Singers Find Purpose in Rio Grande Valley Parks

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February 1, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Don Lewis meets brothers in every major American city.

Lewis, a 76-year-old retired General Motors superintendent, has lived in Chicago, St. Petersburg, Fla., and now the Rio Grande Valley of South texas. He moves to these places and a week later he finds his brothers, according to the McAllen Monitor.

Lewis counts himself among a classic, American musical fraternity – the Barbershop Harmony Society. He has sung barbershop for more than 40 years, and he began spending winters in Mission six years ago. Less than one week after his arrival, he joined a local barbershop singing group. He joined the Men of A-Chord.

“I show up somewhere and two days later I’m at the barbershop rehearsal, I’m singing and they know that I’m a barbershopper,” Lewis said.

About 30,000 American men participate in barbershop singing, according to a 2007 estimate by the Barbershop Harmony Society. Many of the Valley’s retired seasonal visitors from the north also sing barbershop. Men of A-Chord ranks as the largest group with a roster that tops 70. There are two other barbershop groups in South Texas — The Senior Ambassadors and The Sweet Adelines.

Men of A-Chord began about 15 years ago, said Dennis Bush, another member of the group. They perform about 10 times each year, usually in RV parks. They wear a signature costume of black bowties and red sweater vests.

“We’re not professionals by any stretch of the imagination, but we usually get a good crowd of people at the Winter Texan parks,” Bush said.

Men of A-Chord entertain with more than signing. Each performance includes dialogue, comedy and even a costume change. This year, half way through the show the group swaps the vests for sailor suits.

On Jan. 10, they gave their first concert of 2010. They sang at Southern Comfort, an RV park in Weslaco, and Lewis said the crowd loved it.

“We couldn’t get out afterwards,” he said. “The people all wanted to tell us how much they enjoyed it.”

The singers enjoyed it, too.

They appreciate the reaction from the crowd, of course. Camaraderie, however, ranks as the most rewarding result of the show. And group leaders said that’s likely why membership has swelled this year for the Men of A-Chord.

“We have so many new guys coming in that we can hardly keep track of them. It’s a challenge,” Lewis said. “At least a dozen or 10, I don’t even know who they are because they are brand new.”

The group’s average member age is 73, and many of the guys have sung their whole lives. Some have just discovered the passion. No matter how they found the past time, the Men of A-Chord give them a hearty welcome.

“Every time we get a new guy, we stand him up front and we shake with him until his hand is all worn out,” he said.

After the rigorous arm pumping, the man faces the group. He is greeted by this song:

You’re as welcome as the flowers in May.

Come along and sing your cares away.

Here’s a hand to welcome you and say.

You’re as welcome as the flowers in May.

Lewis partially attributes the swelling membership to the all-inclusive attitude. And, of course, the appeal of barbershop.

“You’ll enjoy it every day that you do it,” he said. “You never get too old to sing.”

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