The Founding

[Editor’s Note: Bill Roth joined the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1969 and is a charter member of the Masters of Harmony (1985). He won three gold medals with the chorus (1990, 1993, 1996), was chapter music vice president (1988-1995), MasterLink editor (1990-1995), Barbershopper of the Year (1991), and in 1999 was inducted into the MOH Hall of Fame. Since August 1996, Bill has been living and teaching in Bangkok, Thailand. Special thanks to Bill for compiling this history!]

The story of the Masters of Harmony begins in the mid-l980s when a small group of active barbershoppers from the Pasadena Chapter decided to break away and start a new chapter dedicated to musical excellence. The Los Angeles area, however, was not your ordinary barbershop community. With a metropolitan population of over 10 million people, it contained some 14 existing chapters – each with its own history and separate identity.

The story of the Masters of Harmony begins in the mid-l980s when a small group of active barbershoppers from the Pasadena Chapter decided to break away and start a new chapter dedicated to musical excellence. The Los Angeles area, however, was not your ordinary barbershop community. With a metropolitan population of over 10 million people, it contained some 14 existing chapters – each with its own history and separate identity.

The conventional wisdom at the time was that the region simply did not need, nor could it fairly support, any additional chapters. Nonetheless, the organizers had a clear vision, and they persisted in their goal despite extreme odds. With wholehearted support of the influential Lloyd Steinkamp and then district president Sam Barger (plus extensive demographic documentation), the group managed to obtain a chapter license in the spring of 1985 and then its charter at the district convention in October 1985. The chapter’s name, Foothill Cities, was derived from the series of towns that ran along the southern base of the San Gabriel Mountains, an area where most of the organizers then lived. (Refer to the list of Charter Members below.)

The new chapter chose “Masters of Harmony” for its chorus name, and from the outset plans were firmly in place to make that title a living reality. Auditions involving both vocal and visual ability had been implemented during the pre-charter licensing period, and applicants were asked to agree to a set of written guidelines contained in an Expectation Sheet. Members were to be “Dedicated to Musical Excellence” (the chapter’s slogan), be “active” (maintain regular attendance and have a chapter job beyond mere singing), have a positive attitude in reference to all chapter affairs, and accept that their appearance with the performing chorus would always be at the discretion of the music director and/or music committee.

The chapter’s first chorus director, Joe D’Amore, had joined the Society (and the Pasadena Chapter) in 1979. Along with Terry Blumenthal (Foothill Cities’s first president) and co-director Jeff Ebner, Joe worked extremely hard to see that this new chapter succeeded. In March 1986, just five months after chartering, Joe led the Masters of Harmony (with 23 men on stage) to first place in the Far Western District’s Small Chorus Contest. Then, two months later, the same number of men placed second in the SoCal East Divisional Chorus Contest, finishing ahead of chapters with over 70 men.

Expectations ran high that these initial showings would create a flood of new members. Instead, almost nothing happened! A few visitors would occasionally drop by rehearsals for a look, but fewer still would make the hard commitment to leave their own chapters for the uncertainty of this new small group of “young turks.” Despite two successful annual shows, membership just would not grow. Perhaps only someone from out of town could motivate laid-back Southern Californians to brave cross-town freeway traffic and try something “different.”

In July 1987 the West Towns Chorus from Lombard, Illinois, won the International Chorus Championship. As fate would have it their talented director, Dr. Greg Lyne, accepted the position of Director of Choral Studies at California State University, Long Beach, and relocated to the area. Greg had planned to take a brief rest from barbershop directing, but he did mention to Jack Hines (a former category specialist in stage presence and long-active Far Western District member) that he would reconsider if the area truly had a large group of dedicated singers.

In September 1987 Jack and Greg met at Bessie Walls Restaurant in Anaheim to further discuss the matter. (The name “Bessie Walls” was later used to name a chapter award honoring men who are “always there getting things done, whether or not he is asked”; today the award is known as the Jack Hines Memorial Award.) Jack then, along with Bill Merry, Stan Sharpe and several other interested men, embarked upon their own plan to create a new chapter in Huntington Beach, called “Pacific Shores.” Each of them knew the names of barbershoppers – many of whom had become inactive with their own chapters – who were also looking for a greater musical challenge.

Across town, the members of the Foothill Cities Chapter looked at these developments and saw a window of opportunity. Why they thought, must a new group go through the protracted experience of chartering when Foothill Cities already had a charter, a committed and energetic membership, and a comprehensive audition procedure? (Joe Palmquist, an active member of Foothill Cities, visited one of the organizational meetings of Jack’s group in early November 1987 and reported his observations back to his chapter brothers.)

A joint meeting of the two groups was arranged for the following week at a home in Whittier, and Greg Lyne attended. Joe D’Amore presented a comprehensive plan to join all forces under the Foothill Cities banner and to relocate to Santa Fe Springs, California, a community conveniently located to most all of the greater Los Angeles area. Greg agreed with the plan and the next week both groups (though without Greg) held another joint meeting, this time in San Dimas at the Foothill Cities’s then meeting place. By an agreement reached the week before in Whittier, vocal and visual auditions were begun of everyone, including the existing Foothill Cities members. Stan Sharpe and Carl Walters (a Foothill Cities charter member and its then director) conducted the vocal auditions, while Jack Hines oversaw the visual ones. A new board of directors was also agreed upon, containing members from both groups and Joe D’Amore as president.

On Wednesday night, December 9, 1987 this “new and enhanced” Foothill Cities Chapter met for the first time at the Santa Fe Springs Town Center, with Greg Lyne as its director. (Joe Palmquist had previously contacted the city for permission and had also arranged for temporary risers.) Efforts had been made not to contact men who were then active with other chapters, but letters were sent and phone calls made to those who had previously dropped out of the Society or who just might enjoy singing. The result was an initial turnout of 79 men, including quartetters who had never before enjoyed singing with a chorus. Most everyone decided to come back the following week, and on its own, the word spread that something very special was happening in Santa Fe Springs!

This “merger,” however, did not come without some serious growing pains. Almost all of those at the first combined chorus meeting had considerable past barbershopping experience, and there were, understandably, many conflicting viewpoints on how things should be run. Indeed, the new music committee alone had no less than nine people who were either current or past chorus directors! What roles should each of these men now play? Nothing like this had ever been put together before, and there were no “rules” to govern the process. How things should operate had either to be created from scratch or adapted from others.

A tremendous source of help came from the Dallas Vocal Majority Chorus. With the liaison assistance of former VM member Doug Maddox, their administration was extraordinarily generous in sharing with our new chapter all of their organizational materials, and the Foothill Cities’s Board worked hard to find roles for everyone. Yet, however much the new group might aspire to someday sing like the Vocal Majority, the men also knew that they were not that chapter. Nor could they ever be. Rather, they were and are the Masters of Harmony, a collection of dedicated individuals with their own unique sense of identity and style that continues to this day.

The history continues at Chapter History.

Charter Members

The following 31 charter members are the visionaries who started it all – the men who never gave up on the dream that has now been realized many times over.

  • Gary Ahlfeldt
  • Gregg Bernhard
  • Terry Blumenthal
  • Joe D’Amore
  • John Dandrea
  • Jeff Ebner
  • Terry Engels
  • Jay Friedman
  • Don Frost
  • Bob Hagelbarger
  • John Hannah
  • Rich Hasty
  • Ron Hillary
  • Jim Holder
  • John Hyke
  • Jon Jessup
  • J. Nils Lindstrom
  • Neil Maiers
  • Mark McKenzie
  • Wayne Mendes
  • Marlin Niesley
  • Joe Palmieri
  • Kenny Rios, Sr.
  • Bill Roth
  • Woody Sinclair
  • Richard Stanford
  • Gene Taylor
  • Ron Taylor
  • Garry Texeira
  • Carl Walters
  • Kevin Wood