Local barbershop choir gets you moving and grooving

The Harbormen Chorus, the North Brookhaven chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, will sing its full-voiced harmonies at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Library on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. Admission is free.

This nonprofit group — 36 men who sing at nursing homes, Honor Flight returns at Islip Airport, memorial services and private events — will provide a rousing shot in the arm before the holidays.

Chorus director Rob Ozman, a North Fork music teacher who lives in East Moriches, provided a peek at the program.

“We’ll start out with the older barbershop arrangements, then we do a set of doo wop from the 1950s like ‘In the Still of the Night,’ then progress to the 1960s with ‘Hello, Mary Lou’; ‘When I’m 64’; ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’; and then a current rendition, ‘All About That Bass.”’ 

Don’t know Meghan Trainor’s hit? Come see The Harbormen; they’ll get you grooving.

But what exactly is barbershop singing? 

Paul Miklean, an insurance consultant who lives in Stony Brook and the group’s marketing/public relations contact, described the method it uses for four-part harmony a cappella. No instruments except a tuning pitch; just voices.

 “Take ‘Country Roads’; it’s written in B-flat,” Miklean explained of the mega-hit John Denver song. “Four-part harmony means that each person is singing a different part or chord: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. There’s a lead, what John Denver sang; then you have the bass, below the lead; then the tenor, above the lead. And the fourth part is the baritone, which I sing. You’re all complimenting the lead. Each person needs to learn their part but also know how it fits in with the other three so that it blends and comes out correct and sounding good. We’d do CDs with our part and listen to MP3s to learn it on our own.”

There are three official quartets under the chorus: The Algorithms (two members are physicists, the newest quartet), Antiquity and Harmonic Tides.

St. Charles Hospital’s Good Shepherd Hospice Center in Port Jefferson is The Harbormen’s service project. “We donate a percentage of what we make to the hospice and sing at their Celebration of Life memorial services,” Ozman said.

That must be a heart-thumper.

“The first time I did that, I didn’t realize how overwhelming it would be,” he said, thoughtfully. “People come up and talk about the deceased, and you think about your life and how good you have it. The guests applaud. I think we should be applauding for them.” 

It had an impact on new member and Bellport Village resident Bob Morris. 

 “At my first performance with The Harbormen, we sang a hymn called ‘All Is Well With My Soul’ and ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth,’ and the mourners were so moved they couldn’t stop thanking us,” he said. “Singing does something for the emotions that words alone can’t do.”

As far as other reactions at performances, Ozman said it’s always positive. “People smile; a lot of them sing along, especially when you go to the nursing homes,” he said. “Sometimes you get a really surprised reaction like, ‘How can you make that kind of music without instruments?’” 

The Harbormen will perform at private jobs like birthdays and on Valentine’s Day.

Barbershop choruses and quartets are typically men; Sweet Adelines are the women’s version. Versions of barbershop quartets have been around for a long time, including African American groups from the late 19th century. 

The Harbormen practice every Monday for an hour and a half at the Unitarian Church in Stony Brook on Nicolls Road, starting at 7:30 p.m. It’s a congenial, varied mix of men who just want to sing. Membership vice president Fred Richards, for example, performs in musical theater, but there are also doctors, physicists, teachers, businessmen, retirees and even writers like Morris, who pointed out, “Singing together brings you out of yourself and into a collaborative communal mode.”

Ozman said The Harbormen are always looking for new members. 

“If you can carry a tune, we’ll teach you the rest,” he said.

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