Every Thursday evening in Centennial, men of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life gather for one purpose…..to blend their voices in unaccompanied musical harmony. On average these weekly gatherings draw up to 100 or more men from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and all points in between. The ages of the participants range from 11 to over 80. Collectively, the all-volunteer group is known as the Sound of the Rockies (or “SOR”) chorus. The group has been singing in the Denver area since 1948, and regularly performs in theater and church venues throughout the metro area.
For the fifth time, the chapter is planning to offer group vocal lessons to men of all ages in the community. The program is known as “Ready, Set, Sing!” and is offered free to local area men with no strings attached. The only requirement is a personal desire to improve the singing experience. One recent “graduate” of the five week program is Mike Kennedy, who had no musical or vocal training prior to arriving at the chapter meeting. He shares his thoughts and the details of his journey as follows. What is it really like to participate in Ready, Set, Sing?
My name is Mike Kennedy. I had no singing experience prior to joining the “Ready, Set, Sing” (RSS) program offered by the Sound of the Rockies chorus in October 2010, aside from the occasional vocal attempt in the shower or at the wheel of my car and one night of singing a few Karaoke songs a few months prior. I did, however, have a desire to learn to sing, beginning in my youth, and had often dreamed of singing in a chorus. In my dream I saw myself standing among other men on the risers, making beautiful music. I didn’t really know how to connect the dream with reality for a long time and other parts of life happened to sort of put my dream on the back burner. The dream never completely disappeared, though, and when I read an article in the Your Hub section of the Denver Post one day in September 2010 that described how men of any age, background or singing experience could take advantage of free singing lessons with no strings attached, I felt the urge to learn to sing suddenly grow within me again. I decided that now was the time to see if I could bring my dream into reality.
I registered for the program via the Internet, as suggested by the article. I received an email in response by one of the chorus members and ended up talking by phone to a couple of men who assured me that this would be a great experience, and there really were no strings attached. They both said that the chorus simply wanted to have an outreach to the community at large and bring the singing experience to as many men as wanted to participate. I thanked them for their helpful comments, thought about it for a while, then called back the same day and said I would be there for the free singing lessons. I remember thinking that I had turned a page in my life at that point and now I would start taking positive steps to begin realizing my dream.
I felt somewhat apprehensive as I drove to the church, located in south Metro Denver, where the singing lessons were conducted on that first night in October. My thoughts and emotions were a mixture of fear of the unknown and, at the same time, a growing sense of wanting to rise to the challenge and see this wonderful dream building process through to the end of the lessons. My nervousness started to dissipate when I pulled into the parking lot and was directed where to park by some chorus members. I noticed them right away, as I drove in, and I was appreciative of their presence. I was glad that they had taken the time to help those of us who were new and probably didn’t know where to go. I could feel the positive energy in the air from these helpful men and that feeling increased when I walked into the church gym for the first time where the registration process was happening. Other “new guys” like me were there and there were more chorus men helping to shepherd we “new guys” through the registration process. They put us at ease right away. They welcomed each one of us and introduced themselves, letting us know we were in safe hands. After I finished registering, one of the men guided me to the rehearsal room, gave me a guest songbook and had me stand in a spot among the rest of the chorus members who were already on the risers and in the middle warming up. The men around me were friendly and when I took my place among the chorus I felt a calm come over me and a feeling of “coming home” washed away whatever residual nervous feelings I had. My dream was starting to be fulfilled!
I started warming up with the rest of the chorus and I soon realized that I was with a group of men who were dedicated to their singing craft. This was demonstrated to me in myriad ways; from the excellence of the Director, Mr. Darin Drown, who was a dynamic and knowledgeable individual and could apparently hear one voice that might be a little out of tune among 100 plus other voices, to the drive and dedication to his directing duties evidenced by the Assistant Director Mr. Chris Vaughn, to the passion of the guys around me who were transmitting their enthusiasm and motivation to me to sing well. I knew that I had made the right choice and this was the place for me to be to help my dream of singing with a chorus come true.
The RSS classes began that night. I and the rest of the “new guys,” totaling about 50, were taken to the church sanctuary where the lessons were to be conducted. That first night, and the five weeks of classes following, were filled with lots of information about proper singing techniques including posture, breathing, eliminating tension, vowel shapes, using the soft palate properly, resonance and overall good vocal production. The classes were taught mostly by Darin Drown, and his willingness to impart his knowledge in a lighthearted, easygoing yet thorough manner helped to make the classes something I looked forward to every week. Occasionally other instructors would also take the reins and lead us through some class material, and these men also were very knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. The RSS group was composed of men with widely varying levels of singing experience and background, yet all of us learned valuable principles of correct singing techniques. Being one of the few guys with almost no singing experience, I gained much knowledge and confidence during the six weeks of class. As the weeks went by and I learned more about singing properly, I became more and more certain, and glad, that I had made the right choice to join the RSS class.
When we weren’t in class being taught how to sing, we were allowed to warm up and actually sing with the chorus. We were treated with respect at all times and many chorus members let us know they were glad to have us there, participating in their wonderful hobby. Each week brought some new knowledge, experience and opportunities to make new friends and I could feel my confidence slowly growing. As I and the other RSS men bonded with each other through our mutual class experiences, and as the chorus members looked after us and kept welcoming us back every week, many of us “new guys” started thinking about the possibility of continuing on after the classes were finished and eventually joining this great organization as permanent members. I felt pulled in that direction from something inside me that wanted to see my dream fulfilled, knowing that this was an awesome opportunity to grow as a singer and performer. I talked to some of the other RSS guys with whom I had become friends and we all agreed that such an effort would be very worthwhile.
The chorus was given the last two weeks in December off so that we could enjoy the holiday season properly. We RSS men had been told that there was a path to membership in the chorus, if we so desired. We could audition for a permanent spot in the chorus in January of the next year. By this time, after the time spent learning the basics and practicing this craft, I should have been excited to undergo the audition. Instead, I felt nervous about the prospect of singing in front of people. This time I knew that I had to perform to a certain level and I would be judged either good enough or not, and that intimidated me. Previously it was all for fun, but this was different. What if I failed the audition? I thought about the opportunity to audition during the entire time were off and when rehearsals resumed I almost didn’t return to the chorus because I started thinking in terms of fear instead of remembering how good it felt to perform well and the fact that my dream had actually come true. I reached out to one of the chorus members with whom I had become friendly and he talked me through my doubts. I decided that I would make the right choice, as I did once before, to affirm my dream.
I practiced the audition song, the first bars of “Silent Night,” endlessly, anywhere I could. I sang at home, in my car, at work (quietly), walking around in public (still quietly) until I felt sure that I knew the song by heart and would have no problem. When it came time for the audition in the third week in January 2011, at the conclusion of the rehearsal, I waited my turn to go into the smaller room off of the rehearsal hall where three other members of the music team would sing the other three parts of the song in a quartet format. There would, of course, also be the Music Director Darin Drown watching me, listening to me and evaluating me. When I started singing, the first part of the song sounded OK to me and much like I had practiced it, but soon my voice began to quiver and make up its own version of the tune. It must have been a case of nerves that I didn’t know I had. I closed my eyes and forged ahead, hoping that all of my practice would somehow see me through to success. At the end of the song Darin gave me some helpful advice to shape my vowels better, and he passed me! I officially was a member of the Sound of the Rockies chorus! My dream was now complete, and I floated out of the room on wings of happiness and a blast of euphoria that lasted all night.
I have been a chorus member since that time until the present and I have completely enjoyed the experience ever since. Learning the finer points and nuances of good singing, and the performing aspects of the shows, has kept me absorbed and has engaged my interest like few other activities in my life. The other men in the chorus are as dedicated to learning the craft as I have become, and we all enjoy the rehearsals and look forward to the chance to perform with excellence for any audience lucky enough to see us. I thank the Sound of the Rockies RSS program for being available when I first decided to act on my dream. It’s been nothing short of wonderful, and my dream is alive.
Interested men of all ages or experience level may find out more information online at www.voicelessons4free.com.
The Sound of the Rockies chorus is a member of the Rocky Mountain District in the Barbershop Harmony Society, and they have consistently placed in the top five choruses at international level competition each year and is currently ranked 4th in the world. The group also presents two shows each year at the Newman Center at the University of Denver in addition to smaller performances around the metro area. Prospective members and guests are welcomed each week at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO. More information may be obtained at www.soundoftherockies.com.
About the Barbershop Harmony Society: Founded in 1938 in Tulsa, Okla., the Barbershop Harmony Society (originally named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America – SPEBSQSA) is the largest all-male singing organization in the world with nearly 30,000 members including 1500 quartets in 800 chapters. Another 4,000 barbershoppers are members of affiliated organizations in Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden. BHS is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee and is home to the Old Songs Library, the world’s largest privately held collection of sheet music, containing 750,000 sheets and 125,000 titles from the heyday of Tin Pan Alley. The Heritage Hall Museum of Barbershop Harmony, also located in Harmony Hall, serves as a repository for barbershop memorabilia, early recordings, costumes, research materials, and historical documents tracing the roots of the barbershop style. www.barbershop.org