Music Memo | Mark Johnson
My first quartet performance
For many years, I have been friends with Chuck Williamson, who is an avid barbershop singer with the Indianhead Chorus. I’ve heard the chorus perform in concert each year, and I was very impressed. I sing in my church choir, and I love to sing in the car, in the shower, at work – wherever I thought that I was alone. My wife and I have been married many years, and I know she loves me, but whenever I started to sing, she would sheepishly excuse herself and go shopping. So, I missed my opportunity to be an opera singer. And I thought, well, it is about time to join Chuck and his crazy bunch, as I’ve never seen anyone leave a concert and go “shopping” while they were performing.
Looking back, it has been more than a year since I signed up. I kicked myself many times, with no success, for not joining this crazy bunch earlier. What great fun I am having! I sing lead, which is the easiest part. The other three parts are baritone, bass and tenor. Each part sounds terrible when you hear it separately. But together, with four parts in sync, heaven weeps.
So, I was singing my lead part away till last Valentine’s Day and then my life made a drastic change. As a fundraising event, we would have our quartets going out to different areas to perform. The First Choice quartet was to perform in the Amery area and others would perform in St. Croix Falls, Rice Lake and the Frederic area. Guess what, the bass singer of First Choice, Jon Buss, was to go on his vacation in Mexico. Since the show must go on, they said, “Mark, can you help out?” The other three guys were all looking at me. No, they weren’t “looking” or “asking,” they were demanding I fill Jon’s spot, or else.
Thank goodness we only had to sing two songs, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Heart of My Heart,” which I knew quite well, as they are the polecat songs – the basic barbershop songs you have to learn before you can become a member. No problem, I said. It was hard to sing Jon’s part, which is bass, when I used to sing lead. Then Chuck threw a wrench to the already muddy waters. “Why don’t we learn our new version of ‘Happy Birthday,’ just in case?” Trusting him as my buddy, I did. Glad I did, but what a nightmare!
So, myself and three other brothers – Neil, Chuck and Steve – were all decked out in our performing tuxedos and we followed our assignments. I don’t think downtown Amery was ready for us. Everyone stopped or slowed down to take a look at us. How often do you see four big guys dressed to a T in downtown Amery?
It was lunchtime and we decided to have a bite to eat at the Family Restaurant. As soon as we got seated Neil, who knows everyone in Amery, saw a friend who was also having lunch and went over to say hi.
After finding out it was her birthday, we all chimed in and sang her our new practiced birthday song. As we were done with our lunch and walking out, the birthday lady grabbed our hands and told us she was going through a tough time and our song lifted her spirits. Then we got two new valentine orders that folks wanted us to sing to their loved ones.
We visited different nursing homes and memory care centers afterward. It was then that I realized just how music touches the hearts of people. We sang to Chuck’s mom, who passed away two weeks later. She was holding her son’s hands with tears in her eyes. We all sang, but words did not come out.
In a memory care center, as soon as one of the residents saw us, he said, “Holy smokes, you guys are not my pallbearers, are you?” Well, at least let me finish my lunch.” Everyone laughed. I did too. But I looked away as I didn’t want anyone to see the tears in my eyes.
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