Harmonizing fellas sing a cappellaApr 26, 2023 12:37PM ● By Karin Hill
For one local senior, singing in a men’s chorus after retirement restored a love for music he hadn’t experienced in decades. For a younger man, it gave him a sense of community as he was going through a divorce.
These are just two of the stories from the America the Beautiful (ATB) Chorus, an all-male barbershop-style singing group in Colorado Springs. The singers come from all backgrounds. Some even join with very little music experience.
But what they have in common are an appreciation for music and the camaraderie they develop as they master new pieces to perform for the community. At weekly rehearsals, they leave their differences at the door and join their voices together in this effort.
“We don’t do politics, we don’t do religion, we don’t do controversy,” said Tim Simmons, 79, a member for 25 years.
His sentiment echoes the group’s mission: to bring people together in harmony and fellowship to enrich lives through singing.
MUSIC TO YOUR EARS
The ATB Chorus began in 1946 in affiliation with the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), an international community. Before 2001, the chorus was known by other monikers, including the Highland Harmonizers.
The chorus’ style of music doesn’t necessarily fit preconceived notions of barbershop—with men in striped jackets, straw hats or images from famous musicals.
Chorus members use sheet music, but much of their practice comes by listening to part-specific audio recordings for lead, bass, tenor or baritone. Because harmonizing is a vital element of barbershop, learning to sing by ear is key.
Although songs are always performed in an a cappella barbershop style, the selections are varied—from traditional choral pieces to songs by The Beatles.
“Forget ‘The Music Man’—that’s not what we’re doing,” said Simmons.
Barbershop is a “truly American musical art form,” added Chorus Director Jim Clark. It dates back to the late 1800s, but the style continues to maintain loyal followers and gain new enthusiasts worldwide.
Clark, 49, brings a lifetime of experience in the genre, having grown up with a barbershop-singing father. He is also a BHS International Quartet champion.
The chorus has won the Rocky Mountain District Most Improved Chorus award three times since he took the helm in 2010. His “day job” is director of development for Harmony Foundation International, whose mission is to connect people through charitable giving to enrich lives through singing.
Numerous members have formed quartets, with some winning prestigious competitions.
“The Hi-Chords” quartet won the Central States District championship in 1963. “Rockies IV” won the Rocky Mountain District Senior Division Championship, followed by an International Senior Quartet Championship in 1993. “Velcro,” a current quartet, won the 2019 Rocky Mountain District Senior Quartet Championship.
The singers’ voices ring out as director Jim Clark leads them in rehearsing, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
WHY THEY SING
Because of COVID-19, shows were put on hold for much of 2020 and 2021. The pandemic and its many indirect impacts was difficult, and the group got a little smaller.
But last year the chorus got back in full swing with successful shows at the Flying W Ranch, where the men sang their signature song, “America the Beautiful,” and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” The chorus held its annual Christmas concert, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at U.S. Air Force Academy sporting events and made appearances at assisted living facilities, Veterans Day programs, and other community events.
The chorus is currently preparing for its next big show, “Why We Sing,” with special guests After Hours, the 2018 BHS International Champion Quartet.
Charlie Snyder, 83, a member for 40 years, said he is eager to show the community that the chorus is back in full force after the COVID era, promising a show “as good as any we’ve done in the past.”
JOYS OF JOINING
Dennis Doyle, 65, had no barbershop experience before joining the chorus. He attended his first ATB Chorus concert in 2015 and was hooked.
“That was the first time I’d heard it, and it was just fantastic,” Doyle said.
Any males interested in the chorus, from teenagers on up, are invited to rehearsals. They can just sit and listen or try to join in before considering membership, said Clark.
George Mammarella, 32, joined shortly after moving to Colorado Springs a few years ago. He had been active in band and musical theatre in college; he stumbled across the chorus while looking for activities in his new city. Auditions are also laid back, he added.
“I just showed up one day,” Mammarella said.
Rehearsals are on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at Harmony Hall, 3815 N. Academy Blvd. (The facility is also home to Velvet Hills Chorus, a women’s group.)
“We’re always open to people coming out and singing with us,” said Doyle.
WHY WE SING
Don’t miss this concert featuring America the Beautiful Chorus
June 10 • 2 & 7 p.m.
2655 Briargate Blvd.
Tickets: $15 in advance &
$20 at the door.