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Anthony Wahl
The Badger Chordhawks Chorus run through the song "My Wild Irish Rose" during a recent rehearsal at First Lutheran Church in Janesville.

WATCH: Badger Chordhawks Chorus members in harmony with each other, community

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Shelly Birkelo
Monday, March 6, 2017

JANESVILLE—Clint Mohr blew a note on his pitch pipe, giving his fellow barbershoppers their beginning note.

More than two-dozen members of the Rock Valley Chapter of the Badger Chordhawks Chorus had gathered for rehearsal under the direction of Christopher A. Smith at First Lutheran Church, 612 N. Randall Ave.

After warm-up exercises, the men practiced a love songs in preparation of their Singing Valentine fundraiser performances.

When the bass, lead, baritone and tenor voices blended, they filled the room with harmonies of “Heart of My Heart,” and “My Wild Irish Rose.”

As the range of voices mixed, the singers listened to harmonized with others.

“You want the notes you're singing to coordinate with other notes being sung. That's what makes the music. If you don't, it's not pleasant to listen to,” Mohr said.

Mohr, one of about 30 active members, joined the chorus in 2003.

“I've sung all my life--as a boy, in the church choir, high school, college and during my professional career,” said the 69-year-old Janesville man.

After reading about the chorus in the paper and attending a rehearsal, Mohr was impressed, joined and remains a member today.

“Hopefully, I can continue singing the rest of my life,” he said.

MEMBERSHIP

For nearly three decades, the chorus has drawn members of all ages from Rock and Walworth counties plus communities in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Of its 42 members, the youngest is a high school senior, and the oldest singing member is 87, Mohr said.

Membership once topped out at about 75 but has dwindled to 25 to 30 and remained steady the last 14 years, he said.

Smith would like to grow membership and is excited about the chorus' future.

“This is a very exciting time to be a Chordhawk and not just about where we're at now but where we're going,” he said.

“I've worked with a lot of groups where there's only so far you can take them. But with this group, which sounds better every week, the possibilities are boundless,” Smith said.

His dream is to have the chorus collaborate with another group to perform at the Overture Center in Madison.

“We're always looking for younger members and like to instill four-part harmony to younger singers. A cappella singing is a lifetime thing you can do wherever you are,” Mohr said.

FULL CIRCLE

Smith's involvement with the chorus has come full circle.

As a Milton High School student, he received one of the Chordhawks' music scholarships for tuition at Wartburg College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in music performance.

Smith, 33, Milton, in February marked his first anniversary with the chorus, which is part of the Barbershop Harmony Society with more than 23,000 singers throughout the United States and Canada.

After returning to his native Rock County to be with family, Smith learned the chorus was looking to hire a director. Smith conducted the Chordhawks for a couple rehearsals and was offered the job.

Smith said he's enjoyed the family culture of the group that sings exciting music at a high level.

“We create harmony, which is just voices. No piano. No anything backing us up. It's fun music that people like to hear and sing. There's a draw in the music and fellowship. Every week we're making memories in a unique experience for this area,” he said.

ONLY LOCAL CHORUS

The Chordhawks is the only chorus in Rock and Walworth counties, Smith said.

Smith taps into his knowledge as a professional opera singer and general director of the Boston Metro Opera to lead the local chorus.

“I bring some vocal technique from my operatic training background to the group that is more applicable than you might think. I teach the classical technique first. Once you learn that, you can add any style to your singing such as Broadway, country, pop or barbershop,” he said.

During 2.5-hour weekly rehearsals, the chorus spends time preparing for the group's 60 to 70 performances, Mohr said.

There are church sings, an annual holiday show, a spring show, Singing Valentines and performances at service clubs, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Rock Aqua Jays competitions and Snappers baseball games.

“We're learning a lot of new music and repertoire and are willing to perform anywhere in the community,” Smith said.

The chorus also competes annually in the AA Division of the Harmony Society Land of Lakes District.

“We like to be judged for our quality of singing,” Mohr said, “and took first in our division the last two years.”



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