Masters of Harmony 25th Anniversary: A Founder Reflects

Joe DAmore, Oct 19, 2010

In January of this year, I returned to the Masters of Harmony as an active singing member. The “calling” was clear and, since I’ve learned there are no coincidences in life, I decided to take the plunge once again. I didn’t realize that being back among my MOH brothers would have such a profound impact on my life again, nor did I know that my return also happened to align with the beginning of a “milestone year” for the chapter – the 25th anniversary of the Santa Fe Springs Chapter. In 1985, I was part of that revolutionary event.

When I was reminded that our chapter was chartered 25 years ago, I admit I was shocked. You see, I don’t have the urge to stay on top of minutia like dates, etc., as some of our stalwarts do. This is fine with me as it let’s me focus on the important stuff, like not falling down during choreography sessions and trying to remember the notes and words to A.J. as they go by at warp speed. But, I digress…

A little over 25 years ago, a passionate, exuberant, totally “out of the box” thinking group of nine men decided to break away from the accepted norm and form an organization in Southern California that would be dedicated to the pursuit of musical excellence in the Barbershop Society. We had a plan and were committed to making it work. It was the right thing to do, we felt. What could make more sense or be easier?

Then reality hit. The barbershop world (in Southern California) told us that it couldn’t be done. “Impossible,” they said. “There are too many egos to contend with. What you want to do will be bad for the Society,” they lamented. “Others have tried it and failed. What makes you guys think you can do it now?” they chided.

To the “Nefarious 9,” none of this made any difference. We pressed on. Nothing would stop us; absolutely nothing. Regardless of the fact that we were not yet a chapter, nor did we have a name or identity, we pressed on. Our first “rehearsal” took place in Terry Blumenthal’s living room in Arcadia in the spring of 1985. We set up folding chairs and Jeff Ebner and I directed the group through some polecat tunes, tags and a couple of Society arrangements. At the end of this rehearsal, we reassembled in Terry’s back yard for our first afterglow, and consumed mass quantities of barbequed burgers and beer. And, that’s the way it began . . .

Yes, that was the actual beginning of the Masters of Harmony. We went on to get our charter at the District convention in October. To be clear, even at that very first rehearsal, we employed the same rigor and expectations we have reinforced through the decades and continue to insist on today. Even though there were only nine of us, we were expected to be on time, focused, quiet on the risers when the director was speaking, and to sing our very best. That’s how we started . . . and that’s still the path on which we walk today.

Were any of us thinking, “Gee…I wonder if the chapter will be around 25 years from now?” I can assure you, the answer to that question is no! It was difficult enough just to keep things moving forward. Once chartering became a possibility, finding 20 more guys to become members was the next challenge. Trust me - we were not that insightful.

We did feel strongly that we were putting a solid structure in place that, if followed properly, would keep this group on track to pursue musical excellence. We did not foresee the longevity of our existence and the great things we would accomplish, nor did we see the group growing and sustaining itself for so many years.

Likewise, we did not anticipate the number of venues in which our chorus would eventually share the gift of music, and we had no idea that we would touch the lives of tens of thousands of people and receive the number of accolades we have from both inside and outside the Society. We did not realize that so many would recognize and respect our dedication and commitment to perform always at the absolute highest musical level possible.

We did not envision the “birthing” of multiple Far Western District and International championship quartets. We did not see the “kids” from The Westminster Chorus popping up from our ranks, raising the musical bar on their own and pushing the MOH and other choruses to strive even more diligently to achieve a higher level of musical excellence. We did not anticipate the multiple international chorus championships we would achieve over the years – honestly, we would have been happy with one!

Most importantly, we had no way of knowing how many men would become members of this chapter over the years, some of them previous naysayers who finally figured out we were not the enemy and that our quest was to raise the standards for every barbershopper, worldwide. We could not have foreseen that this organization would be the huge, close-knit family it has become over the past 25 years.

Am I proud? Absolutely! I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished and I am excited about what we can still accomplish together. I’m proud to have played a role in our beginning. Most of all, I’m proud to have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers whom I christened the “Nefarious 9” for the purpose of this article. Through the commitment of these nine men, the seeds of the Masters of Harmony we know today were planted, lovingly cultivated and steadfastly protected. Without this dedication to purpose, there would be no Masters of Harmony today.

So, to Jeff Ebner, Terry Blumenthal, Gary Ahlfeldt, Bill Roth, Wayne Mendes, Ken Rios, Garry Texeira and Kevin Wood: Happy 25th Anniversary, brothers! Thank you for believing in the plan and for your devotion to our ideals.

[In addition to his role as an original founder of MOH, Joe D’Amore was the first chorus co-director and served as president of the chapter in 1988 and 1989. He was the chapter’s Barbershopper of the Year in 1986 and 1987 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992. He received the Director’s Award in 2000 and was a member of Finale, Quartet of the Year for 2002. Joe won two International chorus gold medals with the Masters of Harmony. –Ed.]

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