BQPA/Pioneers Quartet Festival in Mesa, AZ, 4/4-7/2018

We had a fine quarteting festival in Mesa the first week in April.  Things went very well, and there was lots of quartet singing – not very surprising, I suppose, for an event that’s intended to consist of nothing more than that.

Again this year, nearly 80 singers and guests populated the Mesa Ballroom at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Mesa for our Saturday evening show.  And nearly 50 were on hand for our traditional “pick-up” quartet contest on Friday evening.

About a dozen singers had checked in at the Holiday Inn by the end of the day Wednesday, the 4th of April.  A good deal of singing went on before it was time to muster for what was perhaps our last spaghetti and meatball dinner at the

American Italian Club in northern Phoenix.  We’ve been hosted there by the Arizona Quartet Club (with multiple rounds of pick-up quartets constructed post-dinner from the attendees), but the Quartet Club has “lost its lease” there, and it may be elsewhere that we join them for future Wednesday evening music (and meals?)

Mr. Jim Clark joined us for dinner and song – he’s one of the field reps for the Harmony Foundation – and he tried to convince us he enjoyed singing with us.  Actually, although he’s the lead of the championship quartet Storm Front, it turns out he sings a mean tenor, and I’d say he outshone (but only just) the other tenors there that evening.  As I remember, there were a couple dozen of us there, all told, and just about everyone got to sing in three or four quartets.

On Thursday morning, after breakfast, the golfers drove off (no pun intended) for their rounds, arranged by Barney Griffin.  Barney himself played that day, even though he’s been challenged by some health issues.  Many thanks are due to Barney for organizing the golfing element of our Arizona Festivals!  The weather was not as conducive to golfing this Festival, as the temperatures were in the low 90s, and some of our folks came in from the sun a bit early this time.  As usual, nobody would admit to their scores…

Our BQPA/Pioneers Board conducted the usual meeting on Thursday afternoon, after the golfers had returned.  The discussions were chordial, covering in general the continuation of our efforts to reach out to the general barbershopping population to encourage them to join us a couple of times a year for a few days of do-it-yerself quartet singing.

On Thursday evening, our Registration table opened up, staffed by our volunteers.  And there was much quartet singing.  (DUH!!!)

On Friday morning, the die-hards amongst the golfers departed again for the links, and got back just barely in time for the pick-up quartet contest draw.  Once the nine foursomes had been drawn, there was – as usual – a good deal of confusion, with folks searching for their other voice part singers.  Some left, then, for somewhat leisurely dinners, but rehearsals of the die-hards continued until moments before the contest started.

This year’s pick-up contest judges were the four voices from last Fall’s pick-up champs, The Unichords.  In addition to upholding the traditions of unbiased judging (since no bribes were tendered this year) the judges also acted as mike testers, singing the song with which they won the previous contest.  (Truth be told, they would not have won this year, as they had not rehearsed the song even once…)

The contest was won by the quartet named “The Misfits”.  (When they were announced, the judges held a conference to consider whether they should be disqualified for using an International Champion quartet’s name.  Decision was held in abeyance…)  They sang an inventive version of “Coney Island Baby”, in which the repeated section was presented in a ballad-like style.  It was noted that this was the first ever BQPA/Pioneers pick-up quartet contest in which a quartet was actually coached.  (The BQPA judging community (such as it is) is now considering whether coaching should attract disqualification in the future…) 

Ultimately, the gold medals inscribed in honor of our dear departed member, Jinny Janis (of The Chordettes) were duly presented to “The Misfits”, and red and white ribbons were bestowed upon the second and third place quartets, “For A
Good Time, Call…” and “I’ve Heard That Song Before”.

Again as usual, there was a bit more singing after the contest session.  (Well, umm, HOURS more…)  All four corners of our gathering room were occupied by QUARTETS, and the singing spilled out into the corridors and out into the lobby and bar area.  That informal QUARTET singing went on until well after midnight.
Our membership meeting got off to a late start Saturday morning, due to, believe it or not, a FIRE!  Actually, it might have been only a “smoke condition”, as they say in the New York City subway system, but in any case it had everyone standing outside for an hour, seeking any shade they could find.  We heard a few desultory songs, but most of us were fascinated by the number of fire units that showed up.  And once the (very loud) powered fans has cleared the first floor of smoke, we all assembled in our gathering room for the members’ meeting.  (One of the elevators was hors-de-combat for the rest of the weekend, as the result of the “fire”…)

The membership meeting itself went pretty quickly, as discussions in the Board meeting had taken care of most business earlier in the week.  We started off by naming members and other who had left us for the Chorus Eternal since last gathering.  These included:

• Dick Webber, Chorus of the Chesapeake and SAGE seniors quartet champ with Felgen, Mittelstadt & Freddy King.  Dick last attended our gathering in Tempe three years ago, and his photo appears on our Facebook page…

• Don Richmond, a BQPA member, who frequented the Chicago gatherings, passed away in February.  He was a member of The Metronomes, a 1950s Air Force quartet.  Dave Mohr says Don resurrected that foursome for our “old rules” contest a few years ago, singing as “Wild Blue Yonder”.
• Billy McKnight, lead and last surviving member of the Barber-Q Four and long-time BQPA/Pioneers member, passed away January 3, 2018.  He attended our 2017 fall gathering and sang on stage with us and for us.  Emmett Bossing was his tenor, Tom Watts his bass, and Moose Hager his baritone, in those days gone by..

• Mr. Albert L. Warner – possibly a former member of BQPA/Pioneers, who passed away in September of 2017 and in whose name a memorial donation was received from Mrs. Carol Larson, as suggested by Mr. Warner’s family

• Tom Millot, a BQPA member, a fine singer and a gentle man, who passed away in 2017

• Johnny Hammond, an enthusiastic BQPA member and a 69-year member of SPEBSQSA, who passed away in late 2017.

• Earl McDougal, our host when Pioneers gathered in Fallbrook.  Earl last visited us in Tempe a couple or years ago, and although physically challenged, sang a firm, energetic song or six with us.

We neglected to mention the passing of Terry Clarke, who was not a member of BQPA/Pioneers, but was the bass of one of the most famous BHS quartets ever:  The Boston Common.  Terry passed away at a barbershop event (what a surprise) in Florida in February.
As usual, a slow and reverent rendition of The Old Songs was sung, to send them all on their way to the Chorus Eternal.

Treasurer Jim Gallagher reported that BQPA/Pioneers is solidly solvent.  The Board is considering spending funds on membership promotion, and is interested in hearing suggestions from the membership for effective methods for attracting quartet singers to attend our gatherings.  Send your thoughts regarding marketing channels or promotional items to any of the Board members…

Gerry Carroll, VP (East) and the Chairman for our Fall Festival in the Chicago area, announced that we will again be meeting at the Best Western in Hillside, Illinois, September 5th through the 8th, 2017.  We will have gathering rooms on the same familiar hallway, which will be available for us to sing in all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  (See all the details on the website:

Gerry encouraged reserving guest rooms early, even if you might have to cancel later should your plans or your calendar change.  The hotel has a very lenient cancellation policy, but this year a deadline of AUGUST 8, 2017 has been imposed to get the group room rate.  That rate is still an enormous bargain: $89.25 per night for a queen or king guest room!  And the rate includes free breakfast!  Come one, come all…

Members were encouraged to email the Holiday Inn, to thank them for their hospitality this year.  Jim Milner and Bernie Esberner tell us that this helps significantly in their negotiations for the next year’s Festival in the Phoenix area.
Late in the meeting, Tom Noble announced his retirement as President, effective at the end of the 2018 Fall Festival in Chicago, and that Vice President Lee Taylor will be stepping up to the presidential position at that point.
And with that, the members’ meeting adjourned.

During the afternoon, a “rehearsal” session for Platoon singers was held in our gathering room, but did not appear to affect the ability of our members to continue singing.  Only a very few of the Platoon singers stayed for our evening festivities.

At dinnertime, a couple dozen of us trooped over to the Four Peaks Brewing Co. for a repast together, but got back in good time to attend the QUARTET Parade at eight o’clock.
Our Parade was a stimulating success, as usual.  As is our tradition, the pick-up contest champs, in this case “THE MISFITS”, led off on stage.  The Parade, produced and with talent assembled by Paul Ludwig, and ably emceed by Rex Touslee, proceeded with “Saucebox” and “Havin’ A Blast” (a fine women’s quartet who have appeared on our shows before),  We were hoping to have “Renaissance” sing for us, but they had to bow out at the last minute.  Luckily, our headliners were Senior Quartet Champs “High Priority”, who had an extensive and enjoyable repertoire.  Wonderful to have all of the groups as our Parade entertainment – THANKS!

The Parade, and with it, the official parts of our Festival, 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 meeting room, as well as areas immediately adjacent, and proceeded to sing some more.  Again, it lasted well past midnight.

This was again a most successful and enjoyable Festival.  LOTS of QUARTET singing.  (Well, yeah, that’s what we came for, no?  That’s the bottom line…)  Didn’t matter who you were or what your past accomplishments might have been – everyone got a chance to sing some good stuff, with good people, in QUARTETS.

THANKS – as usual – must go to all the folks who made it all happen!  The VP and Producer of the Tempe Festival, Jim Milner, and his assistant, Bernie Esberner!  Barney Griffin, who wrangles the golfers!  The Producer of our Saturday QUARTET Parade, Paul Ludwig!  Our Saturday evening MC, Rex Touslee!  The Chairs of all the committees that DO things. 

The Board members who remind the Chairs to do the things the Chairs already know how to do.  The registration volunteers who labor but also get to sing with everyone who comes up to the table to register.  The QUARTETS.  Everyone!

Remember the Fall Festival, in Chicago – get the details from our website.  I don’t remember who all of them were, but some folks said they already had their reservations at the Hillside Best Western!  Remember there’s a reservation DEADLINE, this year!  See you there!

Barily yours,
Tom Noble, President

Top Placing Pick-up Quartets:

Win:     “THE MISFITS”
            Tenor – Jim Jarosz
            Lead – Rick Ives
            Bari – Greg Lewis
            Bass – Rich Carey
            Tenor – Ken Yergler
            Lead – Bill Freck
            Bari – Lee Taylor
            Bass – Rex Touslee
            Tenor – Jerry Steffen
            Lead – June Noble
            Bari – Paul Ludwig
            Bass – Bill Myers