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Ocean State Chorus comes to Pawtucket

October 12, 2011

PAWTUCKET — Everything's better in harmony. And when it comes to singing, the old-fashioned style of “Barbershop” harmony is a proven training ground for honing voice skills.
Earlier this month, the Ocean State Chorus, performing Barbershop harmony, moved to a new home inside St. Paul's Church at 50 Park Place. Established in 1967, the all-male chorus was previously based in Smithfield, but the musical group is now happily part of Pawtucket's downtown arts scene.
Steve Isherwood, director of the Ocean State Chorus, said that Pawtucket was specifically chosen because of its reputation as an active arts community. “We wanted to be a part of that,” he said. In addition, the city is a more centralized location that has easier access for its members, some of whom travel from as far away as New Bedford and Dedham, Mass. “We've already gained a couple of new members since we moved here,” Isherwood stated.
The Ocean State Chorus currently has about 25 members and is hoping to expand. The group performs throughout New England at everything from parades, fairs and festivals to senior citizen centers and private entertainment venues.
For anyone interested in learning more about Barbershop harmony, the Ocean State Chorus will be holding an “Open House and Guest Night” on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Church. Males of all ages are invited to join the chorus. Children are welcome as well, as long as they are accompanied by a parent.
The Ocean State Chorus is part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, the largest male singing organization in the world with over 25,000 members. Isherwood noted that while the Ocean State Chorus is for men only, there are a few women's Barbershop singing organizations in existence throughout the U.S.
Isherwood noted that the style of Barbershop harmony, which originated in the 1880s, is alive and well today. It's actually enjoying a resurgence among young people who have come to appreciate the a cappella singing style that has been embraced by current performers such as Boyz II Men and other male vocal groups.
“It's very popular with young people. This style of a cappella music is something that the young kids hadn't heard before,” said Isherwood. “And all forms of a cappella music stem from Barbershop harmony...a four-part harmony of men's voices. Boyz II Men, Doo-Wop, it all dates back to the 1880s. It's amazing how much sound four male voices can put out.”
Isherwood is also part of a Barbershop quartet called Generations, which performs at birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, and other special events. Formed just two and a half years ago with fellow singers Ellis Strange, Gil Corte and Bill White, Isherwood says his quartet averages about 90 performances a year. “I believe we are the busiest Barbershop quartet in New England. Maybe in all of the U.S.,” he stated.
Isherwood said that his grandfather, who lived in Pawtucket and later in Central Falls, sang Barbershop for 25 years. “He got me interested in it,” he said.
The Ocean State Chorus performs a wide range of Barbershop music that includes the old-time standards that people typically associate with the style as well as more modern day music. A group of younger men who are part of the chorus have adapted the Barbershop style to songs from popular movies, shows and bands. “You can sing anything Barbershop. It's the style of music,” Isherwood said.
In its efforts to introduce Barbershop harmony to a new generation, the Ocean State Chorus sponsors a music camp for youngsters from throughout New England that is held each year at Worcester State College. The chorus also visits schools, giving demonstrations of the Barbershop style of singing. Chorus members performed earlier this year at St. Raphael Academy, showing students how four-part harmonizing is done. “It was a lot of fun. The kids really seemed to take to it,” noted Isherwood.
The chorus plans to meet on Tuesdays for practices and rehearsals in its new space at St. Paul's Church. Isherwood notes how valuable the weekly voice lessons and training can be for anyone looking to improve their singing ability.
“Chorus is the training ground for quartets. You learn to sing with 20 other guys and you're doing it each week,” said Isherwood. “If you can sing a cappella, you can sing anything.”
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