Last night was the third annual concert called “Real Men Do Sing,” the brainchild of my father-in-law, Bob Gall and an event which seems to be getting only bigger and better over time. It’s a program which draws together the men of the Racine Dairy Statesmen (a barbershop chorus) with high school and young adult men from all over southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois for a day’s worth of rehearsal and workshops and an evening concert that definitely has a celebratory air about it. Last year’s event was hampered a bit by winter weather (although it was amazing how many people still came) but this year it was sunny and 39 degrees (which for Wisconsin in January is like a day at Miami Beach).
The program opened with the Dairy Statesmen, followed by a superb (and young) barbershop quartet from up around the Appleton area. . . and the finale of the evening was the mass men’s chorus singing two semi-classical pieces and two songs in barbershop style. But before the finale, like last year, a few minutes were taken to celebrate the solo voice. Last year that was primarily done by two of my best private voice students – Trevor Parker and Nic Sluss- Rodionov – but neither of them was around this year, and the concert fell during winter break so I couldn’t call on any of my Carthage students either. So they had to make do with Greg Berg. The barbershop quartet I followed did a fantastic job, and I knew that I had to come out with something very lively and fun or it would feel like Greg Berg’s Mortuary Hour. So I started out with Aaron Copland’s Ching -a- Ring -Chaw, which proved to be a great choice. After that, I said that my second song was being sung to celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s greatest songwriters. . . but no, it wasn’t Irving Berlin or George Gershwin or Cole Porter. . . but rather Franz Schubert. I was tempted to sing something big and flashy but didn’t want to do anything too long- so I opted for his “Death and the Maiden,” which is only about two minutes long but has a bit of drama built into it . . . plus I get to descend to a low D at the end, which is kind of fun. (As fun as a song about death can be, I guess.) The last song was a request of Kathy’s dad, and had I not sung it I probably would have been written out of his will . . . but I’m always thrilled at the chance to sing “Old Man River” and was happy to oblige.
But the best part of the night happened right after that, when the mass choir took to the risers for their four songs – and they really raised the roof. And almost better than the sound of the singing was just seeing all of those young men giving their all. Several of the guys who seemed to be most enthusiastic were students of Polly’s from Tremper- and several of her guys who graduated last year actually found their way back to Carthage to be part of this again just because they enjoyed it so much the first time around.
And at the center of it all was Kathy’s dad, acting as a most congenial master-of-ceremonies and just so delighted to see this event so well-received. And it truly was thrilling and encouraging to hear that group of 100+ guys cut loose with that massive, rich sound – and to look so happy doing it. The guys came in all shapes and sizes – and although the name of the concert seemed to imply that this was supposed to be a celebration of big, burly men singing, in fact quite a few of the guys looked more like members of the chess team than football team. . . . but that was neat as well – to see such a impressively wide range of men on those risers, with very little in common apart from their mutual love of singing.
pictured above: The mass choir under the capable direction of my faculty colleague Peter Dennee. By the way, the title of this blog entry is a reference to a once- famous book titled “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” I may not be the burliest He-Man around, but I don’t like quiche, which may be why I love that book title so much.