The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 9, 2013

Barbershop singing provides fun and fitness

By Cindy Herman
For The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — Barbershop singing strengthens core muscles, memory, and lungs — and those are just the side benefits. The best part is, it’s fun, and the public is welcome to share the fun when the West Branch Barbershop Chorus presents its 37th annual performance Saturday night at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University.

“This craft keeps people alive,” said assistant director Kevin Zimmerman, who joined the group when he was in high school and has been a member for more than 30 years. “I have friends in here that are 25 years older than me. I’m convinced it keeps people breathing.”

He may be right. The average age of the group is 65-plus, though it ranges from 16 to 80-something. The men meet every Tuesday evening for rehearsals, perform at shows and competitions throughout the year, and constantly learn new music. And the camaraderie among them shines through.

“The guy on my right is a head taller than me and 22 years old,” said Ed Mastascusa, one of the founders of the group. “I’m 75, and the kid on the left of me is a head shorter and is 16. You get a 75-year-old guy and a 16-year-old guy working hard to achieve the same goal.”

“Because they love the harmony,” said Matt Poremsky, director.

The love of harmony unites the men regardless of their ages and occupations.

“Once you learn the notes, that’s when you take the black and white of the music, the notes on the page, and make it into color,” said Poremsky, quoting one of his music teachers.

Saturday night’s performance includes guest appearances by Da Capo, a championship quartet from the D.C. area, and New Vintage, a local quartet featuring the “zany Pennsylvania Dutch humor of their tenor, Seth Zeigler.” As always, the performance includes an imaginative skit written by Mastascusa parodying the development of barbershop singing in the ghost town of Alvira.

“It’s reminiscent of old vaudeville routines,” Poremsky said.

“It’s silly,” said Mastascusa.

Song selections include “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “In the Still of the Night,” “With a Wink and a Smile,” and “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad.”

“That’s a real wild arrangement of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,’” said Chuck Root, show chairman and vice president for music and performance. “That’ll get ’em out of their seats.”

“Barbershop is part of the American culture,” said singer Ed Bordy. “It’s strictly American. It has spread to the rest of the world, but it’s strictly American.”

“And I think you’ll be hard-pressed to have an audience member leave here not going, ‘Oh, I knew that song,’” Poermsky said. “There should be something that will reach out to every member of the audience.”

“People say, ‘Gee, I went home from this knowing how to whistle to the songs,’” Root said.

The timing of the show makes it a memorable Mother’s Day activity, and the singers are confident that audience members will be royally entertained.

  “They’ll have fun,” Mastascusa said. “They’ll split a gut.”