A couple of months ago the Golden Valley Chorus (GVC) of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) was contacted by the director from the Modesto Performing Arts (MPA) to see if we had four guys who would like to perform in a production of the musical classic, The Music Man.
Well, I jumped right on it! It was Meredith Willson’s production of this musical play where I first heard a barbershop quartet that captivated my interest in this uniquely American musical genre. Even as a kid I always wanted to sing in a barbershop quartet. Years later I discovered there’s an entire organization of barbershop singers (BHS – formerly, SPEBSQSA, Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America) across the United States, and in recent years it has expanded around the world. There are choruses as small as 10, and other choruses that top out at 125 or more. I am a member of the GVC here in Modesto, California which is a chorus made up of 20 men. I also have a membership with the Alexandria Harmonizers (Virginia) which boasts 120 or more. My nephew, Josh Roots, sings with these guys as well. I wrote about singing with the Harmonizers last June as part of the week-long activities in France celebrating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. I’m still basking in the glow of that phenomenal trip.
The play first opened on Broadway in 1957 at the Majestic Theatre. The movie came out in 1962 and had a run of 1,375 straight performances. We were living in Norway at the time, but we certainly heard about it. We moved back to the States toward the end of 1963 when I was finally able to see the movie. My sister-in-law also performed in it with the Dallas (Texas) Repertory Theater. The quartet that sang in the movie was from one of those big barbershop choruses located in Dallas – the Vocal Majority. The performing quartet for both the play and the movie was the Buffalo Bills, who were the International Quartet Champions in 1950. They are icons within the hallowed halls of barbershop history and lore.
So who is Ewart Dunlop? He is the fellow in the quartet that sings the Lead part (usually the melody line). That’s my role. I had never paid attention to the stage names of the quartet until this year when the opportunity presented itself to be in this Modesto production. The setting for the musical is in a small town in Iowa in 1912. As a point of interest, Ewart is an old English/Scottish/Gaelic name which means “guardian of riches.” The literal meaning is “a ewe herder” (one who leads female sheep). It is a name rarely seen today, and it’s not even on the top 1,000 names for baby boys today. Nevertheless, my name in the musical is to be Ewart Dunlop. Very British, don’t you know!
The quartet I am in will be primarily singing, but also with some short speaking parts. The performances will be toward the end of June at the Gallo Center in Modesto. The dates are June 20, 21, and 26, 27, & 28. The songs in the musical are ones you are certainly familiar with because they have captured the spirit of the whole story of Marian the Librarian who falls in love with the con man and scoundrel, Professor Harold Hill. The songs our quartet will sing are: Ice Cream/Sincere; Goodnight, Ladies; It’s You; and Lida Rose.
During the next two months I will be engrossed in learning to sing these songs with the three other quartet members. So should you see me in passing, and you notice that I have a glazed look on my face and my lips are moving but there’s no sound, you will know that I am going over the songs and speaking parts for the musical until I’ve nailed it! Not to worry – I’m harmless.
You can find information on the Music Man at www.GalloArts.org, or call 209-338-2100. Ticket prices run from $19.00 to $34.00.
This next part is for the guys . . . If you ever had the thought that you might like to try singing with a bunch of men, then come join us on a Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 9:30 at Mancini Hall, 718 Tuolumne Boulevard, Modesto. We’ve heard all the excuses for not coming out and singing. Our favorite is, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!” Trust me! Our director, Mr. Bruce Sellnow, and our assistant director, Howard Barber, will have you singing and ringing chords in no time. We have a lot of fun, and so will you!
But when you come on a Tuesday evening, don’t call me Ewart!