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GC: Living in harmony: Toast of the Coast Barbershop Chorus keeps a cappella alive

By Trysta Eakin
June 16, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.


Harmonizing facts

Barbershop Harmony is an improvisational a capella music that began at barbershops, parlors and curbstones during the mid-nineteenth century throughout America.

Its origins hail from African American roots, including blues, jazz and gospel.

The groups are usually comprised of men singers and broken into four parts: tenor, lead, baritone and bass.

SOURCE: WWW.ACAPPELLAFOUNDATION.ORG

The days of harmonizing and a cappella entertainment seem to be a thing of the past, found mostly in movies about the sock-hopping days of the 1950s. However, one local group is keeping the gaiety alive.

The Toast of the Coast Barbershop Chorus is made up of an average of 19 men, mostly retired, who sing for their own enjoyment and to the service of the public.

"We are a motley crew," said chorus singer Jim Ford. "In our chorus, a lawyer sings between a maintenance worker and general contractor. A high school teacher sings between a computer technician and an oil-field equipment fabricator."

Often performing at Fossati's Deli or Rosebud Fountain and Grill, both downtown, this 54-year-old group has had many memorable moments, Ford said. The memories include performing at the Gaslight Theatre in Shiner with a group of St. Joseph High School actors, playing a role in the motion picture "Kings of Appletown," which has yet to be released, and singing at the memorial service for a longtime bass in the group, Vance Frosch.

But their most enjoyable times come from their visits to the nursing homes and retirement communities, he said. "Those audiences really love the old songs and old-fashioned barbershop harmony. It's wonderful to see their smiles and hear their applause."

They even have "groupies" who attend their performances, relishing in not only traditional songs like "My Wild Irish Rose," but also the more contemporary songs like the Beatles' "When I'm 64."

With practices at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the St. Joseph High School band hall, the group invites potential members - especially tenors - to pop in and check it out.

For now, however, here are a few interesting facts about the group:

The average age of the chorus members is 62. However, their youngest is Justin Cordova, a 19-year-old baritone who works for the Best Buy Geek Squad.

Their oldest member, Bill Roberts, is a 90-year-old retired gas measurement supervisor who first sang barbershop harmony in the 1930s.

Chorus director and lead singer Mike Boyd, is an Emmy-winning motion picture and TV costume designer.

The members bring a variety of day jobs to the table, including tenor Greg Lightfoot, a general contractor; baritone Ted Wise, a high school art teacher; and bass Scott Wideman, a marketing director for a local auto group.

To find out more information on performances or to join, call Ted Wise at 361-652-7709, or Jim Ford at 361-579-6884.

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