an accomplished guitarist and folksinger, and has been known to dominate the karaoke machine. Most recently, the Pricemans took over a charter bus service; no one quite knows why, possibly something atavistic.

The interview began with idle banter:

Masters of Harmony: So how long have you been with the chorus?
Bernard Priceman: It’s been over 10 yuhs now.

MOH: Yuhs? What’s a yuh?
BP: Dummy, it’s a measure of time, 365 days, 4 seasons, one whole journey round the sun; like a fortnight. You know, there are foah quotas in a yuh.

MOH: I’ll take your word for it . . . oh, you mean years!
BP: That’s what I said.

MOH: What was your biggest cultural shock when you came to America?
BP: Shag carpets.

MOH: I see . . .
BP: I was ready to do my whole house!

MOH: Let’s move on.

MOH: Do you have any regrets about becoming an American citizen?
BP: Yes, I had to give up my British accent. Now I sound just like all you blasted colonials.

MOH: I don’t think so.
BP: We British aren’t the ones with accents anyway. We were speaking proper English whilst you pilgrim emigrés and other undesirables were still wondering whether the New World was part of India. Thank goodness we found Australia!

MOH: Are you a Whig or a Tory?
BP: I decline to state, but I rather like Paris Hilton.

MOH: I understand you don’t care much for confrontation.
BP: Why do you ask so many stupid questions?
MOH: Somebody has to.

MOH: Hoosier greatest barbershop hero, and why?
BP: No question, it’s Sean Devine.

MOH: Because of his good looks and great singing?
BP: No, because he stands in front of me and smells like chocolate.

MOH: Bernard and Bernhard . . . any relation?
BP: Our ancestors came out of Africa together.

MOH: Have you any disappointments about America?
BP: Yes, shag carpets. They weren’t what I thought at all.
MOH: All right.

MOH: Any words for your fans?
BP: You cannot sit on two horses with one behind.

In addition to being one of eleven living MOH past presidents, Bernard Priceman continues on the Board as acting immediate past president in the absence of former President Ken Custer. He chairs both the Nominating and Image & Standards committees. He has been a board member-at-large and treasurer as well, had numerous assignments as a chapter counselor, and currently serves the Far Western District as Divisional Vice President for SoCal West. Bernard and Ruth have each won the President’s Annual Award (2006, 2003).

Infuriatingly first to be correct with his words and notes, Bernard has been called a “cactus” by Mark Hale -- which I thought would beget all sorts of humorous slurs, but turns out to mean “he grows on his own and doesn’t need watering.” That is in contrast to the rest of us hydrophiliacs. A gracious speaker and in-demand MC, Bernard has been the chapter class and style monitor for years.

[Though some other people in the chorus talk funny or use regionalisms – particularly Dave Goodwin (Minnesota) and Gary DePew (San Diego), and some of the younger people are unintelligible (David Feiner: “’Sup, dude?”; Sean Devine: “Nome sane?”) – Bernard Priceman is the only man with an authentic “furrin accent.” He is the director’s pet because he speaks the way we should sing: “Stahs and Stripes Fohevah.” The rumor that Bernard once hung out with Fergie, the Duchess of York, could not be confirmed. Had this been a real interview, ICE would have expunged all of the records.]

Next exciting, unsuspecting and imaginary interviewee – Brett Littlefield!

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