Masters of Harmony: Road to Phoenix

Ron Larson, Nov 11, 2007

The last time the Masters of Harmony sang in Phoenix was 1998. Late in 1997, Jeff Oxley of The Vocal Majority had accepted the daunting challenge of following a competition trail blazed by Dr. Greg Lyne, who had led the Masters of Harmony to three consecutive gold medals. While some in the Society doubted it could be done, Jeff successfully clinched the chorus victory in the 1998 Phoenix Far Western District contest. After the Masters repeated their winning performance on the evening show, Jeff called his girlfriend, Susan Brunettin, up to the stage . . . and proposed to her! Susan proudly said, “Yes,” to thunderous applause from the capacity audience. At Anaheim in 1999, Jeff became the second director to lead the Masters to a gold medal. The Masters’ winning package that year included an uptune appropriate for the many flights Jeff had to take from Dallas to Los Angeles – “California, Here I Come.”

The 2007 road to Phoenix began with Dr. Jim Henry’s keynote address at the Masters’ 2007 Awards & Installation Banquet, probably the most moving and inspirational ever delivered at this event. Jim reminded the audience that our music can be a ministry to others, that we are privileged to be able to give gold medal moments to the people for whom we sing, and that our music can change lives and feed souls. This inspiring speech was the perfect way to start what promises to be an exciting and very challenging part of the contest cycle.

The journey included some very demanding choreography sessions with Erin Howden, a choreography genius from Toronto who designed a package that worked beautifully with the arranging genius of Aaron Dale, who gave the Masters of Harmony the uptune used in the Phoenix contest, “Yona From Arizona.” Coupled with the interpretive genius of Masters Director Mark Hale, the seldom-performed song helped the Masters win a Far Western District Championship in Phoenix for a second time.

An especially interesting moment for Masters members in this year’s Phoenix Convention was the chance to see and hear, many for the first time, Dr. Greg Lyne’s Voices in Harmony, a chorus that didn’t exist two years ago. Their performance package marks the VIH as not only one of the premier choruses in that contest, but a definite medal contender for next year. Additional congratulations go to the newly merged Spirit of Phoenix chorus whose performance showed them as a powerhouse of the future.

All in all, the Greater Phoenix Chapter hosted one of the finest district conventions in years. It featured some fabulous presentations, many much-improved performances, and the appearance of some choruses competing for the first time in many years. As Jim Henry said in that banquet speech, “The better we perform the more gold medals we give to our audiences.” In addition, the convention demonstrated the interconnectedness of our Society. Ten current or former Masters of Harmony members were on stage with other choruses, and current member Craig Ewing directed the Fullerton Orange Empire Chorus. Another demonstration of our mutual bonds as singing brothers took place when the Masters sang to accompany a big screen photo tribute to Lloyd Steinkamp, a beloved barbershop brother who touched many lives throughout our Society “For Good.”

Recent stops for the Masters on the road to Phoenix and beyond included a performance at the Sun Lakes Country Club, a show skillfully and tirelessly arranged by Club resident and MOH member, Gary Ewald. This concert series was a unique opportunity to present quality barbershop music to a non-barbershop audience. It gave OC Times and The Crush the chance to present the dynamic sound that has made both quartets favorites of Masters audiences. The Masters of Harmony sang for another non-barbershop audience as part of the Long Beach Community Concert Series. The chorus has performed five times in this series, most recently in 2003, and is one of that Series’ most requested groups.

This summer, a representative of the Pride of the Ozarks chorus, a small chapter in Bentonville, Arkansas, came to a Masters rehearsal to express their gratitude for making available at very nominal cost 50 of the white tuxes that used to be the trademark of the Masters. The chorus debuted the “new” uniforms after intermission at their annual spring show to the surprise and delight of their audience.

Also this summer, the Masters were honored to receive a Harmony Foundation Award, indicating that the chapter had contributed over $50 per member to the Foundation, helping to fund the music education efforts that promote and expand the impact of this wonderful hobby.

In May, Mark Freedkin received the prestigious Far Western District President’s Award for his ongoing work with the Young Men In Harmony program. In September, Mark continued to show why his work with YMIH is so highly regarded throughout the Society. He and his music team helped 50 high school young men and two choral music educators from the Northern California area hone their vocal skills at the NorCal Youth Harmony Camp.

Mark Hale has already directed the Masters of Harmony to two gold medals. He knows that the Masters will face probably their toughest competitive challenge ever in Nashville next July. However, great challenges also offer great opportunities, and Mark looks forward to meeting the challenges that await the Masters. Stay tuned!

The Masters recently welcomed new members David Feiner (lead) and Dale Mattis (bari).


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