In the spring of 2002 we approached both high schools in our town of 24,000 people to ask if they would like to share our art form and expertise. The music teacher at the Catholic high school, Blessed Trinity (BT), was excited at the prospect but the vocal music teacher at the public high school, Grimsby Secondary School (GSS) was somewhat indifferent to our offer. Despite the enthusiasm at BT, however, we were unable to become involved with the school for numerous reasons – not the least being that their only music teacher, Ms Angela Maccaroni, taught both vocal and instrumental classes and organized the school’s band as well as its choir. Understandably, Ms Maccaroni found it difficult to schedule time for the “Barbershoppers”. So we continued to touch base with BT from time to time but did not want to appear to be too ‘pushy’.
We continued to touch base with both schools and, in the fall of 2006, the breakthrough came with the arrival of a new music teacher at GSS, Ms Bonnie Henderson. We asked her if a vocal ensemble from GSS would like to participate in our first ever Christmas Benefit Concert. To our delight her response was an enthusiastic, “We’d love to.” And so, after four and a half years of follow-up, our Youth In Harmony Program was about to become the proverbial ‘overnight success’.
At that time the GSS choir consisted of about fifteen girls and three boys. They sang at our Christmas Benefit Concert as the “GSS Vocal Express” and were so well received by our patrons that we subsequently asked Ms Henderson if she would consider having the choir perform on our annual show in April 2007. The choir members voted unanimously to do so and Ms Henderson eagerly accepted our offer to help coach the choir. And so, for the next few months three members of the chapter’s music team, Bob Pyper, Fred Lilley and Bruce Herdman, spent an hour or two each week developing the choir’s vocal and performance skills.
During that time a girls’ ensemble was formed and their coaches were so impressed that they were invited to be featured on our show as well. The kids were excited to do so and came up with the name the “Bobby Pins”. Show time arrived and the choir wowed the audience with its a cappella rendition of the medley “This Little Light/Do Lord”. The Bobby Pins sang “Under the Boardwalk” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” and were an absolute smash! Our audiences loved them.
GSS Vocal Express – 2007
We continued coaching the choir for another month or so until the school year ended and we promised to re-connect in the fall.
In the fall of 2007, pleased by the success of our YIH efforts at GSS we approached both high schools once more and once again we were well received at GSS.
With the 2007 show experience in mind, the returning choir members were looking forward to performing on our Christmas Benefit Concert as well as hoping to be invited back to our annual show in 2008. By now, their numbers had swelled to nearly 30 members due, in part, to the Barbershoppers involvement and encouragement. The “Bobby Pins” had evolved into a largely student-directed ensemble and a girls’ quartet – the J-BOBs – had been formed.
Again, the music team members spent hours coaching the choir and the two quartets. Our audiences’ reactions to these talented youngsters was, predictably, overwhelmingly supportive.
The chorus’ interaction with GSS continued to grow. Our show motif was set in medieval times so we invited a string trio from GSS to entertain our audiences before each of our two shows. And, through our connection with the school’s music department, the Art Club at GSS agreed to paint our stage backdrop while the English department acted as judges for the Ontario District Show Program Award which the Grimsby chapter sponsors.
GSS Vocal Express – 2008
In the fall of 2008 we returned to GSS and the Vocal Express. By now, graduation had claimed many of the students from the original group we
had met in 2006, including all of the “Bobby Pins”. But the choir was intact and the “J-BOBs” were still going strong. As in previous years, we provided them with sheet music and hours of coaching.
The J-BOBS – 2009
The choir performed on our annual show while the J-BOBs sang on both our Christmas Benefit Concert as well as our annual show. Again, the GSS Art Club painted our backdrop and the English Department acted as judges for the Show Program Award. In May of 2009 we sent the J-BOBs and their teacher, Ms Henderson, to the all day Harmony Explosion Choral Clinic & Workshop which was sponsored by the Newmarket Ontario Chapter, The Upper Canada Chordsmen.
J-BOBs & Ms Henderson at Youth Harmony Explosion – 2009
In August we were contacted by the music teacher at Blessed Trinity who asked us to teach the boys in the choir a four-part arrangement of “O Canada” and to provide coaching to the entire choir for an hour or so a week. BT provided an ensemble for our Christmas Benefit Concert and we have invited them to perform on our annual show. We are currently in the process of defining the role the music teacher would like us to fill in the coming months.
At the same time we continue to maintain the positive relationship with GSS that we have nurtured so carefully. We will continue to support their choir with sheet music, coaching and Harmony Explosion experiences.
It has been a long and, at times, circuitous process from our initial contact seven (plus) years ago to where we are today. But the trip was well worth it. Working with enthusiastic and talented young people is a wonderfully uplifting experience and when the kids say, “Thanks, Mr. H. We really appreciate all that you do for us,” you know your patience and tenacity were worthwhile.