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Quartet gives community talent, time

Bass. Baritone. Tenor. Lead. They pepper the air with sweet, blended harmony, singing old-timey music, doo-wop, maybe even a few rock ’n’ roll classics. They sing because they love to put a smile on their listeners’ faces.

The quartet named Men ’n a Chord, consisting of Larry Ahlman singing bass, Jim Bilbro, singing baritone, Mike Hall, singing tenor and Bartow Houston, singing lead, has been making music together for the past nine years. The group’s been known to randomly break into song when out and about together, adding instant entertainment to wherever it happens to be. The habit is indicative of the nature of the group’s members: they do it for love, and rarely for money.

It means the Men ’n a Chord can be found wandering the halls of local nursing homes, singing a few songs in an open doorway, walking further down the hall, singing a few more, to an appreciative audience. The crooners sing when they’re called upon to sing, at baseball games at East Carolina University and (in the past) the Kinston Indians, at civic events like a recent 300-year anniversary celebration for Beaufort County.

“We do nursing homes, sing in churches, maybe for someone’s 100th birthday or 75th anniversary,” said Larry Ahlman, explaining that the group is careful about where it plays and when. “If we think we can lend a certain something to the event, we do it. But we just know where venues work and where they don’t work.”

The group gets its arrangements from a variety of sources, it style ranging from traditional barbershop to Beatles songs and gospel.

According to Ahlman, the song that most often grabs listeners’ attention is the Five Satins classic “In the Still of the Night.”

“People really, really like it,” said Ahlman. “It takes them back to high school, or to college.”

Putting smiles on faces, helping people take a walk down memory lane, is a different sort of volunteering, yet just as essential, conveyed by a melody, a harmony and men in accord.