Elgin barbershop group opened to women. Now can it get younger members?
How do you attract younger singers to a barbershop group whose members are mostly in their 60s and 70s and sing tunes dating back to the early 1900s? Not easily, say the members of the Fox Valley Harmonizers, the Elgin chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
"We haven't over the years done real well with that," said member Keith Rosborough, 77, of Batavia. "We've been to churches, but people who sing in choirs are not looking to join something else. And the young people aren't interested. I don't really know why, except that they have so many things they are doing these days. They are so busy in sports, so busy with their media, their cellphones ..."
The Elgin group began accepting female singers and changed its name from "Fox Valley Men of Harmony" within the last year. The move came after the parent society changed its rules to allow each chapter's members to decide if they wanted to open to women.
In Elgin, it was pretty much a no-brainer, said Carl Missele, 84, of Elgin, who's been a member for 62 years.
"Everybody was like, 'OK, let's go for it,'" Missele said.
Rebecca Jaxon, 63, of St. Charles, one of three women among the 16 singers, joined the group after being invited by her neighbor, a member.
"If you had the meta picture, it was like I was being some kind of pioneer, but I really wasn't, because it was just fun singing to me," Jaxon said. "These were all nice guys. They were very welcoming."
But welcoming women hasn't been enough to grow the Elgin group, whose first show in 1947 sold 1,300 tickets. At its highest point in the 1970s, there were up to 70 singers.
Missele and Rosborough said they are spreading the word about the group. To join, all you have to do is carry a tune. There is no need for formal music education, and new members can use "learning tracks" created by Missele to learn songs by listening to recordings of their separate parts.
What's unique about barbershop singing is the focus on chords, Jaxon said.
Singers "hit chords throughout each song, and sometimes those chords get held so they can be heard in all their richness. That's unique. It really helps develop your ear."
Some of the group's favorites are "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," originally from 1905, and "Give My Regards to Broadway" from 1904; both songs were recorded again over the decades. More "modern" favorites include "Hello Mary Lou," first recorded in 1960.
As for adding contemporary songs to the repertoire, "We have talked about it, but we haven't done it yet," Missele said.
So why should people join? "It's been said you can't be unhappy when you're singing," Rosborough said. "You get there and forget everything else that's going on."
New members can attend for free for a few weeks before joining. For people under 25, membership is $152 the first year and $214 after; otherwise it's $224 the first year and $214 after. Members over 70 get discounts. The money helps pay for a music director, practice space rental and more.
The Fox Valley Harmonizers' winter concert "Christmas Harmonies for Family and Friends" is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Epworth United Methodist Church, 37W040 Highland Ave. in Elgin. The concert also will feature the Golden Lights Singers, a female barbershop group, and Act of Grace, a Christian folk ensemble. Admission is free.
The Elgin group also sings at nursing homes and funerals and will sing during the Dec. 23 dinner for the homeless offered by First United Methodist Church in Elgin. The group practices Monday nights at Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Dundee. For more information visit fvmoh.byethost15.com, the Facebook page at facebook.com/FVharmonizers, or email email@example.com.