Early SenateAires - 1956

A Chorus is Born

A friend recently asked me if I had more of the history of the SenateAires as he was writing a paper on vocal music in the Northwest.  We dug around in the archives (Thanks, Hardin!), and found this article written by one of the long-time members of the SenateAires, Andy Staat, in August 1994.  It was entitled “Salem Senate-Aires Beginnings”  I found it a very interesting read, and hope you will enjoy it as well:

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Group singing of barbershop songs was first heard in Salem in the long since defunct Isaac Walton Clubhouse which overlooked both Pringle Creek and its Park at 500 South Cottage Street. The building no longer exists, and a low-income high-rise apartment building has taken its place.A couple dozen men, mostly Rotarians, promoted the idea of forming a barbershop chorus chapter in June of 1953. A World War I veteran, Ted Nelson, was their “knowledgeable sparkplug.”

Infrequent sing-along meetings were held by interested parties in this clubhouse the rest of that year and for the first eight months of 1954. A request for chartering an S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. chapter was answered by the then barbershopper’s International Secretary, Bob Hafer: “Line up at least 25 enthusiastic men who want to go for it!”

This was done, and on November 10th of 1954 the Salem SenateAires sang themselves into being at Morningside School. Through the payment of $5 dues by 28 charter members, Kenosha, Wisconsin officials granted us membership into their unique and illustrious singing society. [In actuality $120 included a $50 charter fee; the $2.50 per member assessment, totaling $70 was to pay for the Harmonizer’s” publication, plus general expenses.]  We were sponsored by the Eugene-Springfield Chapter, whose incomparable and well-liked chorus leader, Bud Leabo, was destined to take us to International Competition in San Antonio, Texas in 1964, and later was to become our twelfth chorus director from 1978 to his untimely death in 1981.

Our first “home” was a room in the old Marion Hotel basement. First officers were Dr. Don Foster (dentist), as President, with Dr. Walter Snyder (school superintendent), as his assistant, Cliff Ingham (realtor) was Secretary-Treasurer, while George Dow (Motor Vehicles Division worker), was librarian.  Maurice Adams (high school music teacher), was Chorus Director. All but Maurice were bass singers. Like tenors now, Maurice was a rarity then – a never heard of picked-on baritone! Our only non-singer (called a “Crow”), was Roger Williams. He owned and managed a local bakery at the corner of Broadway and Market Streets, which has since been turned into an Eagles’ Lodge.

First chorus uniforms consisted of all-black equipment except for white shirts and white waiter’s vests. These had three gold buttons on each side. Incidentally, it wasn’t until the death, by auto accident, of our second Chorus Director, Dick McClintic, that we exchanged these restaurant uniforms for showy watermelon-red coats over white shirts with black bow ties, along with black pants and shoes. Red ruffled shirts were a change-off from whites a little later.

First sing-out was M.C.’d by Dave Hoss, a radio personality and charter member as well. Naturally, the occasion was “Charter Night,” held in Morningside School’s auditorium.

In addition to chorus members by Salem and Eugene-Springfield chapters, Maurice Adams and Mel Bedsaul played clarinet and banjo, respectively. Both men, plus Don Foster and Larry Miller (tenor) sang as A “Chord Cats” quartet and were as enthusiastically applauded as Bud Leabo’s “Scrap Iron Four,” and a Portland chapter’s more experienced and polished foursome.

The “Chord Cats” were the first to organize and sing in public. Other quartets formed soon afterward, yours truly being a lead singer in one known as “The Four Idle Bum Bums.” Our chapter has continued to encourage and spawn quartets for forty years now – many singing with distinction in area, District and International competitions.

From this small, dedicated group of charterers, leadership has never been lacking, and our chapter has had steady growth and much success – a public favorite in its many singing appearances here in Salem and elsewhere.

National Anthem

Oh Say, Can You See?

After a long stretch of getting together for rehearsals only over the Internet, it was an exciting day for the Oregon SenateAires on May 13, 2021.  We were able to stand together IN PERSON at the ballpark to sing the Star-Spangled Banner for opening day of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Baseball Club. This is not the first time we’ve been given this great honor – for several years, we have been privileged to open the Volcanoes’ season singing our National Anthem.  It was wonderful to be able to share our harmony in the Barbershop style with the 1100 fans in attendance.  Baseball history was made as this was the very first game of the all-new Mavericks League and was held in our hometown team’s park. During the 7th inning stretch, we also sang God Bless America for the crowd, and were met with very appreciative comments as we left the field for our seats.  Sharing our hobby with the world is part of the reason we work so hard on our music – and being able to honor our great country and launch another season of our National Pastime made us doubly blessed.

Welcome back to singing… kind of!

Just like everyone else on the planet, the SenateAires have struggled during the pandemic to stay “fresh” and engaged.  We’ve definitely missed singing in front of our friends and audiences, but just as much, we have missed being around each other and the camaraderie inherent to Barbershop singing. Thanks to the leadership of our director, we’ve been able to get together on-line via ZOOM on a weekly basis.  We’re still meeting on Thursday evenings, and going over our repertoire. Will and the music team have been making sure we know our parts – and we’ve even learned some new songs.

On a few occasions, when conditions were such that it was possible, we have been able to meet outdoors at a local school, utilizing its outdoor recreation area, open on two sides to let lots of air through, to rehearse as a group.  For most of us, this was a particularly rewarding evening as many of us have been pretty much sequestered in our homes, not venturing out except for real necessities.  Being able to see the guys face-to-face and sing with them in person – albeit socially distanced and wearing masks – was nothing short of wonderful.

Once conditions permit, we’re going to resume in-person rehearsals, to be sure.  However, until that time, we will definitely continue gathering virtually to practice our craft.  We welcome virtual visitors to our rehearsals.  If you’re interested in joining in the fun and making some awesome music, reach out to us.  It’s definitely the music that brings us together, but it’s the friendships that make us stay!

What do you miss about singing?

When I was asked this question, I had to stop for a moment and reflect.  You see, I’m not sure that’s the right question.  I don’t miss singing – for I do it every day to some extent.  I do, however, miss singing with my brothers in harmony, and I DEFINITELY miss singing for an audience.  Yeah, there’s no doubt that I’m a bit of a “ham” in that regard.  I crave that look on people’s faces when they hear those chords ring – tapping their feet to the tunes, swaying back and forth.  It makes them feel good, and that shows on their faces with the smiles that shine back at us.

I also miss the rewarding chills that overtake us when four parts generate five notes – that overtone that warms our heart and brings a smile to everyone within earshot.  I miss the fun, the camaraderie, and the sheer joy of making a cappella music. Pure. Simple, yet complex.  Whether an upbeat ragtime, or a slow and heartfelt ballad, the joy of music unites us all and adds positivity where it was previously missing.

I also miss the storytelling that is such an integral part of our craft.  I miss the look of sheer delight when we sing a song that is familiar to our audience but sung in a way they may not have heard before.  I miss the times we can get together to cheer someone up, or to remember a love one who has crossed over that bridge to the chorus eternal.

These are the things I miss most.  What do YOU miss most?

Let’s welcome our new and permanent director, Will Fox!

Will has been a valued member of our chorus for many years, and until early 2020, also served as the assistant director.  A high school music educator, Will is used to working with musicians of all skill levels, turning them into championship performers.  His students have been recognized as champions on many levels both locally and state-wide.

Following the retirement of our Hall-of-Fame Director, Steve Morin, Will took on the role of Interim Director for the SenateAires.  Quickly assembling a new music team along with a few other people in key roles, Will took on the monumental job of keeping our group engaged, even though our world had been turned completely upside down with a global pandemic that prevented us from meeting in person.  Will was not at all fazed by that daunting task; drawing upon his innate leadership qualities and educational background, he devised a plan to help us stay positive, engaged, and even to learn some new music – all “virtually” using just our on-line meetings.  He and the music team introduced several new songs, working with all the members, with section by section learning until we were comfortable singing on our own.

Will has helped us to remember that our brotherhood, our family with the love for making music and serving others, is much stronger than the forces that try to keep us apart.  We are all better with him, and we look forward to continuing our growth, not only in numbers, but also in our proficiency.  Now, voted unanimously by our Board of Directors, we are grateful and delighted to welcome Will as our permanent director.  Thank you, Will, for agreeing to be our leader.

Come Sing With Us!

We welcome any men who enjoy camaraderie and great singing! We’re starting up the process of getting together and making great music again. If you’d like to know more, visit our Contact Page.

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