Connecticut, Massachusetts & Rhode Island [8 nights with the Fontaines]

After my visit with “The Brothers in Harmony” in Hamilton Square, New Jersey I drove to Tolland, Connecticut where I was hosted by Dan Fontaine and his wife Lena. Their daughter Adison was still at home but her brother Bailey was away at college so I slept in his room. They had three large black dogs that were pretty friendly, except for Hanna, who wasn’t too happy to have me hanging around. She would growl at me with a menacing deep throated growl. She never became aggressive but she did let me know that she had her doubts about me. By my last day there she was starting to get used to me. I wouldn’t say that she was starting to like me, just getting used to me.

It was very kind and generous of Dan & Lena to host me for eight nights. Dan even took some time off from work and we had a great time together. He arranged for us to visit five different chapters while I was there and took me to all five chapters in his new Audi. I loved it!

On Friday night, May 5th, I went with Dan & Lena to Cassidy Hill Winery which was not too far from their home. They have a lovely house tucked back in the hills of Connecticut. It sits on 6 wooded acres with a 1/4 mile driveway up to the house. It was homey and comfortable. I felt very welcomed there.

On Saturday night, the 6th, Dan & Lena took me to the Bushnell Theater in Hartford to attend The Connecticut Forum. That night the Forum was entitled “Nerd Fest-Why Nerds Rule the World”. The moderator was John Moe, host of NPR’s “Wits”. The three person panel consisted of Chuck Klosterman, author, Adam Savage, host of the hit show “Mythbusters” and Aisha Tyler, Comedian and T.V. Star. It was a very cool experience for me. I had never attended that type of event before. I found it to be very thought provoking and enjoyable. Something that I would like to do again soon.

As Dan and I visited each chapter we had a unique experience each time. The first chapter that we visited was “Vocal Revolution” in Concord, Massachusetts and they were working with a visual coach. Her name was Erica Spiers. Their visual presentation improved as soon as she stood in front of the chorus.

We visited Dan’s chorus (The Silk City Chorus) in Manchester, Connecticut on Monday night. They had recently presented a very entertaining show. The theme of the show had all the guys dressed as Pirates and featured songs that supported that theme. It went over so well that they are taking it on the road to other venues. I really enjoyed meeting the guys and could tell why the show had been so well received. They sang well and were having a great time together and the lyrics to some of their songs were clever and funny.

We visited “The Mad Hatters” in Danbury on Tuesday, the “Connecticut Yankee Chorus” in Wallingford on Wednesday and “The Narragansett Bay Chorus” in N. Providence, Rhode Island on Thursday.

I want to say Thank You to the Fontaines for being such gracious hosts to me for eight nights. Your kindness will not be forgotten!

When I met Dan last September in Marlborough, Massachusetts I felt like I had met someone who would be a friend for life. I certainly hope that is the case. I hope to be able to return their kindness some day by hosting them.

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Keeping it straight

Since my last post I’ve been a busy boy. I really enjoyed my visit to the Alexandria Harmonizers and walking around Old Town Alexandria. My host was very gracious and allowed me to stay two nights. I stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights (April 22nd & 23rd) in Oxon, which is just outside of Alexandria. I headed to Annapolis to visit The Sons of the Severn Chorus on Thursday, April 25th.

I didn’t have a confirmed place to stay that night but I really wanted to see Annapolis so I headed out and spent the day wondering the streets. The “Sons” were warm & welcoming and before the rehearsal was over one of the men offered to let me stay with him. He lives in Bethesda, MD about 50 minutes from Annapolis. He and his wife (Marge) also allowed me to stay two nights and offered to let me stay longer if I needed to. They are wonderful people and were very kind to me.

On Friday morning Marge offered to take me to the subway station so that I could go into DC for the day. I took the red line and spent the day on the mall. It was crowded with lots of buses and kids running every where.

On Saturday morning, April 26th, I left Bethesda and headed to Louisa, Virginia to attend a performance of “Soundworks” at the Louisa Arts Center. It took about two hours to drive down. I stopped at a McDonalds on the way and googled “Hotels in Louisa, Va”. There were no hotels in Louisa so I checked to see if they might have a Bed & Breakfast. I found a place called The Whistle Stop. You would never be able to guess why it was called “Whistle Stop”. That’s right, it was at an intersection where a train passed by. The whistle sounded around 11:30 pm and then again around 5:20 am. The train came within about 50 yards of the house. Lying in bed I could feel the vibration of the tracks.

At breakfast on Sunday morning I met three sisters. Tori was the sister who lived there in Louisa. She was receiving her 10 year chip from A.A. Her sisters Teri and Tami had come to support her and celebrate with her. Her daughter Becky was also there at the breakfast table. I really enjoyed meeting them and chatting with them over breakfast. They were delightfully interesting.

That afternoon I drove to Penns Grove, NJ and stayed at a Comfort Inn. On Monday night, April 28th, I attended the rehearsal for The Chorus of the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware. After the rehearsal I followed my host to his home in Newark, Delaware. I really enjoyed meeting Neil and his sweetheart Dottie. I stayed with them Monday and Tuesday nights. Neil is a dual member of both the Chorus of the Brandywine in Wilmington, DE and the Chorus of the Chesapeake in Dundalk, MD. I was pleased to learn that the Dundalk chorus was going on a secret bus ride Tuesday evening to visit another chorus. It turned out that they visited “The Peninsulaires” in Salsibury, MD.

On the bus ride to Salisbury one of the guys got to talking with me about attending a rehearsal of The Brothers in Harmony Chorus in Hamilton Square, NJ. I told him that I was planning to head north to Connecticut and he said that it would be on my way. He made contact with someone from The Brothers and the next morning I received a call from Jeff Winik offering to let me stay at his home. Jeff is in the 2014 Seniors Quartet that won Gold at Mid-winter this year. His quartets name is “Faces 4 Radio”.

I arrived in Kendall Park, NJ at Jeff’s home about 5:00 pm Wednesday, April 30th, and we went to dinner before heading to the rehearsal of the Brothers. It felt a lot like being at a Circle City Sound rehearsal. They had a very similar sound to CCS. Their director has a very different style but it was obvious to me that he had a similar kind of connection to the chorus like Garry has. I really enjoyed their rehearsal and was a little disappointed to find out that they didn’t have an afterglow. Jeff said that they have a lot of guys who travel over an hour to get to rehearsal.

On Thursday, May 1st, I drove up through New York City on my way to Connecticut. I arrived at the home of Dan Fontaine at 5:00 pm. I met Dan in Marlborough, Mass. last September when I attended the NEHB (New England Harmony Brigade). When I met Dan I was really impressed with his voice and his humility. For someone who is so extremely talented and sings so incredibly well he is really down to earth. After meeting his wife, Lena, I couldn’t help but wonder why the dorky looking guys always seem to end up with the beautiful women. He definitely married up.

Honestly, I don’t think that Dan is really dorky looking, he just reminds me of Pee Wee Herman, if you like that kind of look.

Thursday evening Dan and I drove up to Concord, Massachusetts and visited the “Vocal Revolution Chorus”. They were having a coaching session with Erica Spyres. She was working with them on visual presentation. The visual presentation improved the minute she walked into the room.

So this week I visited five different choruses and was also in six different states. Only in the North East could you do that. I found it difficult to remember what state I was in and what day it was. It will be refreshing to be able to sleep in the same bed for the next several days. Dan and Lena have offered to let me stay with them until their son, Bailey, comes home from The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

I should be able to keep things straight in my mind now that I have a home base for awhile. Thank you to Dan and Lena for hosting me and for being so kind!

A Windy Wednesday in Old Town Alexandria, Va

Yes, the wind is blowing and it’s in the upper 50’s. Supposed to get to 64 today. It just might. I’m strolling through Old Town Alexandria today. Stopped at the visitors center to get a map and talk to the cute girl behind the counter. She’s a fountain of information. I think she also works as a guide at one of the local museums. She was a pretty good listener too. Naturally I shared some of my story with her. She seemed genuinely interested. She kept asking me questions.

The Alexandria Harmonizers had a great rehearsal last night. Lots of men doing lots of different things. It looked like a well oiled machine. If you would like more information about the Harmonizers you can find their Wikapedia page. They are an impressive group! They are preparing to head to Normandy, France in June to participate in the 70th celebration of D-day. It’s a pretty prestigious thing to be invited to sing and represent our country in this celebration. They are up to the task. You can’t help but be impressed with this organization.

There is a lot more that I could tell you about my experience last night. If you really want to know, send me an email. My new email address is rfreeman6070@gmail.com. The other SBCGLOBAL address that I had for years is now gone. Please enter my gmail address into your contacts. Thanks!

I’m hoping to visit the Sons of the Severn Chorus tomorrow night in Annapolis, MD. Waiting to hear back from their contact guy. Stay tuned!

Soundworks

Midlothian, Virginia (just outside of Richmond) is home to Larry Kellogg and his sweet wife Linda, two of the most hospitable and wonderful people that I have ever met. They were so kind to put me up this past Sunday and Monday nights. I enjoyed some very stimulating conversation, a very comfortable queen sized bed, coffee and two blueberry muffins for breakfast on Monday morning and 9 holes of golf with Larry.

Monday evening I had the pleasure of visiting Larry’s chorus, Soundworks. Of coarse it’s not just Larry’s chorus, there are about 16 other guys who also call it their chorus. I was very impressed with this unique group. Their rehearsal and performance format is very different than all of the other chapters I have visited. They don’t use risers, every man in the group has a voice and is expected to provide regular input regarding song choices as well as how the ensemble is performing. They don’t end their rehearsal by singing “Keep The Whole World Singing”.

They have a different philosophy about how a barbershop chorus should operate. I was intrigued. They certainly sing very well! Their audition process is rigorous and only very good singers who are able to sing multiple parts are admitted. They are not looking to expand their numbers.

I’ll be very frank, I am still processing the experience that I had last night and the dichotomy between this group and the average chorus. There were several men there last night that have been Barbershoppers for a long time and there were guys that have been singing other genres of music in other groups. Soundworks is a delightful combination of several styles of music, including some four square barbershop. The basic concept of singing in a Cappella four part Harmony was the common thread. I certainly understand the appeal of what they are doing.

Of coarse anytime someone starts putting a twist on what has come to be accepted as the “norm” eyebrows are raised. Just as there are some men within the BHS that are skeptical and not in favor of what the Brigade guys are doing there are skeptics of Soundworks. It seems to me that there is plenty of room within the BHS for groups like the Brigade and Soundworks to do their thing and still contribute to preserving Barbershop. In my humble opinion the people who are raising their eyebrows now are gonna have a coronary when the next generation of Barbershoppers come into their own.

I’ll be thinking more about what I experienced last night and will have more to say. Stay tuned!