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Sound of Illinois makes their voices heard around the world

Written by Brandon James Smith, Daily Vidette Staff Writer
Wednesday, 09 September 2009 02:00

Originally published at www.dailyvidette.com. Click here for full article.

When most people think of barbershop music, they usually picture a quartet of men in bow ties and bowler hats. However, the barbershop groups of the world are far larger than that. Just ask the Sound of Illinois Chorus, which is the Bloomington chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
The society has over 35,000 members and is the oldest all-male singing organization in the world. “The (first) thing I love is the singing. Secondly, is the camaraderie,” Greg Grey, public relations steward and member of the chorus, said. “Each one of those guys I treat like family, and they treat me like family. These guys are good guys and it’s just good, clean fun,” he added.

The Sound of Illinois Chorus itself, which was founded in 1942, has over 100 members. Members come from all around Central Illinois, from Kankakee to Charleston and Champaign to Peoria. Matt Carlen, a grad student from the University of Illinois Springfield, travels 160 miles round trip to attend practices.

“If I miss a week, I feel like I’m missing something really important,” Carlen said. “Last contest we had such a good time we didn’t go to bed till about 5 a.m. [The chorus] is really something because we all come from different backgrounds. I’m 23 and my two best friends in this chorus are 50 and 45.”

Carlen has been with the Bloomington chapter for two and a half years and has been doing barbershop for six. “This chorus is pretty special, and I’ve sung in a couple different choruses,” Carlen added. “You don’t find this brotherhood. These guys really take the stage together as a unit.”

Martha Warfel / Daily Vidette Photographer: The Sound of Illinois Chorus was founded in 1942 and currently contains over 100 members. Some members make at least a 100-mile round trip to participate in Tuesday night practices.

The chorus recently won first place at the Illinois District Barbershop Harmony Society contest in Peoria. “It wasn’t really a competition,” Carlen said. “It was clear that we won when we took the stage.”

They are now one more step away from again qualifying for the international competition, which will take place in Philadelphia next July.

“The Bloomington chapter is [part] of the Barbershop Harmony Society which gives them a support group to belong to so that they can get help with directing and coaching and membership help,” John Muir, a programmer for ISU and chorus member, said.

“That also gives them a competition venue so they can compete at the district level. If they do well enough, they can advance to the international level,” Muir, who also sits as a judge in certain competitions, added.

Competitions are judged in three different categories. The first category is overall sound, the second is based on how well they sing and the third category is dependant on appearance.

The chorus’ Web site, www.soundofillinois.com, displays a picture of the chorus in Civil War gear, divided up between the Union and the Confederates. “Doing well in [the categories] is not an easy task,” Grey said.

The chorus, which is led by director Terry Ludwig from Springfield, has qualified for the international competition two years in a row.

In July, the chorus placed 21st at this year’s competition in Anaheim. While 21st place may not seem that impressive, it is important to know that there are over 800 barbershop choruses in the world.

“Besides being in front of [thousands] of people at International, we’ve also sung the national anthem at Wrigley Field twice and we’ve sung at ISU basketball games,” Grey added.

The group also hosts a youth and harmony festival, a significant contribution for local youth. The chorus sponsors and pays for the building, music and the directors and educators.

“We invite schools from central Illinois to come and learn about barbershop music for the day,” Grey said. “We typically have about 100 boys and 200 girls. It’s just a lot of fun to teach a boy or girl to sing barbershop.”

This year’s festival will be held on October 29th. In addition, on February 20th and 21st, the Sound of Illinois Chorus will hold their annual show at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts.

Those interested in joining the chorus can attend a practice, which are held every Tuesday night at the Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington at 7 p.m., or can contact Jim Waldorf at jwald1603@aol.com.

“There’s no audition in this chorus, these guys just walk in and say, ‘I want to sing’,” said Carlen. “And we say, ‘That’s fine, let’s find how you can help the chorus.’”