The Northeasters Barbershop Chorus
SPEBSQA: Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (Inc.) If you’ve ever heard a barbershop quartet outside of a high school rendition of Music Man, you’ve probably been exposed to this mouthful of an organization. Now more commonly known as the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), this organization is what its legal name suggests: a society geared toward preserving and encouraging barbershop music in America. Barbershop music is four-part a cappella (unaccompanied) voice music with a chord for every note of the melody. Because of those four parts—bass, baritone, tenor and lead—one most frequently hears of barbershop quartets; but choruses with multiple voices taking each part are also possible.
If you haven’t heard of barbershop music and think it doesn’t sound like a very big organization, you’d be wrong. Barbershop chapters exist in every state in the U.S., famous quartets performing in such venues as Disneyland, Las Vegas and even New York City.
So why do we care about barbershop in the Upper Delaware River area? Barbershop is alive and well throughout Wayne County, PA and Sullivan County, NY. The Northeasters Barbershop Chorus convenes and rehearses on a weekly basis in Honesdale, PA to provide barbershop music for a smattering of local venues on both sides of the river. Additionally, the chapter is home to some of the area’s quartets, who can also be seen performing at places like the Town of Lumberland, Honesdale’s Central Park, Callicoon’s Delaware Youth Center and many more.
SPEBSQA was founded in 1938 in Tulsa, OK, and wasn’t known as BHS until later. The Northeasters Barbershop Chorus began in 1978, but didn’t perform their first show until 1979. The remaining charter members are Clyde Kreider , Scotty Ogden and Bob Maines. For much of the last 40 years, Maines served as the director of the chorus along with Gene Molessa, a key-member for a number of years, and now Tammy Ebert, who currently directs the chorus. Kreider, along with Dan Biondo, also served as assistant director for most of the chorus’s history; both have contributed to the chapter’s success in numerous other capacities. Ogden, who still sings with the chorus, is also a member of the longest-running quartet in the Northeasters, The Stourbridge Lion, whose name pays homage to the historic Honesdale steam engine.
In the beginning, a gentleman by the name of Howard Keppler, from New York, approached Maines, telling him that if he would direct the chorus, Keppler would aid in setting up the local chapter. They received much support from chapters in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton in getting things started.
Forty years later, the coming and going of members has brought an almost entirely new group together for the love of barbershop singing, but the goals and practices are still much the same. Within its first year there were 43 members from Wayne and Pike Counties in Pennsylvania. Now there are approximately 30 who gather every Tuesday to rehearse. As Kreider says, the chapter is “always looking for young men to sing with us.” He is also fond of saying “As long as you can carry a tune in a bucket we’re happy to have you,” Emphasizing the organization’s strong desire to not only perform barbershop music but to educate and encourage music in the community.
To that end, the Northeasters Barbershop Chorus gives out three annual scholarships to high school students from Honesdale, Western Wayne and Wallenpaupack schools who aim to study music in one form or another. They also donate to their philanthropy each year out of the profits from their annual show. Their current philanthropy is to the Fair Hill Farm Therapeutic Riding Center, which serves to help adults and children with special needs. Previously, the chorus has supported Sing America, which sought to promote music in secondary education.
Many of the quartets from the chorus also participate in “sing-outs,” or public performances, at nursing homes, anniversary dinners, banquets and holiday events. Some years—including upcoming 2019—quartets are sent to offices where someone’s wife works and will perform a song or two for Valentine’s Day, presenting a rose to whomever has been sent the singing Valentine.
For 38 years, the Northeasters have kicked off the Wayne County Creative Arts Council Summer concerts in Central Park, Honesdale, the second Monday in June. They also perform an annual Christmas show at Woodloch Springs, which is open to the public.
The group’s annual concert will be held this year on Saturday, September 29 at 7 p.m. in the Honesdale High School auditorium. Tickets are available at the door or from a member. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Northeasters Barbershop Chorus, you can attend any practice on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. at the Central United Methodist Church, 205 11th St., Honesdale. For questions on the show or becoming a member call Clyde Kreider at 570/253-1982.