Barbershop harmony group launches family chorus, considers opening membership to women

Joe McDonald has lived in the Mt. Pleasant area his entire life. He's been involved with music almost as long. 

McDonald says he originally began singing in school as a child and his passion grew from there. Today he serves as the President of MountainTown Singers, a barbershop harmony group that meets weekly in the Morey Education Center on Blanchard Road. This summer, they're introducing a new program to expand their community reach and provide a comfortable and non-judgmental environment for singers from ten to one-hundred and ten.  

Chartered in 2005 with the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) out of Nashville, Tennessee, MountainTown Singers is an all male group about twenty strong. Originally, McDonald says the group focused mostly on college-aged singers, but has since expanded to all ages. If the Family Chorus goes well, membership may expand even more - to women. To understand why it hasn't already, we have to look a little deeper in the history of the national barbershop movement. 

Founded in 1938 as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc, the BHS is dedicated to preserving and promoting a uniquely American art form - and, until last year, it had always been a male membership organization. McDonald says to begin with, the loosening of the rules for BHS affiliation was only at the national level, but the organization has since applied the rule to local chapters and MountainTown Singers has been discussing how and if they might make the change a reality right here in Isabella County. 

So far, McDonald says inquiries have been few and casual, but expects a successful first annual Family Chorus would generate some interest and help the group move their decision making process along. There's more to consider than just the tone, pitch, and depth of the singers' natural instruments however. McDonald says logistics, costs, and perhaps most importantly, whether or not there are enough women in the area interested in a long term commitment are all factors to consider. 

"One of the motivations for Family Chorus is that often people feel they don't have the time," explained McDonald, "Which often means long term commitment. This is a short commitment so people can get out and just try it." 

The six-week program will begin May 23 and conclude with chorus participants performing two songs during the group's annual show at Central Michigan University on June 27, 2019. The cost to participate is just $10 per person, but McDonald emphasized that they do not want to see anyone miss out. "We have hardship waivers," said McDonald, "We don't want it to be a burden." 

And, though the name of the program includes the word family, McDonald also stressed that families don't need to attend together to be part of the group, nor is participation limited to people who are related to one another. Registration is open to individuals, pairs or groups of friends, neighbors, coworkers, and any other combination of people who might be interested in making harmonies together. 

The Family Chorus is supported by local sponsors including The Morey Education Center, Morey Foundation, Krapohl Ford-Lincoln, and Roslund Prestage & Company, and joins MountainTown Singers' existing summer camp, MountainTown Harmony Explosion, on the group's annual Calendar. The MountainTown Harmony Explosion is geared for both male and female singers ages 15-25 and brings top clinicians and quartets from the world of barbershop harmony to Mt. Pleasant each year. 

For more information on both programs, visit the MountainTown Singers website
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Diana Prichard.

Diana Prichard is a freelance journalist who has reported from seven countries on three continents, and the Managing Editor of Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.