Group brings harmony to North Hills

August 4, 2018

Harmonizing in straw hats and red-and-white striped jackets is what comes to mind for many when they think of barbershop singing, but that’s not the case anymore, according to members of the North Hills Harmony Line Chorus.

Things have gotten more contemporary as far as singing and outfits go, notes Lee Grimm, president of the nonprofit chapter. And they want to bring it back to mainstream.

“Barbershop singing has changed. It’s really gone more beyond that,” said Grimm. “The goal of the North Hills group is to preserve barbershop music in the area.”

North Hills Harmony Line Chorus has 33 members ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-90s, according to Tom Beecher, treasurer of the nonprofit group.

The nonprofit is a chapter of the worldwide Barbershop Harmony Society and is also part of the Johnny Appleseed District, which covers mostly Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, said Grimm, of Jefferson Hills, who just joined two years ago.

They are one of five chapters in the Pittsburgh area, he said.

The nonprofit sings a variety of songs, with popular ones from the 1950s to ’60s like “Barbara Ann” and “Moon River,” or basically, songs that can be adapted into a barbershop format. They also sing songs from the Beatles and Beach Boys, or John Denver.

There are four voices in barbershop: leads, basses, baritones and tenors, the last of which are the most difficult to find, said Grimm, who sings lead.

The group performs year round, often at senior citizen, retirement or assisted living centers. They also do festivals, such as the All Saints Church Festival last week in Etna, or anywhere else they are invited, said Beecher.

Their biggest fundraiser for the group is an annual spring cabaret, with this past year’s at St. Catherine of Sweden in Hampton Township. Next year, they are planning for a Western theme, said Grimm.

Their annual performance benefits the North Hills Community Outreach, which is happening on Sept. 8 this year, said Beecher. The theme is “Like a bridge over troubled water” and will be held at 2 p.m. at the St. John’s Lutheran Church of Highland, 311 Cumberland Road.

Admission to the concert is a free-will financial donation to support NHCO’s multiple programs, or nonperishable food for NHCO’s three food pantries

This is also a good way to see what the singing is all about, said Beecher.

Potential members, experienced or not, need not be apprehensive about joining, he said. They are under the guidance of Harrison King III, whom they hired as director three years ago. Since he began, Beecher said the group has doubled in size and increased the quality of singing.

Frank Rodenbaugh, who lives in Shaler, is a member and has been singing with the chorus for 18 years. He sings tenor with both the chorus and one of the quartets that are within the group.

“It is very challenging for me to learn songs since I really never learned to read music. We have ‘learning CDs’ which play our individual parts to learn. It is also a challenge to sing with three other parts that are different than yours, but very rewarding when the chords seem to lock and ring. I wish I had not waited till I was in my 50s to find this great hobby,” said Rodenbaugh.

Most members are from Shaler, Hampton, Ross and McCandless, with a few who travel from Mars, Saxonburg, Monroeville, and South Hills, he said.

Growth is also a focus, especially among the youth, said Beecher, who lives in Hampton.

“For the last five years, we have tried to foster barbershop music to our youth in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Beecher, 71. “Like other nonprofits, we are older, grayer and smaller.”

Beecher said they continue to reach out to local schools and other groups to spread the news about barbershop singing.

One local arts director is trying to make Pittsburgh the hub for a cappella and barbershop singing, especially for youth.

Ryan Perrotte, who owns In Tune with the Arts on Route 8 in Gibsonia, is focused on the art.

He just held an a cappella day camp “Harmonix and Beatz” geared for young singers at his studio, where nationally known a cappella groups Duwende and GQ work with the campers, who could range in age from middle school to adults.

Perrotte is also a Pennsylvania State Representative for The A Cappella Education Association.

“My whole goal is to bring a cappella singing to Pittsburgh,” said Perrotte. “There’s not very much of it anywhere in this area.”

Perrotte said there will also be a barbershop a cappella showcase at the Youth Harmony Festival on July 26 at Ross Elementary School in the north hills where North Hills Line Harmony Chorus and other groups will perform. The festival is geared to those 12 to 18. Donation is $10 at the door, said Beecher.

There are all-female groups such as the Sweet Adelines. But just last week, the national Barbershop Harmony Society changed the by-laws to allow groups to open up their membership to females, said Beecher.

The North Hills Harmony Line Chorus rehearses every Wednesday at St. John’s Lutheran from 7 to 9:30 p.m. if anyone wants to see them. They can be hired as a chorus or one of their quartets. For details, call 412-874-8991 or visit www.harmonize.com.

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