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November 7, 2006

Virginia Gentlemen director is certainly no gentleman

Cave Spring Connection (VA):

Older guys singing old songs - maybe a bit off key. That is the view many people have of barbershop harmony. The Virginia Gentlemen Barbershop Harmony Chorus begs to differ while offering a cappella entertainment to audiences of all ages.

Here’s a twist: the director of the all-male chorus is actually a young woman. Erin Odell is a 2005 graduate of Virginia Tech with a BA in Music Education and Piano Performance. She recently began working as the Choral Music Director at North Cross School in Roanoke. At Tech she served for two years as Music Director of “Soulstice,” Virginia Tech’s female a cappella group. Erin has been a piano teacher since 2002 and sang with Tech’s top choir, the Chamber Singers. She has also performed barbershop harmony music extensively as a part of three Sweet Adeline International choruses since 1999.

The Northern Virginia native, just 23, said, “Both my parents are barber shoppers” as a way of explaining her interest. A grandmother was the first member of the family to sing barbershop. “It's such a unique style of music - it absolutely originated in America.” The Choral and music education major explored all types of sounds at Tech, and performed classical piano solos as part of her graduation requirements.

At North Cross Odell teaches general music for students from kindergarten through second grade, then choir from fourth through 12th grades. Students at North Cross have to take some sort of music at least through middle school. “The greatest thing about music is learning the discipline necessary to become a good musician. With all the other subjects it gives you that same feeling [of confidence]. You know what it takes.”

Odell, now in her second year, is working to improve the level of musical proficiency in the chorus by introducing the vocal techniques she learned at Virginia Tech to weekly chorus rehearsals. Odell is also bringing in other coaches to work with group. “They respond great to me,” she said. During rehearsals or a performance -- she still hears an occasional murmur from the crowd when walking out to take her place - the Gents “absolutely respect me,” but in social situations she’s just “one of the boys or one of the kids. They’re fun to hang out with.” The Virginia Gentlemen finished 19th out of 25 groups at a district competition in New Jersey recently.

The youngest and newest member is a music student at Radford University. Two other young members are Roanoke County police officers. At the other end of the age spectrum two of the Chorus’ members have been singing barbershop harmony for over 50 years. Bill Clark is a charter member of the Roanoke group: “I started singing barbershop harmony 50 years ago in a quartet in my college glee club, before I even knew there was a barbershop harmony society. I have sung twice in international competition, but I’m having as much fun now as I’ve ever had.”

Posted by acapnews at November 7, 2006 12:04 AM