Cranberry group reviving interest in barbershop quartets
It was an idyllic summer day.
The Greater Cranberry Men's Chorus had just performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of thousands of baseball fans at PNC Park.
“I looked up and saw the Pirate Parrot making a beeline for me,” said director Susan Sams, recalling that afternoon in July 2009.
The oversize bird pulled her into his beak.
“Now,” he said, breaking the mascot code of silence, “that's the way that song should be sung!”
Chorus members, also known as Bogmeisters, pride themselves on their ability to belt out the national anthem in a four-part a cappella harmony.
Since the barbershop group's inception in 2007, it has delivered the patriotic salute at sporting events, festivals and private functions throughout the region. Its repertoire also includes hundreds of hymns, show tunes and modern-day hits.
“You get this ‘wow' feeling by creating harmony without musical accompaniment,” said Glenn Schilberg of Franklin Park.
Even after 16 years as a barbershopper, the sound of voices melding gives him goose bumps.
Most of the Bogmeisters' two dozen members had little or no experience with the All-American art form when they joined.
The group welcomes novices to its weekly rehearsals held at Mars Alliance Church. Once a new recruit finds his voice — tenor, lead, baritone or bass — the Bogmeisters can provide him with training CDs that he can listen to at home.
“If you can carry a tune without using a forklift, we can work with you,” said Sams, who, after a stint as a member of the all-female Sweet Adelines International, has been directing male barbershop singers for 15 years.
She married Bogmeisters President Jim Sams 16 months ago.
Barbershoppers are hopeless romantics.
Each February, the chorus's two quartets — The Four Friends and Those Guys — deliver singing valentines. The $50 fee includes a balloon, a card, a commemorative photograph and two songs that are guaranteed to melt any heart.
During the Christmas season, Bogmeisters spend an entire day singing at nursing homes throughout Butler County.
Last year's Tour de Butler included 14 stops and hundreds of uplifted residents.
The ability to spread joy is what drew Jim Knapick to barbershop music.
The Saxonburg resident is a straitlaced engineer by day, but he's all smiles when singing baritone with his buddies.
“It's all about fun,” he said, a grin spreading across his face.
The Bogmeisters range in age from 53 to 87, but the national organization, the Barbershop Harmony Society, is seeing an upswing in the number of 19- to 24- year-old members.
While attending the 76th annual International Barbershop Singing Convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, Schilberg said, he was glad to see an infusion of youth into the old-fashioned act.
The Musical Island Boys, a quartet from New Zealand, won first-place in the weeklong competition, which Pittsburgh will host next year. The Kiwis — who all are under the age of 30 — formed the group in 2002.
During an open house on July 14 at Adams Ridge Clubhouse in Adams, the Bogmeisters welcomed two aspiring barbershoppers.
Turner Queen and Evan Strain, both 17-year-old juniors at Upper St. Clair High School, attended the event to get advice from the veteran entertainers.
Last year, after hearing a friend sing a cappella, the boys decided to form their own quartet with classmates Ben Nadler and Jacob Ross.
The NBC talent show “The Sing-Off,” which just wrapped up its fourth season, also stirred their interest.
The as-yet-unnamed quartet already has a collection of songs, from classics such as “Coney Island Baby” to Billy Joel's 1983 hit “The Longest Time.”
“I'm amazed and inspired by the harmonies of barbershop,” Queen said.
The Bogmeisters sponsor scholarships for young barbershoppers, both male and female.
Ken Rieger of Valencia encouraged Queen and Strain to attend the Pittsburgh Youth Harmony Festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 4 at Glade Run Presbyterian Church in Middlesex.
The free event gives participants age 13 and older a chance to learn a cappella by certified barbershop clinicians.
A Bogmeister since 2011, Rieger has only one regret … not starting sooner.
The Greater Cranberry Men's Chorus meets every Monday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Mars Alliance Church, 997 Route 228 in Mars. The July 28 practice will be held at a member's home. For more information, visit www.bogmeisters.com.
Kristy Locklin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.