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Friday, 26 February 2016 09:50

Chordhawks carry on a passion for singing

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Assistant Director Norm Starks leads the Rock Valley Chapter of the Badger Chordhawks Chorus during the group’s weekly rehearsal. Assistant Director Norm Starks leads the Rock Valley Chapter of the Badger Chordhawks Chorus during the group’s weekly rehearsal. Dan Plutchak/staff

BELOIT -- Even though John Kalkirtz has been a member of the Rock Valley Chapter of the Badger Chordhawks Chorus for more than 20 years, he still considers himself the "new kid on the block."

Kalkirtz of Beloit said he enjoys being involved with the chorus and sharing his love for barbershop singing with others.

"I’m still excited about barbershop singing after all these years, because I feel like the guys make it new every time I go," Kalkirtz said. "There’s a newness, and it’s never the same old, same old. We are continually evolving as a chapter, as individuals and as a society. We want to keep the whole world singing."

(See more from the Chordhawks PHOTOS I VIDEO )

Kalkirtz said even though he has been involved with the chorus for 23 years, he is still perfecting the art of barbershop singing.

"I’m still learning all the time. It’s a process. You never stop learning," Kalkirtz said. "I have been doing this for over 23 years, and I’m still learning each time I go to practice. We learn from one another. That’s what I like about the barbershop chorus, you learn from the group."

The Badger Chordhawks perform at several events throughout the year and sing the national anthem at Beloit Snappers and Janesville Jets games, as well as Rock Aqua Jays water ski competitions.

The group’s annual show "Harmony for All Ages" is scheduled to be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Edgerton High School, 204 Elm High Drive. The program is set to feature guest performers The Nashville Singers and Vocality.

Local groups and organizations can schedule the chorus to perform at their events or gatherings. The chorus receives several requests during the summer to sing at local churches.

"We perform at people’s request. Some people like to book us for their entertainment," said Clint Mohr, chorus manager. "If we can’t schedule the whole chorus, we got two quartets that can perform at nursing homes, community centers or events. We’ve been asked to perform at the Beloit Public Library’s ice cream social in April."

The chorus also participates in competitions, including a regional event during the spring. The winning teams advance to a district competition in the fall. Norm Starks, assistant director, said the competitions give the Chordhawks an opportunity to test their skills and interact with other chorus groups.

"We don’t go every year. It’s up to our director, but it’s a good way to measure our progress," Starks said. "We can see if we’re improving or if we need some more work."

The chorus hosts several fundraisers throughout the year, including a corn boil during the Rock River Thresheree in September and the Singing Valentines program in February.

Proceeds are used for music scholarships.

One of those scholarship recipients from several years ago recently was named the group’s new director.

Christopher Smith, an accomplished tenor soloist from the Boston Metropolitan Opera, now lives in Milton and also serves as the youth choir director at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

"If that’s not going full circle, nothing is," Kalkirtz said.

"A lot of people have gotten the idea that barbershop is a bunch of old guys out singing, but it’s not that at all," Starks said. "We’re starting to get a merger of a lot of styles of a cappella singing. We’re in the process of having some of our younger guys doing some beat boxing, because that’s a cappella."

Kalkirtz said many of the barbershop chorus tunes are humorous and often tell a story.

"There’s a lot of humor in the performances, and it’s just not singing. It’s kind of a story," Kalkirtz said. "Basically, it’s a storyline as well as singing."

The Badger Chordhawks has about 40 members. The chorus has been working to attract younger members the past few years, Starks said.

"The appeal of a cappella music has skyrocketed during the past few years. That’s suddenly bringing the younger audience to this style of singing," Starks said. "It doesn’t have to be boring or classical. It can be a fun thing to do. There’s been an effort by our international society to reach out to younger people."

The chorus meets from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays at Compass Church, 4224 Whilden Court in Janesville. Starks said anyone who has an interest in singing is welcome.

"We take these guys and we develop them into people who sing just purely for the joy of singing," Starks said. "Singing in a chorus is a unique experience. It brings chills up and down your spine. For anybody who enjoys singing in the shower, we would love to have them come and visit and eventually join."

Mohr said no prior singing experience is necessary. Potential members audition to determine what part they will perform in the chorus.

"If they enjoy singing, they can audition and find their voice, and we can place them," Mohr said. "If they can lead, they will lead or they can be a tenor. They can be a baritone if they can sing below a melody or they can be a bass if they can take the basement notes. If they’re interested in singing, we can find a place for them. They’re not required to read music. All of our music is taught by repetition. We remember all of our music."

The Badger Chordhawks Chorus is a part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, which is based in Nashville. The society includes 800 chapters in the United States and Canada. Chapters also have been formed in Germany, Sweden and New Zealand.

"It’s bringing people together. Instead of saying what our differences are, this is what we have in common," Kalkirtz said. "Music, to me, is what brings people together. When I was a kid, whether it be in churches or parks, music is what brought people together to listen and to watch."

For more information, call 608-755-1290 or go to chordhawks.org.

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