- March 3, 2010
A squad of six men ranging from early middle age to their early 70s laugh and converse on a quiet Tuesday night in the small chapel space inside FirstSarasota, the Downtown Baptist Church on Main Street.
They start to arrange chairs and haul out long, metal platforms. As they assemble the risers into a five-tiered semicircle, more men file into the chapel. Dozens of men start catching up, chuckling and ribbing each other.
Then a different sound fills the room as four men in the corner of the room start singing in synchronicity. A wave of harmonic warmth washes over the chapel as the quartet plays with their respective pitches.
The Chorus of the Keys is Sarasota’s oldest barbershop/a cappella organization, celebrating its 65th anniversary season. Founded in spring 1949, the male choir began almost by happenstance. John Whelan, visiting from Boston, came to Sarasota to watch the Boston Red Sox baseball team play in Payne Park during its spring training. Whelan wanted to get a group of guys together to sing while he was in town. The Bostonian called local choir directors and put out ads in the local papers. About 60 men filled the Orange Blossom Hotel on the designated day, ready to sing.
Since then, the Sarasota chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in American (commonly known as the Barbershop Harmony Society) has been singing at concerts, events and private functions all across Florida. The communal and open feeling that started the choir still keeps it thriving today.
“I think it’s this organization’s life blood,” says Byron Poore, 36, director of the Chorus of the Keys. “If we didn’t feel like we’re a community, then we wouldn’t be able to sing together.”
The Chorus of the Keys holds open rehearsals every Tuesday evening as it prepares for this year’s annual show, titled “Through the Years.” On this night, eight new men sat in on rehearsal. Some were recent arrivals to the Sarasota area with decades of a cappella experience. Some were imports for the winter season yearning for a few hours of spontaneous singing.
“The harmony got me hooked,” says Tom Hankins, 76, president of the Chorus of the Keys. “When you ring the chords, it’s really fantastic.”
This aligning of the chords is the moment when the leads, tenors, bass and baritone sections align their pitches and notes. The result with the approximately 50 singers in attendance is a crystalline sound that rings through the chapel as they rehearse classic barbershop songs, or “ole polecats,” and more contemporary rock songs arranged for barbershop.
“I had never sung a lick of music before I joined,” says Patrick Kilbane, 35, vice president of chapter development. “When I realized that I could sing and hit a chord, I was hooked.”
IF YOU GO
‘Through the Years’
When: 2:30 and 7 p.m. Feb. 21
Where: Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way
Tickets: $20 to $35
Info: Visit chorusofthekeys.org.