During Our 65th Anniversary
(The Alexandria Harmonizers Chorus – Our
By Jack Pitzer
It all began right in the same hall where we meet today – 1605 Cameron Street
Chapter of SPEBSQSA, Inc., (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of
Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America
was chartered June 19, 1948.
us referred to as part of the Barbershop Harmony Society, since the public
understands that better, but legally we’re still SPEBSQSA – or “The Society”
We began to be called the
Alexandria Harmonizers after an Alexandria
article used the term to describe the new group in town that was
having a concert.
Soon after we were founded, the marketing gurus coined the
phrase “George Washington Sang Here,” and we had it on our name tags and
chapter signs. (It was a play on the
popular gag in the Alexandria/Mt. Vernon area “George Washington Slept Here!”)
The chapter happened because a gung-ho barbershopper from
the DC chapter, Dean Snyder, was
active in spreading the word and helping men discover this singing hobby. In the winter of 1947, he and his wife
rescued Gene Barnwell and his wife
who were walking along the road in a bad storm.
Dean quickly led the
discussion to singing and as they say, “it is all history from there.”
music and helped Dean
singers to be ready to charter a chapter in Alexandria
The chapter was sponsored in the Society by the well-established
Washington, DC, Chapter.
Alexandria would later go on to
sponsor six other chapters. Gene
was also the chapter’s first musical director.
was also quick to
suggest to Gene
that, as director of
the Alexandria Recreation Department, he should consider adding barbershop
harmony singing to the department.
This is how our chapter came to be
supported by the City of Alexandria, through Parks and Recreation, which is
true still in 2013.
And they arranged for the chapter to meet at the recreation
center on Cameron Street.
True to its name to preserve quartet singing, the chapter
had quartets form right away in those early years. One quartet, THE VIRGINIA HAMS, was composed
of several men who had been founders of the chapter or who had joined right after
the founding: Al Siepert, Bill Bennett,
Henry Brown, and Wilbur Schmidt. They combined humor and good singing to
entertain a lot of audiences in the area. The quartet frequently changed members
during their active years, with ten different versions involving 20 members,
including our long-time registered agent and attorney, Jack Crickenberger.
Membership of the chapter started with about 20 guys, the
required number to receive a charter document
the SPEBSQSA headquarters signed by Society Founder OC Cash
The number grew pretty fast and stayed at about 60 for a lot of
years until leaders in the chapter made a concerted effort to grow and get to
100 driven by the leadership of John
the chapter became the largest in the Society with over 200 members for many
It seemed many men joined and
when they were transferred for military or work reasons, they retained their
membership in Alexandria
That is basically true still today.
We have had
over 1,100 members join our chapter since its founding.
As of September 3, 2013, we had 231 members.
As you can imagine, the chapter was built upon a strong
leadership and administrative foundation.
Many of the men who joined were leaders in government and the military
and brought their skills and talents to bear in the chapter. Our chapter
has a reputation for doing things well and with class, at the chapter level, as
well as providing leadership at the Southern Division and Mid-Atlantic District
levels above the chapter. Currently the
following active members are serving in district leadership positions: Bill Colosimo is president, Bob Eckman is treasurer, Keith Jones is secretary, Dennis Ritchey is member-at-large on
The list of our guys on the district operations team
includes Chuck Harner, Gary Plaag, John
Santora, Alan Wile, and Mike Kelly.
Dennis Ritchey, Mike Kelly, and Carl Kauffmann are members of the
district events team.
currently serves on the BHS board adding to a long list of Harmonizers who have
served at that level including current members Alan Wile and Joe Cerutti. Chuck
Harner is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Harmony Foundation
Some of our members have also served at the Society level as
judges, teachers, and administrative leaders. Wilbur
Sparks was president of SPEBSQSA in 1970.
Darryl Flinn, who was our
coach and coined the phrase “Breathless Moments,” was also Society president
and served a term as executive director. Dean
Snyder never served as president, but was
Society Historian for years and was often called upon to speak or share his
knowledge of the Society as an elder statesman.
(We had him on stage with us when he was 94, and he introduced a song as
part of our swan song package at the 1996 International in Salt Lake
City.) Bud Arberg, a composer and one of our early music directors, was
the first to use the phrase “barbershop craft” to describe teaching techniques
and methods. Bud worked for the Department of the Army and was assigned to
develop materials used around the nation to help men sing better. These four men, plus prolific arranger, Walter Latzko, are our chapter members
enshrined in the Barbershop Harmony Hall of Fame.
Many of our men have headed up committees at the national
level (the organization became international when it included singers from
there are groups singing our style of barbershop in England, Sweden, Germany,
Australia, Ireland, Denmark, New Zealand and other countries. For many years Jack Pitzer headed merchandise and marketing committees, which
included operation of the store where the Society
sells CDs and clothes and other logo items.
Recently, Joe Cerutti and Alan Wile were on Society membership
task forces. And Joe was chair of the Society’s chorus director development
committee along with Terry Reynolds
and John Hohl. Chris Buechler is on the Society
Governance and Bylaws Committee and is one of the Society parliamentarians, and
Bob Sutton is on the archives
committee. Gary Plaag was Society
chairman of the Young Men in Harmony committee (now called Youth in Harmony)
from 1998-2000. And this is just a few of our members who have served on
Currently one of our members, Joe Cerutti, works for the BHS as a music education specialist from
his home in VA; and another member, Sean
Devine, works for Harmony Foundation from his home in PA.
Several members in the chapter have been or are now
certified judges for contest events: Bob
Wachter, Keith Jones, Scott Werner, Jack Pitzer, John Hohl, Jed Casey, Gary
Plaag, Chuck Harner, Chris Buechler, Daryll Flinn, Craig Odell, Phil Stern,
Sean Devine, Dan O’Brien, Tony Colosimo, John Santora, and Joe Cerutti. Chris
Buechler was named head of the contest administrator category for 2014.
Similarly, it was guys from our chapter who felt the need to
provide better leadership training for chapter officers.
They developed a training program that became
“COTS” or Chapter Officer Training School (now called Chapter Operations
Training Seminar or Leadership Academy).
Those schools have continued in one form or another for over 45
Regularly we have had guys from
our chapter teach at these schools all over the U.S. such as Terry Jordan, Gary Plaag, Alan Wile, Dick
Newton, Chris Buechler, Chuck Harner, Bob Eckman, Terry Reynolds, John Santora,
One important aspect of the chapter history has been our
efforts to communicate. We used the typical
formats for news releases, displays and radio announcements for ticket sales
and recruitment. Several Harmonizers
have been honored at the Society level for their work in public relations
including Alan Wile, Martin Banks,
Father Joe Witmer and Scipio Garling. Wilbur
Sparks was well known as the editor (the original YeEd) of our chapter
bulletin, The Echo, although he was
not the first editor. Scipio Garling served a term as editor
and produced a landmark edition on diversity that garnered much attention
across the Society. Clark Chesser is current editor of The Echo which is used to communicate with friends, family,
customers and other audiences. A future version of this abbreviated history
will need to include information about our chapter’s extensive and successful
use of social media and other technology for sales, marketing and recruitment.
Another important aspect of the chapter history was the
early adoption of strong show production activities. The annual spring show began in 1951 and was called
the Spring Tonic. The members, and their
wives too, built elaborate sets and wrote funny and entertaining scripts. The shows were most often held in local high
recent years, our major shows were held in commercial theaters and our sell-out
holiday dinner shows are held at First Baptist Church on King Street.
joined the chapter in 1975 and brought a whole new approach to show production
that members Bob Bates, Gary Plaag,
and Steve White expanded upon for
about a dozen annual shows. Ken
Fess is likely the top producer of big shows in recent years. Greg
Tepe now produces most local package shows for the chapter.
Popular productions were the Toyland show, which we took on
the road to many chapters in our district and to the district convention; one
show in a fraternity house; a knights and dragons melodrama; a pirate show;
several westerns; a magic show; and we repeated a show staged in a local small
town radio station with a sound effects guy, a detective, an office secretary
and a crew of characters doing the radio ads. Stories from those fun shows are often
told when guys dig back into the past.
Our uniforms from the past often get talked about too, such
as the wild yellow and green suits that scored high in stage presence in 1978,
or our popular red, white, and blue leisure suits when they were in style. We have had a few tux outfits, including
white ones, and the front row has used pop-up top hats and even snap
canes. And of course we have had a
number of Velcro uniform changes over the years. The end caps we brought back in 2010 were a
signature item for the Harmonizers in contests and formal shows in the past. In recent
years we have added an annual holiday show with toys and elves and Santa and
more recently turned it into a very popular dinner show where chorus members
are both waiters and singers.
Over the years we have had some special feature shows like
the 2010 joint show with Westminster chorus from Southern California and seven
top quartets from around the world. In
1987 we hosted a joint show featuring the many-time-gold-medal chorus, the
Vocal Majority, from Dallas, TX, at Constitution Hall in DC. Father Joe Witmer was the show chairman
who had the courage to make it happen. Chuck
Harner was instrumental in managing the two performances of the King
Singers at the Kennedy Center in 1983 – their first in the DC area.
We also sang jointly with some Sweet Adeline choruses, including gold medalist Ramapo Valley, and silver
medalist Pride of Baltimore.
In 1961 the chapter hosted a Sunday afternoon show featuring
the famous BUFFALO BILLS from “The Music Man” Broadway and movie fame. Another fun show was when we did a couple of
our exchanges with the Cincinnati Western Hills chorus. They came to Virginia and did their zany
Robin Hood show, and we went to Ohio and presented our Toyland show. More recently Ken Rub produced a show featuring ROCKAPELLA to help us attract a
younger and diverse musical audience.
Many of these shows were financially successful. However, the Harmonizers’ largest fundraising
project might have been our sales of WI cheese products. Over the years we sold over 20 tons of cheese
from 1976 through 1998. Jack Pitzer started the sales project
and Dick Hall managed it for many
years until the market changed. Currently we sell White House Christmas
ornaments with Sandy Stamps as
honcho; and we sell Entertainment books with Chuck Harner as honcho. Our
scrip sales program has also been an important source of income. Ian
Poulin has been the honcho for this effort in recent years.
Over the years we have produced several albums and then CDs
to market our singing and raise money.
The most recent holiday CD, Comfort
& Joy, was a huge success.
While the chapter grew in numbers and administratively, it
also grew strong musically. We have been
so fortunate to have gifted chorus directors: Gene Barnwell – 1948-50; Werner
Paul – 1950-61; Bud Arberg –
1951-62; Oz Newgard – 1963-70; Scott Werner – 1970-80 and 1984-2002; John Hohl – 1980-83; Richard Lewellen – 2003-06; and Joe Cerutti – 2007 until now.
The chorus began to make its mark and finally won the
Southern Division contest in 1975. It was not until 1978 that we won our
first Mid-Atlantic District contest.
Over the years the Harmonizers have won the district championship 24
times and have earned 18 International medals, including four golds: 1986 in
Salt Lake City, 1989 in Kansas City, 1995 in Miami Beach, and in 1998 in
Atlanta. Some will say that one of the
best successes was when we won the district for the first time and went to the
1978 International in Cincinnati and earned a fourth place medal. There are still 18 chapter members who sang
and earned that first medal – five of those long-timers sang in the third place
medalist chorus in Toronto in 2013.
The good singing and excellent performance packages led to
opportunities to showcase ourselves at the Kennedy Center Honors show several
times, to sing for the Supreme Court Historical Society, to sing two times at
Carnegie Hall, to sing at Disneyland with Dick
Van Dyke, to do Wolf Trapp’s 20th anniversary gala with Rosemary
Clooney, Michael Feinstein and the Canadian Brass; to do a Wolff Trap 80th
birthday special for Victor Borge which is often shown on cable TV; and help
Elizabeth Taylor launch her new perfume.
Stage presence teams helped the chorus expand its
entertainment skills beginning with chairmen like Jack Pitzer, Jed Casey, Craig Odell, and Jay Hargrove, and continued by
Chuck McKeever, Chris Buechler, Dean Rust, Gary Plaag, and Scipio Garling. Special coaches helped us shine – Geri Geis and Cindy Hansen. For several years Geri was artistic director and helped us establish our reputation
for artistic performance. Carlos Barillo joined in 2013 and did the choreography for our
Toronto package, with the help of Craig
Kujawa as front row captain. Out-of-chapter
coaches for musical and visual matters are still an important part of
the current Harmonizer story and that list is like reading “most famous names”
from around the Society.
The growing music program yielded many quartets and some of
them earned high marks in the international barbershop contest world. Their successes led to more chapter and
chorus successes as coaches and good musical arrangements came our way because
of them. For sure we should mention the
NOVA CHORDS with John Adams, Scott
Werner, Brian Rodda and Dick
Whitehouse who won a third place bronze medal in1976, and then VAUDEVILLE,
with John Casey, Scott Werner, John
Hohl, and Bill Cody, who took
home a 2nd place silver medal in 1985.
But other chapter quartets helped the chapter make history,
such as PROFESSORS OF HARMONY; THE BUREAUCRATS; FRIENDSHIP FIRE COMPANY (with Mike Everard always on bass and about a
dozen leads and baritones over the years); HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, which is
registered each year by the chapter and made up of our section leaders; and
FOUR FROM THE HEART, a group of guys headed mostly by Bruce Lauther who will sing any time or place and do so several
times a month.
Over the years there have been many district champ quartets
with Harmonizers in the quartet. Some of
those members have earned the honor more than once. (The bold names were
members at the time they won, but some men have joined our chapter later and
are now members – so it is a little confusing.)
1977—SUSSEX COUNTS – Ron Allen, Jim Marberger
, Carroll Beard, Jon
1985 - ALEXANDRIA’S RAGTIME BAND – John Adams, Mike Wallen, Alan Durick, Craig Odell
1988 – COPYRIGHT 86 – Bill Colosimo, John Casey, Mike Wallen,
1994 – BINGO BROTHERS –
John Casey, Fred Womer, Dennis
Malone, Gary Parker
1996 – THE BAY RUM RUNNERS – Ed Cazenas
, Lynn Conaway, Barry
Galloway, Steve White
1997 – PREMIERE – Rick
Savage, Fred Womer, Dennis Malone, Bill Clark
1999 – HIJINX – Gary
Plaag, Will Cox, Howard Hull, Chip Guffey
2000 – CASINO – Mike
Wallen, Scott Disney, Michael
Gellert, Mike Kelly
2004 – PHAT CATS – Ed
Cazenas, Scott Disney, Mike Pinto, Steve White
2005 – IGUANAS IN FLIGHT – Joe Sawyer, Tony Colosimo, Andrew Kay, Wayne Adams
2006 – FOUR ACES – Ed
Cazenas, Nick Aiuto, Richard Lewellen, Scott Risley
2007 – RINGERS – Rob
Seay, Scott Disney, Mike Pinto, Al Mazzoni
2008 – NEW RELEASE – Ryan Griffith, Shawn Thomas, Noal
Morrison, Joe Eckert
2009 – OLD SCHOOL – Rick
Taylor was tenor, who also won as bari with ARCADE in 1992.
2011 – TOUCHSTONE – Steve
White was bass and Jay Butterfield
2012 – MAD HATTERS – Steve
White was bass and Rick Taylor
More recently we have had some senior quartets earn high
marks (CITY SLICKERS, AULD LANG SYNE) and one won the BHS Seniors contest –
REMINISCE in 1995 with John Adams, Scott
Werner, Alan Durick and Dick
On the other side of the coin, some of our younger members
have done well in the collegiate quartet contest and ROADTRIP won the gold with
Tony Colosimo on lead in 2007. Eric
Wallen sang bass in CRUNCH TIME and earned 5th place in the 2008
More recently, DA CAPO with Ryan Griffith, Tony Colosimo, Joe Sawyer and Wayne Adams took tenth place in the quartet contest in Toronto in
2013. Sean Devine sang in the seventh place quartet in 2013 – THROWBACK.
Also we launched CAPITAL FORCE – an ensemble of
under-30-years-of-age singers from the Greater
DC area. Tony Colosimo is director. That group competed in the youth chorus
contests at Society midwinter conventions in Vegas in 2010 and in Orlando in
2013. Several of our chapter members have sung in CAPITAL FORCE.
The chapter held its fourth Youth Harmony Festival in 2012
and taught over 80 students – about half boys and half girls.
Joe Cerutti is
president of the board of the No Borders Music Consort for young men to sing at
Carnegie Hall on December 26th in recent years. Scott
Kahler is secretary and Alan Wile
is treasurer. Many of our members have
sung in these concerts and/or helped with logistics and operations for the
The chapter has had an important connection with the
Alexandria Arts Forum (a consortium of artists, arts organizations and
advocates) for many years. Our
involvement is significant as we are the largest organization and well known. Jack Shields, Paul Lensch, Alan Wile and Martin Banks have all served in
leadership capacities for the Forum. Clyde Crusenberry is our current
chapter community service vice president.
If this brief and much consolidated Harmonizer history whets
your interest, dig into your copy of our 50th
anniversary book, “Breathless Moments.” (Ask for a copy if you don’t have one
you should check out the back portion of the Chapter Directory/Roster regularly
published by chapter secretary Chris
will learn such things as who has served as Harmonizer president or as chair of
our auxiliary group. It used to be The
Harmonettes but was changed to FRIENDS IN HARMONY a few years ago. The current president is Sandy Stamps. And you will learn who has won the
major chapter awards that we present each year.
You will also see that several of our members have been
named to the Society Hall of Fame, and a lot of our guys have been inducted into
the Mid-Atlantic District Hall of Honor, are members of the District Honor
Chapter, DELASUSQUEHUDMAC; and are in the District Association of Quartet
As always, it is “great to be a Harmonizer!”
Compiled by Jack Pitzer
Buechler, Alan Wile, Steve White and John Pence