Barbershop ‘chorus’ honours 70th anniversary of D-Day

SOUTH SURREY — Think barbershop quartet and a rather specific image likely springs to mind. Four dudes, all quite jaunty, and all likely sporting gargantuan handlebar moustaches, wide-brimmed boater hats, and bow ties.

And when they sing, it’s all about the harmonies. The gorgeous, complementary sounds of "barbershop," a style of harmonizing originating more than a hundred years ago where the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone essentially fills out the chord.

But what if you didn’t have four people? What if you had a dozen? Or several dozen?

Then you’d merely drop the "quartet" part of the equation and replace is with "chorus."

Truth is that a quartet is just one way – the minimalist way – of translating the barbershop style. A full-on chorus, as was evident last Saturday afternoon at South Surrey’s St Marks Anglican Parish, is far grander, far more dramatic.

Chorus member Danny Tryon, dressed appropriately, setting up a mic. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

On stage that day was one of the most competent practitioners of barbershop and a cappella in the province – the Langley-based First Capital Chorus. They’d come to St Marks, as they often do at this time of year, to commemorate both Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of D-Day with a celebration of wartime music called the 2014 Remembrance & Variety Show.

As is typically the case with this troupe, the performance was technically spot-on and fast-paced. And it was filled, as the name suggests, with variety. There were soloists, with and without instrumental accompaniment. There was the wall-of-sound Chorus of course, in all its 35-singer glory, and there were breakout quartets too.

And there was a special appearance by Vancouver’s vaunted Company B Jazz Band that captivated the audience not only with its Andrew Sisters boogie-woogie mimicry but also its WWII-era costumes. Even noted stand-up bassist Jen Hodge made the scene, supplying low-end drive to the Company B performance.

The place was absolutely packed and standing ovations were not uncommon.

A show of this magnitude is nothing new to the First Capital Chorus. So named because Ft Langley was BC’s first capital, the Chorus is a veteran bunch of serious vocalists, some with roots nearly a half century deep.

First Capital Chorus in the full swing of things. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

"The Barbershop Harmony Society (a worldwide umbrella organization for barbershop singing) was founded in 1938," explains Chorus president and designated media answer guy Gord Harris. "By the 1950s there were various choruses in Canada, and we were granted our charter (having proved a membership of 25) in 1970."

"Many of our first founding members were ex-RCMP. A banker was our first director. I joined in 1975."

In the years since, membership has ebbed and flowed – reaching a high of 70 in the early 00’s. It currently sits at 42 and Harris is quick to point out that new recruits are welcome. "We’re always looking for men of good character and good voice. As long as they can hold a tune and perform in front of an audience, and if they’re good people, we’re interested."

The Chorus has been doing the Remembrance Day show for twenty some-odd years, including appearances at the Bell Centre and other churches in the Langley region. Recently though, St Marks "has become our home. The church has been so good to us, hardly charging us anything to use it."

There are other factors too. Peninsula demographics play a role, as do the many Chorus members who live nearby. The key Church/Chorus conduit, however, is a fellow by the name of Denny O’Donovan.

The crowd at South Surrey’s St Marks Anglican Parish appreciates the performance from Langley-based First Capital Chorus which performed D-Day wartime music in the 2014 Remembrance & Variety Show. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

Chorus member Danny Tryon, dressed appropriately, setting up a mic.

O’Donovan, who rattled off a splendid solo of Danny Boy during Saturday’s show, belongs to both organizations and has successfully played the role of matchmaker the last five years running.

Remembrance Day is just part of a Chorus schedule that includes various one-offs and an annual Christmas presentation benefiting the Langley Christmas Bureau. Indeed, says Harris, they’ve has raised a stunning $100,000-plus for the Bureau over the past 20 years.

One thing is sure – these guys and gals aren’t in it for the money. "We don’t get paid a penny," says Harris. "We do it for the love of singing and barbershop four-part harmony." And, clearly, for worthy local charities.

This year’s Christmas show takes place December 13th at 7PM at the Willoughby Christian Reformed Church in Langley. Anyone interested in tickets – or to potentially audition for the Chorus – is encouraged to call 604-530-4795 for more information.

Gord Goble is a freelance writer and photographer.

Photo Gallery via Gord Goble