Oldies but goodies: St. Anthony-based chorus brings barbershop classics to Hamline


The North Star Chorus, a men’s barbershop group based out of St. Anthony, will be presenting its annual fall show on Sept. 14 at Hamline University in St. Paul. After its founding in the 1950s, the group moved to Elmwood Church 15 years ago and has held weekly rehearsals there ever since. (courtesy of North Star Chorus)

The North Star Chorus has a long history of working with local schools, introducing youth to the lifetime pursuit of singing. In the mid-1970s, North Star hosted a high school quartet contest at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, pictured above. (photos courtesy of North Star Chorus)

The North Star Chorus at a competition circa 1970; the group has been performing barbershop classics for over 50 years. “We sing songs that, if we forget the words, we can just watch the audience because half of them are singing along,” says member Steve Zorn.

How many ways can one say “I”? The North Star Chorus runs through about three, warming up to sing “My Wild Irish Rose” at an Aug. 27 rehearsal in St. Anthony.

From deep and brassy, the 25-odd men on the risers at Elmwood Church slowly heighten their voices to get the clear, crisp sound their director is looking for. After nailing the note, the group continues into the rest of the barbershop standard: “My wild Irish rose, the sweetest flower that grows.” 

The chorus — made up primarily of members from St. Paul and the north metro — is preparing for its fall show on Sept. 14, the only ticketed event it does apart from an annual holiday performance. 

Outside of these two larger programs, the chorus and its various quartets can be found at the Como Lakeside Pavilion, local senior homes and even visiting a loved one during its Singing Valentines program in February. 

This year, the chorus’ September show is themed around “The Codfather, or Hard of Herring,” and will feature comedy skits and a renowned women’s quartet in addition to a list of barbershop numbers from the men themselves. 

“We have a member who ... writes these goofy little scripts that usually last about half an hour to 45 minutes,” explains longtime member Steve Zorn. The comedy routine will be interwoven with the group’s musical numbers. “It’s supposed to give you a chance to sit back and laugh.”

 

Finding a love 

for barbershop

The group has plenty of laughs even amongst themselves, at practice and reminiscing on how they first got involved with the chorus, which started in the late 1950s. 

Longtime members Ron Riley and Duane Rygg both attended shows and felt the need to join the group, thinking on the way home, ‘I have to do that.’

“I was better than them because it was at the intermission that my wife asked me why I was smiling so much,” jokes Zorn. “I didn’t have to wait until after the show.”

Riley says an earth-shattering voice isn’t a prerequisite for joining. 

“When you’re in a group, you blend together and you feel like you’re contributing to the chorus,” says Riley. “[Members] keep coming back because they love it. Some of them sing very well, and some of them don’t sing as well.”

Del Brandt is one of the chorus’ newer performers, having joined only four years ago after moving up from Iowa. Still, he’s been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society — of which the North Star Chorus is a chapter — for 46 years. 

“It gets in your bones,” he laughs. 

 

Community work through voice

Being part of the chorus has also become a way to give back, and to introduce a younger generation to the lifelong benefits of singing. To that end, North Star Chorus raises money at many of its shows for the Youth in Harmony program, an initiative that works with music programs at local schools. 

“They’ll have a [women’s] quartet work with the gals, and a male quartet work with the fellows. Then they end up putting on a show in the evening, free to the public,” says Brandt. 

For many chorus members, what started as a simple night out has turned into a lifelong passion and a way to stay connected to their community. 

Residents wanting to see the chorus in action can attend its fall show at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Hamline University’s Anne Simley Theatre, located at 1530 Taylor Ave. in St. Paul. 

Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under, and can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information, go to www.northstarchorus.org/events.html. 

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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