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Barbershop group stays tuned with sweet harmonies

Despite its recent growth, Claremont has always been known for its small town feel, and what is more appropriate to a small town than a local barbershop group.

The Inland Empire Harmony Carousel Chorus, an all-male barbershop group open to those throughout Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, has been keeping it quaint since 1952. With ongoing regional performances, like their recent stop at Hillcrest Retirement Community in La Verne, the crooners continue to doo-wop their way into the hearts of local old-time music lovers.

While barbershop often conjures up the image of pinstripes and boater hats, the men of the carousel chorus are adding their own spin to the traditional barbershop style.

“You think of barbershop and you think of 4 old guys singing ‘Sweet Adeline’ with straw hats, which we do, but we’re more well-rounded than that,” joked the ensemble’s president, Tom Duval.

A recent international barbershop competition sponsored by the group’s host organization, the Barbershop Harmony Society, helps illustrate his point. Earlier this month thousands of the organization’s 27,000 acapella singers gathered in Toronto, Canada for the yearly sing-off. The first place winning organization, the Toronto Northern Lights, ditched the old-timey garb for vegetable suits to perform their rendition of “Age of Asparagus” and other produce parodies.

While vegetable attire has yet to grace the Inland Empire chorus’s costume rack, contemporary tunes have found their way onto the musical lineup, with favorites like Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and a number of hits by The Beach Boys. While switching up their serenade with more recent ditties, they still love to sing the classics like Hello Mary Lou and Lida Rose, to name a couple.

The classic melodies harken back to the beginnings of barbershop, so named for the social gatherings men would have at local salons. As history has it, the men would sing and harmonize while waiting their turn in line, giving birth to the melodies that carry on today. While their meetings might not take place at a salon, the carousel chorus is happy to continue in the tradition of music and fellowship.

“Everyone is warm and inviting, and in my 2-and-a-half years with the group it hasn’t changed,” shared chorus member David Rivas. “We’re political but don’t speak politics. We are religious but don’t promote religion. We are just there to sing.”

When not striking up a tune themselves, they are happy to teach others the tricks of the trade. Training is not a requirement, and in fact Mr. Rivas admitted that he had never received formal training. He stumbled into barbershop as an adult, and now says he’s hooked. In fact, he likes it so much he has expanded his choral involvement to not one, but 3 barbershop groups. While the schedule may spread him thin, it hasn’t kept him from giving up his post-performance leisure time with fellow chorus members. While concerts traditionally run one to 2 hours, the men often stick around for a meal or a drink, often leading to an impromptu encore performance.

Joining in on the impromptu concerts is Claremont resident Tom Scali, who joined the group last January. Though new to the Carousel Chorus, Mr. Scali is no barbershop beginner. The chorus is allowing him the opportunity to put decades worth of barbershop singing to good use again, though he speaks from experience when he says it doesn’t take years of practice to fall into step with the carousel chorus.

“Almost anyone can join,” he admitted. “If you enjoy music and enjoy singing, it’s for you.”

Mr. Duval, a former stand-up comedian, didn’t have much musical training, but found barbershop to be right up his alley.

“I thought it was going to be corny and I fell in love,” he said of his first meeting. “There’s just something about the harmony that gets you every time.”

He invites others to join in the experience. The Inland Empire Harmony Carousel Chorus meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Visitors and new members are welcome. For more on the Carousel Chorus, visit www.welovetosing.com or check them out on Facebook.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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