Keeping the whole world singing, that is the mission of the OK Chorale, the barbershop chorus, and a chapter of the Southwest District of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
In the early years of the 20th century, concern grew among singers that the barbershop quartet type of four-part, a cappella harmony would soon become extinct. Contributing to the concern was the popularity of the phonograph that could include orchestral accompaniment, along with the decline of vaudeville and the growing popularity of talking movies.
So, in 1938 a group of men from Tulsa started the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBQSA).
“It's a mouth full,” laughs Jack Nortz, President of the OK Chorale. “But it’s a good activity and a good, wholesome thing to do. Singing makes you feel good.”
The group consists of about fifty members from Edmond, Oklahoma City, Cashion and other surrounding cities. The age range is from 19 to 88. Sculptors, geologists, farmers and bankers are just a few of the professions that make up the group. “It really doesn't matter what you do for a living, if you like singing and harmonizing, this is the organization for you,” said Nortz.
The groups are broken up into regions in the United States and there are choruses in Canada, Australia and even in Iraq. Nortz explains that he married into “barbershoping.” He says that his in-laws were “barbershopers” and for the longest time he refused to go to the rehearsals.
“Then, when my son was eleven we both decided that if one of us would join, the other one would. Well, he stayed in it for awhile and by the time he was in Jr. High, it wasn't cool enough and he quit,” he explained. “That was in 1993 and now he's thinking about joining again.”
Not all of the members married into the Choral. “My father was a music teacher and me and my brothers have always been singers,” said OK Choral member, Jeff Sykes. “I sang in churches and operas and one day a friend of mine told me that I might like this group of guys. He took me to the barbershop chorus. That was thirty years ago and I have been here ever since.”
Once again, much like the issues facing the chorus founders of the 1930s, there is a concern about the future of barbershoping. It seems that there is a lack of interest among younger men.
“Also, in a lot of the schools today, a lot of the music is dying out,” Nortz said. “That is why one of our biggest thrills is when a high school or college age kid comes by, gets interested and joins the chorus.”
Another issue facing the modern day chorus is the cost in travel, equipment and advertising. The annual cost is roughly $30,000, so the chorus has different fundraisers each year. The most popular is the singing Valentines.
“We all take a day off of work and each of us break up into quartets,” explains Nortz. “We will split the city up and each group will cover certain areas. We will go to different spots and sing to your Valentine. It has been a huge success. And believe me, we have sung at some strange places.”
An unseen characteristic of the OK Chorale is the close bond that years of working together can develop. Member, Wes Short says, “The other side of this group is that there is a fellowship, kind of like a family and community. We consider ourselves one big family.”
Whether it is singing at the Christmas shows or this year’s Centennial show, or just practicing like they do each Monday night, the Chorale members are truly doing what they love to do.
“We call ourselves ‘barbershopers.’ That name is going to get a wavy red underline under it, no matter what spell check you use. But that is what we do and who we are.”
Log onto www.okchorale.org for more information about performances and how to contact members of the OK Chorale.