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March 26, 2004

The Journal News

Imagine all 43 U.S. presidents together on one stage. Now picture them singing in four-part harmony. Try not to laugh until you've seen their look-alikes in Saturday night's "Salute to the American Presidents," performed by the barbershop choral group known as the Westchester Chordsmen.

What sort of men sing barbershop? In the case of the Chordsmen, it's doctors, auto mechanics, lawyers, plumbers, music teachers, chefs and everything in between. "One of the images that exists of barbershop is that it's old guys hanging around," says marketing consultant Stephen Bartell of Larchmont (who plays Jimmy Carter), "but we have all different shapes and sizes and ages."

It's that mix that made the presidential salute such fun to cast and something of a challenge to produce. "Barbershop is such a non-political activity," says chorus member and director John Fotia of Rye Brook, who wrote much of this weekend's show. "We wanted to take a theme that could be political, and not be political with it. Instead, we wanted to look at the leaders of our country and say, 'Hasn't it been great?' "

Not that the show is purely inspirational. One of the highlights is a "Who's-on-First"-style exchange between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ("one of the funniest pieces of political humor I've ever heard, bar none," says Bartell). There are other light moments featuring Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and the Mount Rushmore Quartet in a rendition of "God Bless America." And through it all runs a selection of other songs, ranging from the spiritual "When I Lift Up My Head" to Broadway's "The Impossible Dream."

For Chordsmen president Howard Pobiner, much of the a cappella chorus' success can be attributed to longtime member Steve Delehanty, who created the show's opening number and writes and arranges music for barbershop groups all over the country. "Steve Delehanty is the heart and soul of this chorus," says Pobiner, who lives in Dobbs Ferry. "Everybody looks to him for his style and his musicianship."

And, apparently, for the perfect B-flat he emits while blowing his nose during the group's rendition of "I've Been Working on the Railroad.'' It's a talent that Delehanty cultivated during his 40 years with the Chordsmen, which started when he heard a small group of them singing at a club in White Plains. He quickly signed on as a member.

Posted by acapnews at March 26, 2004 8:59 AM

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