Barbershop Quartet Preservation Association

BQPA/Pioneers Quartet Festival in Chicago, 9/5 - 8/2012

Thanks to Gerry Carroll, perennial Chicago Festival Chairman and his staff, another excellent festival of “do-it-yerself” quartetting in the old style has chordially come, and alas, gone.  Almost 100 singers and guests populated the Lafayette room at the Hillside Best Western for our Saturday evening show, and nearly 75 were on hand for our traditional “pick-up” quartet contest Friday evening.

Having arrived early, on Tuesday evening a foursome representing both coasts visited the Village Vocal Chords, the Harmony, Inc. chorus who rehearse in Chicago’s western suburbs, a taxi-ride away from our hotel.  This group of women has won more Barbershop chorus championships than any other, anywhere.  Great singing and fine hospitality.

Close to two dozen singers had checked in at the Best Western hotel in Hillside, Illinois by the end of the day Wednesday, the 5th of September.  A good deal of singing ensued (what a surprise), and foursomes were assembled for purposes both musical and golf-oriented.  Dinner was informal, mostly in the lounge area of the Hillside Best Western, where our Midwest Festival was held for the second year.

Thursday morning dawned bright and early and –after the complimentary breakfast – the golfers drove off for rounds which included singing at every tee, as usual.  Also as usual, nobody would admit to their scores when the golfers returned to join those who preferred just to sing, rather than spoiling a good walk by swinging a club.

Our BQPA/Pioneers Board conducted the regular meeting on Thursday afternoon, after the golfers had returned.  The confab ran rather long, due mostly to a meaty discussion regarding the judging criteria for our pick-up quartet contest.  The sense of the meeting was that, although we want to make sure we preserve the fun aspects of the competition, some relatively serious criteria should be used to adjudicate these musical performances, as most of the participants put a good deal of energy into presenting their best efforts.

On Thursday evening, our Registration table opened up, staffed as usual by Rosie and Shel.  We had hoped to flag every registrant’s name tag, so those who had not checked their address details could be identified and chased, but in the rush, it turned out not to be feasible. (PLEASE, next time, be sure to check your address details, including your email address: they are the ONLY ways we can be sure of reaching you…)

Friday dawned rainy.  The golfers decided not to go to the links, but then, inevitably, it cleared up.  Some of the die-hards set out for tee-times starting at about 11:00, and that contingent did not get back to our hotel until nearly 5 o’clock.  By that time, the pick-up quartets had been drawn, and there was much confusion, with folks searching for their other part singers. Rehearsals continued until moments before the contest started at 8:00.

A sound system had been rented for our stage presentations, to replace the soloist’s microphones and ceiling speakers that came with the room last year.  (And the speakers in half the room hadn’t worked.)  Comments from attendees eventually suggested that the sound was lots better this year, and that the rental was a good investment, as it enhanced our musical experience.  (How better to spend a bit from our treasury?)

The contest went off very nicely indeed.  As usual, our founder, Tom Neal, was the MC. Chairman of Judges Raymond Schwartzkopf took to heart the wishes of the Board in respect to the judging categories, and the panel awarded scores and placements which were widely accepted.  The winning quartet featured our old friend Frank Goode as the Lead, and presented a moving rendition of Tell Me Why.  Actually, although your reporter was the Tenor, it was said that the quartet sounded quite Goode enough to deserve the purple ribbons with the gold medals inscribed in honor of our dear departed member, Jinny Janis.  Second and third place quartets were awarded ribbons this year.  For the details of the top three quartets, see the footnotes, below…

Again as usual, there was a bit more singing after the contest session.  (Yeah, umm, just a bit more…)  All four corners were occupied by quartets, and the singing spilled out into the corridors outside the Lafayette room. And as always, founder Tom Neal was there, insisting on the proper notes and placements for chords and progressions being attempted by his extended foursome.  That informal singing went on until well after midnight.

I have to admit that I personally experienced the best couple of hours of barbershop singing in two years.  Sang bunches of old but established arrangements with great Bass Dave Brady, amazing Tenor Ben Miller, and extraordinary Lead Dave Mittelstadt, until our Lead toddled off after a while.  Then unique Lead singer Frank Fabian stepped in, and we just kept ringin’ ‘em until well after midnight, when the other three all had to leave to get home, being commuters to our Festival.

On Saturday morning we could not sing in the halls, as there were quite serious examinations of some kind going on in the ballroom next door.  But the BQPA/Pioneers annual Membership meeting in our own room went pretty quickly, as discussions in the Board meeting had taken care of most business earlier in the week. 

The names of Departed Friends were read off, including some who may not have been members of BQPA/Pioneers.  Within about the past year, we’ve lost Mike Testa, Tom Watts, Chuck Nicholoff, Steve “Bear” Ferrick, Lefty Parrason, Stan Christman, Tom Parrish, Bill Brander, Lee Bourgeous, John Erickson, Chuck Greene, Tom Sterling, Jim Miller, and Dick Johnson.  A reverent rendition of The Old Songs was sung, to send them all on their way. 

Frank Fliszar, the Chairman for our Spring Festival in Tempe, announced that we will again be meeting in the Embassy Suites in Tempe, where renovations have been completed.  The remodeling that disrupted activities during our last Festival there has, according to Frank, resulted in better public facilities (no, not W.C., common spaces) with which he expects we will be pleased. 

Frank announced that the dates for Tempe in 2013 are April 10th through the 13th.  He encouraged us to reserve early, even if we might have to cancel later: the hotel has a very lenient cancellation policy, but late reservations are very difficult to switch into the group rate. That rate is $105.00 per night for a queen or king suite, and the rate is offered to our attendees three days before and three days after our Festival.  It’s a bit more expensive out of pocket than in Chicago, but great rooms and other accommodations.  And the rate includes cooked-to-order breakfast and a Manager’s reception each evening.  Come one, come all…

Oh, and remember the spaghetti dinner on Wednesday evening, at the American-Italian Club, where the Arizona Quartet Chapter meets.  Much quartetting after (excellent) dinner…

Mention was made of the Board’s discussion about the judging guidelines for our pick-up contest.  The consensus of the attending members was that Raymond’s guidelines had resulted in an acceptable and appropriate outcome Friday evening.  The sense of the meeting was that these guidelines should be used for our pick-up quartet competitions going forward.

Members were encouraged to email the Hillside Best Western hotel, to thank them for their hospitality again this year.  We’re told this helps Gerry in his negotiations for the next year’s Festival…

After the meeting and into the afternoon, a number of songs recorded by historical quartets - as found on YouTube – were played over the sound system,.  Tom Neal held forth on some of these to a small following, standing around the speakers.  Some of Jack Baird’s more than 900 early disk and cylinder recordings of quartets – available through the BHS website –were also played, to great amazement.

The Saturday evening show, with Raymond Schwartzkopf as MC, was a rousing success. The pick-up contest champs, Four-tuitous, were not able to act as mike-testers, since two of their members were not available.  But GADZOOKS were there, for the eleventh time in a row.  (They almost always have a somewhat different roster, but Doug Smith was with them last year, too…) The other quartets that appeared on our Parade included RANDOM SAMPLE, from the Minneapolis-St.Paul area (all members of BQPA/Pioneers), ACCOLADE (Homewood, IL), and JUKEBOX (Hinsdale, IL).  Our headliners, EASY DAYS, came to us from Greendale, Wisconsin. They were able to piggy-back a visit to us with a separate performance they had in the Chicagoarea.  Great to have all of the groups as our entertainment.

We even played a couple of tracks from the Benson Family’s quartet CD: 10-year-old Lead, 12-year-old Bari, mother (Tenor) & dad (Bass).  Great harmonies, rather like the Osmond Brothers, back in the early 1960s.  The show ended with our traditional rendition of Keep America Singing.

         With the formal elements of the Festival completed, we all adjourned to the corners of our room, as well as areas immediately adjacent, and proceeded to sing some more.  Again, it lasted well past midnight.  When I left the field of battle, there were still quartets singing in four different rooms off the hall leading from our meeting room.

This was a most successful and enjoyable Festival.  LOTS of singing.  (Well, yeah, that’s what we came for, no?  That’s the bottom line…)

THANKS – as usual – must go to all the folks who made it happen!  The Chairs of all the committees that DO things.  The Board members who remind the Chairs of what the Chairs already know.  The registration volunteers who labor, but also get to sing with everyone who comes up to the table to register.  The quartets.  Everyone!


Tom Noble, President



Top Placing Quartets:

Win: Four-tuitous

Tenor: Tom Noble

         Lead: Frank Goode

         Bari: Chuck Guthrie

         Bass: Dave Brady



Place: Lounge Lizards

         Tenor: Jerry Steffen

Lead: June Noble

         Bari: Mike Ebbers

         Bass: Charles Rus


Show: Never Later for Dinner

         Tenor: Barney Griffin

         Lead: Emmett Bossing

         Bari: Joel Kleschold

         Bass: Frank Fliszar