Norwich Rose City Chorus marks 65 years of barbershop harmony

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Apr. 22, 2013
Ulrich 'Ric' Tetreault reads the proclamation of Barbershop Harmony Week in Norwich, signed by Mayor Peter Nystrom to honor the Rose City Chorus' 65th anniversary. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Ulrich 'Ric' Tetreault reads the proclamation of Barbershop Harmony Week in Norwich, signed by Mayor Peter Nystrom to honor the Rose City Chorus' 65th anniversary. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Not many organizations can call a noisy meeting room to silence with a pitch pipe. But one soft note hushes the chatter and calls the singers to await either an announcement or the first bars of a song.

The Norwich Rose City Chorus commemorated a double anniversary for barbershop singing April 8: the 75th anniversary of the national Barbershop Harmony Society (formerly the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, or SPEBSQSA), and the local chapter’s own 65th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the group presented Dick Curland with his original charter membership certificate, proclaiming him one of the chorus’s founding members.

Curland’s barbershop career began in high school at Norwich Free Academy, he said. His music teacher in the 1940s heard him harmonizing along with a folk song record in class and asked him, “How’d you like to hear some real harmony?” He invited the young Curland to meet with his barbershop group in Mystic. “I walked in and there were all these guys singing,” he recalled. “I’d never heard anything like it. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, it sounded so good to me.”

Curland’s certificate grants him permission to harmonize at any time of the day or night, “subject to the bylaws, rules and regulations of the order and conforming always to the applicable state laws relating to preservation of the public peace.”

Curland was not the only long-time member present. “I’ve been part of this for 47 years,” said Ulrich “Ric” Tetreault. “I can sing all four parts.”  In typical quartets, the voices in descending pitch are tenor, lead, baritone and bass.

“It’s the only kind of music where a harmony line is above the lead,” said baritone Joe Kopka. He was one of the Adventurers, a visiting quartet from Manchester, N.H., which performed a set of songs including a spoof of an old barbershop standard. Sung in the voice of a lonely widower who’s disinterested in women his own age, the familiar tune was re-written as “I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl My Son Brought Home Last Night.” But the group also sang more familiar fare, including “Scarlet Ribbons” and “Keep Your Sunny Side Up.”

Other visiting singers represented the Sea Notes from New London and the Sub Tones, consisting of Electric Boat employees. “It’s like a bee to honey. These groups come from everywhere,” said Curland.

During the meeting’s social hour, impromptu quartets periodically burst into spontaneous song, a phenomenon Curland said was called “woodshedding” in barbershop circles. “That’s when you don’t know the part but… try to fill in the harmony somewhere,” he said.

The Rose City Chorus, currently 20 members strong, meets every Monday night at 7:30 p.m. St. Mark Lutheran Church in Norwich, “You don’t even have to know how to read music,” said member Chris Palonen. “Barbershop singing is a lot of fun. It doesn’t require instrumental back-up.”

The group does an annual show in the fall, along with many sing-outs at local nursing homes, community events and festivals, said member Kel Stott. It also competes with other barbershop groups for regional and state bragging rights.

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