News and Tribune

June 22, 2013

Thoroughbred Men's Chorus hitting its stride with help from Southern Indiana


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The Thoroughbred Men's Chorus has seen a rebirth of sorts over the past 18 months, starting with the hiring of Director Drew Wheaton last year to lead the a Capella group with strong ties to Southern Indiana.

The chorus has a rich history, and the Southern Indiana influence has played a meaningful role in propelling this a Capella group to international prominence in the Barbershop Harmony Society. The Louisville #1 Chapter, later named the Louisville Thoroughbreds, was founded in 1945. Through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the chorus amassed seven international championships. Under the directorship of Jim Miller, the Thoroughbreds were considered trend setters, introducing choreography into the four-part harmony choral concerts.

Miller moved on in 1993, and while still competitive on the international stage through 2005, the chorus cycled through numerous director changes. The singing membership declined as two independent choral groups spun off and formed their own chapters.

But that is changing.

A graduate student at U of L, Wheaton has been immersed in four-part a Capella barbershop singing since a child. Canadian born and raised, he is the son of an assistant barbershop director, and in an ironic twist of family fate is married to Kris, the granddaughter of past director Miller, and an acclaimed barbershop performer herself.

He also is traveling the world as a member of the Cardinal Singers, the internationally acclaimed choral group made up of students from U of L. In addition, he sings tenor for the internationally recognized quartet, Forefront. Need more lineage? His father-in-law, Jay Hawkins (and son-in-law of Jim Miller) is the current assistant director and holds international gold medals as a bass in quartets Marquis and Interstate Rivals.

“Membership has exploded and there is a new sense of momentum, purpose and enthusiasm,” said Mike Ehringer, retired math teach and Southern Indiana principal. “[Wheaton] connects with the guys and creates excitement through his obvious love and knowledge of music. There is no doubt we are heading back to the international competitive stage sooner rather than later.

“If you are a guy who likes to sing, it’s a great time to consider auditioning for the Thoroughbreds.”

The current Southern Indiana participation is as strong as ever. Members include Dave Lobeck, an Edward Jones financial adviser in Jeffersonville; Ehringer; Charlestown resident Tom Campbell; Palmyra residents Darrell Graham and Ron Posante; Jeffersonville resident Charlie Schladand; Corydon resident Dave Schroeder; and Sellersburg resident Kipp Buckner. In fact, Buckner has world class credentials himself.

He has been a member of the Thoroughbreds since age 14, and is one of the few elite barbershop performers in the world who have won three international gold medals with three separate quartets. He has also contributed extensively to The Southern Gateway Chorus in Cincinnati and the reigning international championship chorus, The Ambassadors of Harmony located in St. Louis.

And joining the chorus isn’t as tough as you might think.

“You don’t have to be musically trained to join. That’s a total misconception,” said Dave Lobeck, who has been with the chorus for about a year. “A lot of guys sing in the shower, sing in the car and are capable of singing well without being able to read a lick of music. Rehearsals with the chorus teach you the craft as you go, and it’s a fun, fantastic group of men.”

The Thoroughbreds are presenting a one-time Southern Indiana show this Sunday, June 23 at 3 p.m. at the Ogle Center on the Indiana University Southeast campus in New Albany. Tickets are $12 and will be available at the door.

The Thoroughbreds are made up of 50 men singing classic songs from the past and present in ringing four-part a Capella barbershop harmony, with a few quartets mixed in as well.

“It’s a fantastic way to spend a steamy Sunday afternoon,” said Wheaton. “Great music and a few laughs. I assure you our guests, both young and old, will be totally entertained and will leave with a smile on their face.”


Interesting Barbershop terms and facts:

• A Capella: Singing without instrumental accompaniment.

• Barbershop music: Four-part a Capella music characterized by consonant four-part chords.

• The four parts: Lead which typically sings melody, tenor who harmonizes above lead, bass which harmonizes below lead and baritone, which fills in the chord, typically between the bass and the lead.

• The Ringing Chord: Also known as the “angels voice,” the “fifth voice,” “overtone” or the “barbershop seventh.” When performed correctly, certain chords result in this effect, which sounds like a fifth element to the four-part chord.

• Barbershop Harmony Society: Started in 1938 to sustain this form of a Capella singing which had begun to diminish in the age of “swing.” Now a growing membership of close to 30,000 people from all over the world. Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.

• Tag: The dramatic close to a song which can be sung on its own.

• Pitch pipe: A small device used to provide a pitch reference to start the song.

• Sweet Adelines: The female counterpart to the Barbershop Harmony Society made up of females who sing barbershop music.

• Music groups who have utilized Barbershop in their music: Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, Bee Gees, Crosby, Stills Nash and Young, The Andrew Sisters, Beach Boys, the Hollies and the Everly Brothers

• Locking in: When all four parts “lock in” to a chord perfectly, in some cases creating the “ringing chord.”

• Why “barbershop” as a name? It’s thought that barbershop music began in the early 1900s, with men singing together at their neighborhood barbershop, which was a social gathering place of that era.