Approaching the end of our Sound of the Rockies’ performance and competition season each year is bittersweet for our members. Most years, we are coming off the high of a lively Acappellooza event and the thrill of competing at the top of our game at the International Barbershop Chorus Contest, when we have to say goodbye to loyal long-time members who are retiring.
This year, sadly, there isn’t as much of the ‘sweet.’ Our season unexpectedly came to an end with the arrival of COVID-19, and some beloved members joined us for the last time on the risers at our Christmas show or during a regular Thursday evening rehearsal in early March.
As we aren’t able to celebrate our departing friends in-person, we’ll have to do it in writing. Thank you to Brad Anderson (who was not available to participate in this article), Kim Feller, Dan George, Larry Howe and Bill Niles for your many contributions to Sound of the Rockies over the years. We will miss your beautiful voices, comradery, mentorship and service to our chorus!
Singing Position: Bass
After a long career as a nuclear and aerospace engineer, Kim Feller acknowledges that even his family was amazed to see his passion for taking the stage as a member of Sound of the Rockies over the last eight years – something they would have considered out of his box. But, according to Kim, his singing with Sound of the Rockies has more in common than one might imagine with system engineering. “In both, the end product can only be achieved by many working together, devoted to reaching a common goal,” he explained. “Just as in my professional life, performing has required focus and dedication to succeed at something that does not come easily to me.” Despite his relatively recent chorus participation, Kim is a long-time admirer of barbershop. He was part of a boys’ barbershop ensemble in high school and became really hooked when he happened across a recording of the Buffalo Bills quartet at his local record store. But school, work and life took priority for many years and Kim did not come back to organized singing until the age of 64. In 2011, encouraged by his wife Sherry, a life-long barbershopper, he decided to try SOR’s Ready. Set. Sing! program which offers free vocal instruction to the community. Through the program, he had the opportunity to perform in the Sound of the Rockies Christmas Show and joined the chorus the next year. To Kim, his experience with Sound of the Rockies has been extraordinary. “There is nothing else like coming together with men of all ages to produce something that only a few choruses in the world can do,” he said. “Standing on the top row of the risers at a concert and looking across the men from age 12 to 90 years old, fully dressed and ready to deliver a sound and a performance that takes our audience to a place beyond their daily lives – that’s what it is all about.”
Singing Position: Baritone
Dan George has been singing for most of his life, starting in his church choir as a teenager. For many years, however, a busy corporate career that involved extensive travel made participating in organized singing impossible. So, Dan initially came to Sound of the Rockies as a fan. “I attended a concert several years before I joined SOR and wished that I had the time to sing with such a wonderful chorus,” Dan said. When he retired at the age of 63 in 2008, he contacted the chorus about auditioning and the rest is history. For 11 years, Dan has been a devoted member of Sound of the Rockies and was selected as Barbershopper of the Year by the Denver Mile-High Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2012. To this day, he continues to be inspired by the art form. “There are numerous musical expressions, but the a cappella nature of the barbershop style is unique,” he said. I find the incredible harmonies mesmerizing.” To Dan, the enthusiasm of the audiences at the Newman Center, the brotherhood and community of the chorus, and the opportunity to compete with one of the world’s top barbershop ensembles on an international stage have made being part of Sound of the Rockies exciting and forever memorable. But the ultimate highlight for him came in 2019 when Sound of the Rockies was invited to be the featured chorus, representing the United States, at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France. “Participating in the five-day trip to Paris and Normandy was the highest honor of my years with the chorus,” Dan said. “It was a singular experience to be there with 85 members, performing in commemoration of those who served and sacrificed.”
Singing Position: Bass
Growing up singing in church and school choirs, Sound of the Rockies board member Larry Howe discovered his passion for harmony at Yale University where he was a member of the popular a cappella group Augment Seven, the University Choir and the award-winning Yale Glee Club, with which he toured Europe. After college, Larry took his musical talent on the road again as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya where he formed the two-man folk group Two Few. Two Few played gigs in Nairobi and enjoyed an unexpected month-long paid stint entertaining guests at a small beach resort. Upon his return to the United States, singing took a backseat to his careers in television news production and the cable industry until 1991, when Larry – now Dallas based – joined the multi-award-winning chorus Vocal Majority and caught the barbershop bug. “When it works, there is nothing like the clean sound, strong harmonies and locked chords of barbershop,” Larry said. He sang with Vocal Majority for eight years, joining the chorus on the international stage for a gold-medal-winning performance in 1994. When he moved to Denver, Larry signed up for Ready. Set. Sing! Inspired by the level of skill in the chorus, he joined SOR in 2011. Over the years, Larry has enjoyed the challenge of being part of a successful competition chorus, but his real pleasure has come from engaging the fans during a rousing performance. “The best thing is our ability to raise the roof at the Newman Center,” he said. “At Christmas time, hearing our sound and watching the audience reaction when we sing “Mary Did You Know,” which includes a great part for bass, is thrilling.”
Singing Position: Lead
Bill Niles has been a member of the Denver Mile-High Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society since 1976, singing barbershop ever since with various choruses. His only break came when he retired from a career in foodservice distribution and hospitality and Bill and his wife, moved into a fifth-wheel trailer for eight years to travel the country, coast to coast. Bill caught the barbershop bug as a child from his father, who was a fan of the art form (but never actually sang in a chorus or quartet until his later years after Bill started singing). Bill discovered his first chorus by chance. “I heard a radio spot that the Denver Mile-Hi Chorus (a predecessor to Sound of the Rockies) was performing and holding auditions at the old Southglenn Mall in 1976,” he said. “I went with a friend just out of curiosity and got hooked.” He joined Mile-Hi and went on to serve as chorus president and music director. Bill has competed in the Barbershop International Chorus Contest 13 times, the first eight with Mile-Hi, two with the Great American Chorus from Lake County, IL, and the last three with Sound of the Rockies. “I have three medals from those experiences, but my biggest thrill was always greeting the guests at the end of one of our performances and realizing how much they appreciated and were touched by the music.” Bill treasures the lifelong friendships he has made along the way. “I love the camaraderie and the joy of a shared experience making beautiful music that touches listeners.”
*Feature Image: Dan George’s favorite memory of Sound of the Rockies performing at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France in 2019.