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The Hillsdale Town and Country Barbershop Chorus practices barbershop music at the Perennial Park Senior Center. Lillian Quinones | Collegian
The Hillsdale Town and Country Bar­bershop Chorus prac­tices bar­bershop music at the Perennial Park Senior Center. Lillian Quinones | Col­legian

The 40 members of The Hillsdale Town and Country Bar­bershop Chorus share a love for bar­bershop-style music and call upon the ubiq­uitous Hillsdale city motto, “It’s the people,” to explain their com­mitment to the Chorus — some of whom have been involved for nearly half a century.

For many of these veteran singers, time’s passing finds them gray-haired but with voices that command well-plied vocal chords. Formed in the late 1980s from already existing chapters in the sur­rounding cities, the Hillsdale bar­bershop chapter per­forms an average of 20 per­for­mances, or “Sin­gouts,” each year. They sing at venues like the Hillsdale County Fair, Mrs. Stocks’ Park, and church events. With their spring concert on May 7, every Tuesday evening the Perennial Park Senior Center resounds with dis­tinctly agrarian-themed songs as the Chorus rehearses the songs of their melo­drama “Dire Days at the Dairy.”

Bar­bershop music is dis­tinct for its “closed harmony,” where four voice parts form a capella closed harmony. With the Bar­bershop Harmony Society head­quarters in Nashville, Ten­nessee, par­tic­i­pating in a bar­bershop quartet or chorus can be a well-orga­nized affair in the United States and a hobby rift with com­pe­tition inter­na­tionally.

Don Slamka, director of The Hillsdale Town and Country Bar­bershop Chorus since 2010, was a member of the 2003 Inter­na­tional Gold Medal Quartet, a com­pe­tition held in Mon­treal, Canada.

“This is one of the finest groups of men I’ve ever been asso­ciated with,” Slamka said. “The fact that we make music together is an added bonus.”

“We cel­e­brate the joys and sorrows of life with each other, 80th birthdays, funerals, and grand­children,” Slamka added. “These are the guys that build cities, and move walls for each other.”

Members credit Slamka for raising the quality of music pro­duced by the Chorus. With such a large group, Slamka records himself singing the bass, baritone, lead, and tenor parts of the quartet onto a CD so that each section of the Chorus can practice sep­a­rately.

A select group of singers also meets with Slamka fol­lowing practice to high­light weak areas to be rehearsed in the fol­lowing week.

For the majority of members, their voices were first tuned as children. Roger Brook, the chapter’s sec­retary, has sung in dif­ferent musical groups his whole life.

“This is my first bar­bershop quartet and I enjoy singing with this group,” he said. “It’s chal­lenging to get the harmony because we are trying to sing four dif­ferent parts in the last two voice types, tenor and bass.”

One of Brook’s favorite Chorus per­for­mances was “Malt Shop Mem­ories,” a 1950 – 60s-themed per­for­mance in which the guys dressed up for a high school reunion of that time period. Recalling that he wore a jean jacket, Brook said that per­for­mance theme “res­onated well with this group because most of us are in the 50-to-70-year-old range.”

For the last 12 years, Gary Meyer has been trav­eling from Mont­pellier, Ohio, to attend the Tuesday evening prac­tices.

“This is a tri-state chorus. We have members from Ohio, Michigan, and even Indiana,” Meyer said. “After spending so much time together and trav­eling to con­certs together, above all, bar­bershop is a family.”

Promising “Udder Mayhem” on May 7, the Chorus will feature actors from the Sauk Theatre and Don Slamka singing with the original gold-medal-winning quartet.