In close harmony

Once you get into barbershop you can't stop singing An-O-Chord members say.

  • Saturday, July 22, 2000 10:00am
  • News

“Barbershop singing has a very special sound. Male voices blend in tight four-part harmony, creating rich chords, without the aid of any accompaniment. And when the singers hit the notes just right, says Tony Steadman, president of the An-O-Chords Barbershop Chorus, something unexpected happens. The chords ring. You can hear almost a fifth part, he says.That moment of musical magic is one of the elements that keeps barbershop singers – and their audiences – coming back for more. A lot more.The An-O-Chords, a group of Oak Harbor, Anacortes and Skagit Valley singers directed by John Gates, have been making that special brand of music for 55 years. They’ll make some more next Friday and Saturday when they put on their annual extravaganza of a show, Just Clowning Around, in Anacortes. A matinee preview is set for today at 2 p.m. in Mount Vernon. This is their big show, but the popular group gave 29 performances last year, at community and private events, both as a chorus and in quartets.They sing for the annual Christmas tree lighting at Leavenworth. They sing to raise money for good causes, like the Babyland Memorial, Habitat for Humanity and the Toddler Learning Center in Oak Harbor. They sing in support of high school music programs around the region. They sing for weddings. And they sing for the fun of it. Steadman joined the chorus almost three years ago – fitting it into a schedule already crowded with jobs, including presidency of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce – because, he says: I always wanted to sing.He hadn’t tried it, but he thought he had a voice. So when a friend invited him to an An-O-Chords rehearsal, it was love at first note. I just loved it, he says. A lot of us are guys who just wanted to sing.Mike Fankhauser, who retired as principal of the Oak Harbor Middle School 10 years ago, is another member of the An-O-Chords who hadn’t done any singing before he joined the chorus. That was two-and-a-half years ago. Now I’ve even joined a quartet, he said. It’s a new one, called Point of View. We went though about 500 names before we found one that finally felt good, he said. This one fit because we enjoy the fellowship and we enjoy singing for other people and that might be called our point of view.Most people think of a few old favorite songs when they think of barbershop singing, and there is a core group of traditional songs, said Charlie Ryder of Oak Harbor. There are 12 songs that are called the polecat, and everyone knows those songs, so they can all step in and sing them anytime.Why polecat? Ryder doesn’t know – maybe something to do with a barber pole, he guessed. But the songs date back to the beginnings of barbershop in the 1920s, and the list includes such standards as My Wild Irish Rose, Sweet Adeline, That Old Gang of Mine, and Wait Till the Sunshines, Nellie.Barbershop is a truly American art form, Ryder said, one that originated with men sitting around the woodshed in the evening, singing and harmonizing, and grew from there. Almost any song can be arranged for barbershop. The An-O-Chords are now singing the old Beatles song, When I’m 64, in a four-part arrangement, said Maynard Bos of Oak Harbor, as well as a hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, written in 1876, and anything by the Mills Brothers. Then there are the love songs – Barbershop is a lot of love songs, he said. But you can take just about any song and arrange it for barbershop.I haven’t found one I didn’t like, Fankhauser said. Traditional, religious, patriotic, river songs, circus – barbershop can cover anything. New songs and new arrangements are always coming out.Charlie Boon says he never gets tired of singing barbershop. Music runs deep in his Oak Harbor family, and members of the family have belonged to the An-O-Chords since 1970, including brothers Dave, Stan and Les, and their late father, Martin Boon.We like the men’s harmony, and the fullness of that, Boon said. It’s something different when men sing together. The overtones and undertones are different.And there is always something to learn, he said. Every level of understanding only leads you to a new level of ignorance. There’s always a new level to go to. … It’s a constant progression, he said. And when you get something new, when you are able to lock a chord a certain way, that’s exciting and you want to do it again. Bos, who has been an An-O-Chord for 13 years, agrees. I enjoy ringing the chords. When all four members are in tune, and they hit it just right, it’ll ring. And once they get singing, it’s hard to get them stopped, Ryder said. After practice, we go and sing for fun. At Village Pizza in Anacortes, we’re allowed to go in on Thursday night and disturb the patrons, singing as long as we want.The close camaraderie that results is as important to the An-O-Chords as the close harmony.It reminds me of an overgrown fraternity at times, Ryder said. There’s a lot of fun and friendship. … When I had bypass surgery, they were coming out of the woodwork, coming over to the house to reassure me … Members range from doctors and surgeons to blue-collar workers, said Bos, a retired civil servant. But we all get along so well, because of our love of singing.One of the things at the top of the An-O-Chords wish list is more young members. The average age of the men in the chorus is 50 – although there is one junior high school student among them, Cameron Wieldraayer, an Oak Harbor ninth grader.We’re always looking for more, Ryder said. That’s why we have outreach programs for local high schools. We think that if we just promote music in general, maybe down the line the kids will get to barbershop. From a musician’s standpoint, it’s interesting because of the harmony.And, once the barbershop bug bites, the thrill does tend to linger on. ————————–The An-O-Chords Barbershop Chorus will present its annual extravaganza on Friday and Saturday, July 28 and 29, at 7 p.m. in Brodniak Hall, Anacortes. A special matinee is set for today, July 22, at 2 p.m. in the Salem Lutheran Church, Mount Vernon. This year’s show is Just Clowning Around, a musical program with a circus theme. Two top quartets, New Seattle Sound and the Florida quartet, Jukebox, will be featured, along with members of Oak Harbor’s Island Clowns and Charlie the juggling clown. New Seattle Sound and the Island Chordsmen from Friday Harbor will sing at today’s matinee. Tickets: $10; $12; and $15.The big weekend winds up with a big salmon barbecue, where novice quartets will sing, on Sunday, July 30, at Sunset Beach, Anacortes. Tickets: $8 a plate.Call (800) 392-3957 for tickets and information.”

More in News

Oak Harbor councilman ‘embarrassed’ about city permit snafu

A youth sailing club has had trouble constructing a storage shed.

Park board discusses pool maintenance projects

Improvements for the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool came up at a recent meeting.

Recent rain lowers county’s fire danger

Recreational fires are now permitted.

Suit accuses Oak Harbor mayor, city administrator of unethical conduct

The public works director and a former city engineer have filed a lawsuit against city leaders.

WhidbeyHealth says employee tested positive for COVID-19

All elective surgeries have been postponed until Oct. 7.

Van fire damages nearby car, apartments

The van fire is considered suspicious, police say.

Couple on the run as boat floats away

The boat was left floating in Penn Cove, but ran aground last week.

Oak Harbor Police investigating faux bomb

Police are investigating the faux bomb as a criminal case.

Most Read