Write Again … A life-long love

Published 8:22 am Monday, June 8, 2020

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As I have often remarked upon in the past, one of the greatest joys of my life has been singing barbershop harmony, and attending shows and competitions held in many different places across the land.

While I was never good enough to be a part of quartet and chorus competitions at the national — actually, international — level, it has my good fortune to attend many of these events. The chorus choreography is simply amazing. The level of musical and showmanship excellence must be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. No telling of it can convey just how amazing some quartets and choruses are. Can’t be done.

My first exposure to this uniquely Amercan music art form came about when as a 10-year-old I first listened to barbershop harmony on 78 rpm records. The sound hooked me, and I actually began singing barbershop harmony as a sophomore in high school, and in a quartet the following year.

That first quartet consisted of Will Jenkins, tenor; Ward Marslender, baritone; Charlie Mike Smith, bass; and yours truly, lead. We were together for two wonderful years, and sang in many different venues both here, and in various other places as well. We even performed at the Azalea Festival in Wilmington, and the base hospital at Camp Lejeune.

Over these many years since those days I have sung with several choruses from Asheville to the Outer Banks.

Names of other quartets were “Buster’s Boys,” “A Cut Above,” “Nostalgics,” “First Flight Four,” and the last one, “Men ‘n a Chord.” This final one lasted the longest, some 10 or more years.

The wonderful memories accrued over so many years, and the special, lasting friendships made with those I sang with, I’ll treasure all the rest of my days.

As I travel in my memories back across those times, I am literally suffused with genuine gratitude for being given the capability and opportunity to be a part of such experiences.

When I think of those with whom I shared those times, there is also a very real sense of sadness, when I remember those who are no longer here. I am sure they are singing now in that which the Barbershop Harmony Society calls the Chapter Eternal. Maybe, someday, we’ll all ring a few chords together … once more.

Enough of this nostalgic rambling. Well, just one more memory I’ll share. Just one, I promise.

We moved back home in September of ’91, and the baritone in our “First Flight Four” quartet also relocated. That left half of the quartet still living on the OBX.

Before the “diaspora” took place, Ron, our bass, made a request. Would we consider a reunion, and sing at his high school reunion? In 1998. In East Farmington, Connecticut. Seven years hence.

Of course we would. Once a barbershopper … I mean, what are seven years?

Did it actually come about? You bet it did. In the weeks just before the reunion, we gathered several times at the Senior Center at Kill Devil Hills and rehearsed the songs we wanted to sing at the reunion.

Then, on the Friday before the next evening’s reunion event, we all rendezvoused at our daughter Sarah’s home in Darien, Connecticut. After a wonderful on-the-deck supper, then accompanied by Sarah, her husband, and her mother-in-law, we were led to several homes in the neighborhood, and did a little serenading on porches. The mostly ladies who came out, in complete surprise, seemed enthralled at being sung to. The truth.

Then we gathered again the next night at the reunion venue in East Farmington. Four friends who had sung together on the Outer Banks. One originally from Pennsylvania, Bob. One from New York, Jim. One from North Carolina, me. And Ron, of course, from Connecticut.

After the meal (we used that time to rest, and warm up), and information sharing among classmates, we came on to entertain the East Farmington High School Class of 1948.

It went well. Really well. We imposed the barbershop caveat of: Always to stop singing before the audience stops listening. We also knew that the small band (3-4 instruments) would play for the dance to follow our performance.

Our last song, the last time we would ever be all together, was special in more ways than one. (Ron even struggled emotionally when we rehearsed it.)

What could be more appropriate for the Class of ’48 — than … “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces, …” What, indeed? When we finished, the band began playing that iconic song.

Jim and Ron are no longer with us. There surely was a special brotherhood of harmony we shared. How fortunate, how blessed we were, to have shared, brief as it may have been, our time together as the “First Flight Four.’

Let me close by saying to all of the special friends-in-harmony I’ve been blessed to have through all the years — those who have gone on, and we who tarry here still — thanks for the memories.

And … I’ll Be Seeing You.