One comment we at The Westchester Chordsmen often hear is, “Your chorus is the best kept secret in Westchester.” Whether it comes from our newest candidate for membership or from someone in the audience who has recently discovered our charms, it’s a secret we want to share with more of you.
Our repertoire extends beyond our barbershop roots to Broadway, doo-wop, gospel and contemporary songs in four-part a cappella arrangements, and our members come from the tristate area. One of the particular joys of being a Westchester Chordsman is the year-round relationship we develop with great songs. We have explored the soaring melodies of Richard Rodgers, the hypnotizing rhythms of George Gershwin and the intoxicating harmonies of The Beatles.
Our travels have taken us from the White House to China’s Great Wall. We’ve sung before audiences in England, Russia and Italy. One of our chapter quartets has appeared multiple times on “Late Night with David Letterman” to sing his Top Ten List. We have helped Charles Osgood salute the Easter holiday and entertained the ladies of “The View.” Last year, we brought our act to Carnegie Hall where both our opening number, “Strike Up the Band,” and our closing number, “New York, New York,” brought audience members to their feet.
We were thrilled to open the show at the International Competition in Toronto in that same year and are currently preparing our contest package for the 2015 division competition. A package consists of two songs, usually an up-tune and a ballad. Since our annual show this year explores the wonderful world of Disney music, we will be bringing two Disney songs to the contest. For those unfamiliar with barbershop, it should be pointed out that we don’t just sing. There is a whole lot of dancing that goes into our routines.
In addition to our annual shows, we strive to reach out into the community through singing valentines, holiday concerts at senior care facilities and by promoting a cappella singing in Westchester County schools. This year, we partnered with The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry to produce our first a cappella festival. It was a huge success with more than 80 students taking part. Participants from Rye Neck, Pleasantville, Bronxville and Horace Greeley high schools and The Masters School displayed an array of talent and good will, with each group cheering on the others as they took to the stage. Members of our chorus will never forget the reception these kids gave us for our set. They leapt to their feet after every song. All the groups were brought back on stage for the finale, “There is Love Wherever There is Song,” written by our own Stephen Delehanty. The song was commissioned by the National Harmony Society to mark the organization’s 75th anniversary. It has become an anthem for our a cappella festival. Plans are being made now for our next festival.
To look at our director, Keith Harris, it’s hard to imagine that this young man has accumulated so many years of experience in the worlds of opera and barbershop. He holds a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in the world premiere of David N. Childs’ “Requiem.” His Metropolitan Opera debut was in Verdi’s “Don Carlo.” Recently, he joined the cast at the New York City Opera as Belcore in “L’elisir d’amore.” Despite an active career at home and abroad, Keith has managed to find time to bring his expertise to The Westchester Chordsmen. Under Keith’s guidance, the chorus continues to grow and the journey from technique to art remains an exciting, life-changing one.
John Fotia is president of The Westchester Chordsmen, a 501(C)3 nonprofit performing arts group, chartered in 1952. Their mission is to spread the joy and fun of singing around the community, the country and the world. Rehearsals are held every Monday night at the Temple Kol Ami in White Plains. For more information, visit chordsmen.org.