BARBERSHOP MUSIC | Step back in time with Keystone Chorus
By Lori Altmeyer
Crafton couple Bob Seeger and Carole Panno are champions for The Keystone Chorus, a group of 22 men ranging in ages from their early 30s to 90 years young, which has sung a cappella barbershop standards since 1958.
Seeger is vice president of membership and recruits new members while Panno, board member at large and “Keystone Groupie,” manages marketing and public relations for the chorus.
“We are allowing new people to hear this style for the first time. It is exciting for the audience and for me,” said Seeger.
He finds it gratifying to sing in front of an older crowd, especially in nursing homes.
"When they recognize a song, you should see the look of joy on their faces,” Seeger said.
Panno said hiring The Keystone Chorus to perform at a nursing home for a loved one’s birthday was an incredible gift. The chorus also performs at funerals, farmer’s markets, happy hours and restaurants.
"From the cradle to the grave, we perform everywhere and anywhere,” Seeger said.
The Keystone Chorus is part of the International Barbershop Harmony Society which has 17 chapters in the United States.
"Not all barbershop choruses compete in annual barbershop conventions but are community-oriented like Keystone. Our focus is more on entertaining, helping our community and exposing people to this wonderful hobby,” said Temp Smith, chapter president.
New members can expect a very rewarding and welcoming experience.
“Reading music is not essential to be part of this group. Currently, there are only a few men who are part of the chorus that can actually read music. Being able to carry a tune and being social among a community of men who love to sing are the only skills required,” Smith said.
Members rehearse on Tuesday evenings in the basement of Hamilton Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park.
Ken Williams has been the musical director for the past 30 years and a member for 42. He said “barbershopping” started in 1938.
"We are always looking to recruit men who love to sing in the shower. We need to do a lot of public performances to get younger people involved and expose them to this kind of music,” said Williams.
Barbershop quartets are composed of four-part harmonies made up of tenor, bass, and baritone harmonizing the part of the fourth voice, the lead.
"The idea of barbershop harmony is ringing chords and creating special times when singing in places like a parking garage or a bathroom,” Williams said.
Though the style is known for a cappella renditions, Williams occasionally plays accompaniments. His favorite is the ukulele.
During the pandemic, the group had to put their performances on hold but continued to rehearse over Zoom. Though they’re grateful to be back in front of audiences, the men are also glad to be able to get together in person with one another again.
"The combination of singing, the lousy jokes, and just being there for each other when you least expect. When one of us goes through something good or bad we show up out of nowhere to support each other,” Williams said.
Temp says that performances, also called sing-outs, contain 12 to 14 songs plus two quartet performances lasting from 45 minutes to two hours. Concerts are free and contributions are welcome. Performances are rain-or-shine events.
Saturday, April 22 – from 6 - 8 p.m. at D & O Wine Cellars, 70 E Crafton Ave., Crafton. Wine is available for tasting at this free event. You may bring your own snacks.
Sunday, Aug. 6 – at 2:30 p.m. for the free Dean Streator concert series at the Bethel Park Community Center, 5151 Park Ave., Bethel Park.
For more information, pghkeystonechorus.com.