Earlier this summer, a trio of Brown County residents traveled to Pittsburgh to participate in an international convention.
But this wasn’t just any international convention. This was the annual international convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Ripley’s Ben Germann, Higginsport’s John Stuhlreyer, and Hamersville’s Don Jennings are members of the Southern Gateway Chorus, a 70-man strong barbershop-genre chorus based in Cincinnati. The three traveled to Pittsburgh to compete, and on July 3, Southern Gateway Chorus finished in tenth place out of 28. The choruses were from all across the country, with groups from New York, Washington state, Florida, and New Mexico, but there was also a group from Sheffield, England.
“It was fantastic,” Germann told the Ripley Bee in a phone interview. “I don’t know how else to describe it, it was just cool. Barbershopers, no matter how good they are, they’re just like you and I. They’re very approachable. You can even sing with them if you catch them at the right (time).”
Southern Gateway Chorus performed the song “Till There was You,” written by Meredith Wilson for the play, The Music Man, and the song “Somebody Loves Me,” written by Ballard MacDonald and Buddy DeSylva and composed by George Gershwin.
The Westminster Chorus from Westminster, Calif. won the contest for the second year running.
A tenth-place finish for Southern Gateway Chorus is an improvement from a 13th place in 2014. Germann hopes that they can improve as high as fifth place next year.
Germann, who joined, auditioned for, and was invited into Southern Gateway Chorus last January, said the four-part melodies of a barbershop song drew him into the genre after years of playing guitar.
“Singing the harmonies and bringing the chords, as they say,” Germann said of his favorite part of barbershop-style music. “It’s not just harmony. Every four notes that you put together makes a chord. Then when you do that right, it just sounds fantastic.”
“What attracted me to barbershop was that I wanted to learn how to sing harmony, and I thought this would be a fun way to do it,” Germann added.
Germann, who sings bass and is a senior designer with Glenro Inc. in Maysville, got his start singing in gospel choirs later in life in the Ripley and Southern Ohio area, before auditioning and joining Southern Gateway Chorus.
“That wasn’t difficult,” Germann said of the audition process. “I passed on the first time through.”
As a child though, Germann never really had the chance to sing in a choir.
“I didn’t have the opportunity,” Germann said. “I went to St. Michael’s and they didn’t have chorus or music at the time. To do any of that, I had to wait until I got to high school, and I was more academic minded at the time. My academic classes interfered with chorus and music so I didn’t take them in high school either.”
Now that he’s entrenched in the barbershop scene, Germann hopes he can begin to bring chorus singing and the barbershop genre to Brown County, where he can influence the next generation.
“I would love to get something going to support the middle school and the high school (in Ripley),” Germann said. “The Barbershop Harmony Society has made a partnership with the ACDA, which is all the college and high school music and chorus teachers, and we’ve got this partnership where the society is helping these people teach music.”
“I would like to get the program better known in the area, so kids around here from Ripley, Georgetown, Eastern, Western Brown, and Fayetteville know about it.”
Germann would even like to start his own group for chorus lovers in Brown County.
“I’d like to get a chorus started out here (for any age),” Germann said.