First Coast people are passionate about many things – and some are passionate about singing. For some, it’s a cappella singing – barbershop style – without accompanying instruments.
Those singers have wonderful opportunities to practice their hobby because the Jacksonville area is home to international award winning male and female choruses, which always welcome new members.
The singers say they also love the social aspects of their passion – that it’s as important as the music. Weekly practices are opportunities to get together with like-minded friends while having fun belting out catchy tunes.
But whether they are practicing or performing, they love to sing in harmony – and do so with zest.
Here are profiles of three area barbershop style choruses – two male and one female.
THE BIG ORANGE CHORUS
The Jacksonville chapter of the international Barbershop Harmony Society, the Big Orange Chorus currently has about 90 members who meet for weekly rehearsals on Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran Church on Southside Boulevard.
The award-winning male chorus is directed by Tony DeRosa, a Disney World music director, who drives in for rehearsals every week from his home in Orlando.
The chorus performs every December at the University of North Florida and other venues around town, as well as regional and international competitions throughout the year. They also present a large spring show and sing in quartets for special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day.
President Dave Medvidofsky sang in high school, and thought singing was behind him until he moved to Florida eight years ago. He saw a sign saying “male singers wanted,” and joined, immediately falling in love with specialized a cappella barbershop singing.
Barbershop singing features four voice parts: tenor, lead, baritone and bass and when new members audition they are placed in the group that best matches their vocal strengths.
Members range in age from 8 to 80, and come from all walks of life, Medvidofsky said. About half of the group, at any one time, make it to practices and competitions due to their busy lives. But they can also practice songs on their own with practice CDs.
The barbershop genre became popular in the United States when men started singing together for fun in barbershops, said member Frank Nosalek. Sometimes the barber himself would be part of the group.
It is precision singing, baritone Howdy Russell said. “The pitch has to be just right,” and when all the voices converge just right, “it’s one of those magical moments.”
Executive vice president Bill Vockell, a 25-year member, said he knows people from all over the world because of his hobby. “I like the sound, and I like the fellowship,” he said.
• The Big Orange Chorus was named because it was founded in Orange Park, and one of the founders was a Gator fan. To join, or book them for a show, call 904-355-7464.
JACKSONVILLE HARMONY CHORUS
The Jacksonville chapter of Sweet Adelines International, the Jacksonville Harmony Chorus recently took second place as the best mid-size chorus in the world at the Sweet Adelines International convention in Honolulu.
The 60-member chorus, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, has won many major awards through the years. Longtime member Julie Reeve gives much of the credit to director Ann Gooch, who has led them for 35 years.
“Because she’s so sharp with us,” Reeve said, “we’re hot.”
The chorus practices every Tuesday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church. In accordance with barbershop style, the women are also divided into the four voice parts of tenor, lead, baritone and bass. The leads sing the melody and the other voices harmonize above and below.
They perform around town, at malls and nursing homes. They also sing Valentines in quartets.
Like male barbershop singers, they sing popular Broadway show and patriotic songs that lend well to harmonizing.
Members range in age from 25 to 80 and are not required to have any singing experience at all when they join, Gooch said. “We train them,” she said. “Our mission is education. We do a lot of vocal training and performance training like how to move on stage.”
Singing is good for you physically, Gooch said. “But in addition, it gives women a chance to do something together.”
Member Emily Michael enjoys the chorus so much that she blogs about her experiences. She joined in high school, left for six years to pursue her education, then recently returned.
“I missed it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful community spirit.”
Singing is a type of “stress relief therapy,” she said. “When you don’t have it, you miss it.”
• The Jacksonville Harmony Chorus is always looking for new members. If you don’t know how to sing, they will teach you. For more information, visit their website at jaxharmony.com or email email@example.com.
SONS OF THE BEACHES
When a group of guys from Ponte Vedra Beach decided to form a small barbershop style chorus 14 years ago, they named themselves Sons of the Beaches.
Their name reflects their sense of humor, but they take their singing seriously and love to perform around the community.
The 11-member chorus meets to practice every Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at Sawgrass Country Club clubhouse and they put on two big shows a year there in December and in the spring. They also perform at assisted living communities and parties – wherever they are invited.
“Our group is a bunch of men who enjoy barbershop harmony and we have the opportunity to do that in this area,” member Jack Billingsley said. “We enjoy performing for others so they can enjoy the harmony we so enjoy.”
“We also like keeping the old songs alive,” he said.
Some of their songs include old time classics like “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Under the Boardwalk” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
They’ve also sung the national anthem before Jacksonville Suns baseball games and before local golf tournaments.
Their theme song – which they sing at every show performance – is “Coney Island Baby.”
As with other barbershop groups, they use a pitch pipe to key the starting note and the rest is vocal memorization and lots of practice.
The group is an outgrowth of another community chorus, the Sawgrass Singers, which includes men and women.
Some of the Sons of the Beaches also sing with the Jacksonville Symphony, perform in community musicals and in area churches.
• The Sons of the Beaches are available to be booked for performances.
• Call Wendell Miller at 904-273-6197.