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December 20, 2000

Barbershop singers tour schools

Cherry Capital Chorus encourages music programs to children
Record-Eagle staff writer
      TRAVERSE CITY - Jeff Belanger played hooky from work Tuesday, but his boss didn't mind.
      A motor home salesman for TC-RV, Belanger has taken a day off for three consecutive years to join the Cherry Capital Chorus for its annual elementary school Christmas tour.
      Sporting blue oxford shirts, khaki trousers and red music binders, the Barbershop singers performed for about 265 children at Courtade Elementary school in East Bay Township, one of six stops on the tour. Other schools included Glenn Loomis, East Bay, Interlochen, Westwoods, Long Lake and the Adult Work Center at the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District Career Tech Center.
      "It's a highlight for the guys," said chorus director Marty Chirgwin, who led the singers in a half-hour program of carols and other holiday songs.
      While ostensibly the show is all about having fun, Cherry Capital Chorus event coordinator John Meyers said it also serves a serious purpose.
      "Our idea here is to expose these young people to the preservation of Barbershop music, the style of music that we are about," Meyers said. More important, it aims to encourage vocal music in local schools and communities.
      "Elementary programs serve as 'farm teams' for the upper grades' chorus programs," said Al Bonney, district chairman for the Barbershoppers' Young Men In Harmony program. "If the kids don't experience the joy of hearing their own voices singing in an ensemble in the fifth grade, they will probably not choose choir over football when they get to high school."
      At Courtade Elementary, audience sing-alongs were the favorites of 6-year-olds Sara Laisure, Abilene Emerson and Emma Beauchamp. Following Chirgwin's lead, the first-graders sang and performed seated choreography to "Jingle Bells," "Up on the Rooftop" and "Frosty the Snowman."
      Bonney said the 50-member Cherry Capital Chorus began a new program this year to help teachers further their programs and involve more students in singing, and to ensure that standard American songs like "Oh, Susannah," "I've Been Working On The Railroad" and "Blue Moon" will continue to be passed down to future generations.
      As part of the program, chorus members will distribute free song books to elementary school students in the five-county area later this week.
      The Cherry Capital Chorus has performed in 21 different schools over the past three years.