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Barbershop Chorus delivers Christmas gift to Pensacola
Written by Troy Moon
Dec. 12, 2013 | pnj.com
A melody of melancholy melted through the room, as the old men sang a sad song of innocence lost long
“When you’ve grown up, my dears
You’ll laugh and ponder on the years
That roll so swiftly by, my dears…
Childhood’s joy land…
Once You pass its borders
You can ne’er return again”
You could see the pain of memory on their faces. A few old eyes misted up a bit as they sang the sad song. It was only practice. But the men meant every word of the Christmas classic, one of 10 Christmas songs that the Fiesta Barbershop Chorus will perform at the group’s annual Christmas concert Saturday at Gateway Church of Christ. The performance, titled “Our Christmas Gift To Pensacola,” will feature guest performances by the Choral Society of Pensacola, BELLissimo! (a bell choir), and other vocal groups such as Off the Hook, Completely Youthless, The Pensacola Sound and That Other Quartet.
Admission is a non-perishable food item for Manna Food Bank or a cash donation to ARC Gateway, two non-profit organizations the Chorus annually supports.
The Fiesta Barbershop Chorus began in 1958, and though no current members have been with the group since the beginning, many have given decades to the chorus. Bill Gwaltney, 85, the oldest of the 23-member male chorus, has been with the group for about 20 years, leaving for a spell only to return. “I couldn’t stay away,” he said. “I was born and raised around music in North Carolina. We didn’t have radios, so we sang. I had a gospel quartet when I was 11 and had a little session at the Grand Ole Opry.” Now, he sings with the Fiesta Barbershop Chorus, a group dedicated to preserving the old time barbershop music, characterized by a cappella performances consisting of four part harmonies — lead, tenor, bass and baritone.
For many of the men, the Chorus is a tie to their own distant pasts.
Musical director David Doheny, 73, grew up singing with his brothers as a child, performing in church or around the home. He joined the Navy and served 22 years, before retired in 1981. He has been in the Fiesta Chorus for 23 years. “I was invited,” Doheny said. “But when I heard the harmony, that was it. I knew I wanted to be part of it.” And the chorus is still luring men who want to sing the songs of old.
Rick Rogers, 61, a retired Marine, recently moved back to Northwest Florida from Alaska, where he was singing in a barbershop chorus in Fairbanks. About a month before moving back to the area – he is a former teacher at Pace High School – he made contact via email with the Fiesta Barbershop Chorus, inquiring about joining. He got to town on a Saturday. On Tuesday, he was at the chorus’ regular weekly practice at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Nine Mile Road. “It’s a fun group of guys,” Rogers said. “It’s very similar to the group I was with in Fairbanks. An eclectic
mix of backgrounds and personalities. I just wanted to join in the camaraderie.”
Soon, the Chorus runs through a practice of “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” complete with goofy
hand gestures and funny faces. Members bounce and point and knee-slap and use physical movements
to help bring the song to life. Other songs live and breathe just on the strength of the chorus’ cascading harmonies. “I saw them at Evenings at Olde Seville for years,” said Dale Bragan, 59, Chorus vice-president and a “lead” vocalist. “They were singing all these songs I grew up singing with my family. It brought back old memories. My family, there were nine of us and seven played the piano and one or two other musical instruments. I just remember standing around the piano at the house. It’s the same kind of feeling with the Chorus.”
The chorus members do love what they do. In fact, after each Tuesday practice, the group heads up to a
nearby restaurant to sing for patrons. But the group also tries to spread goodwill, performing at fund-raisers for various non-profits. Last week, the group held its annual Tannenbaum Express, where they traveled to local nursing homes to perform for residents. (Many who probably misted up when hearing ‘Toyland.’) By the way, what was going through the old fellas minds as they sang songs about long-ago childhoods. “Old toys.” “Family memories.” “You have to really feel the words,” Doheny said. “If you don’t feel them inside, it will show.”