Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

We thank Ross Rowley for given the Harmonaires their due – April 29, 2009

Ready to be put out to pasture? Horse pucky!

If you think you’re too old to perform music, you just haven’t been inspired by your peers. Too many times, musicians “retire” from performing music in public as they age past their “golden” years. Of course, the golden years for them is somewhere in their late 30s. With so much emphasis on youth in America, who can blame them for feeling inadequate?

No, this is not going to be a diatribe about Britain’s Got Talent/YouTube sensation Susan Boyle. My ladyfriend and I took her boys, aged nine and 14, to see The Humboldt Harmonaires Barbershop Chorus spring concert at the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts. The theme was “Deep In The Heart of Texas,” and yes, familiar cowboy songs were on the agenda.

The Humboldt Harmonaires have been performing since 1962 on the Northcoast. Now, I would imagine the average of the members is somewhere near 65 years of age. So, singing “I’m An Old Cowhand” seemed pretty appropriate. There are a few young singers, who if they didn’t possess a strong constitution for embarrassment, would never admit to performing in a barbershop chorus. And there is one man, Glen Woods, who is nigh on 94 years old and may have been around when barbershop was invented. All in all, they put on one heck of a good show.

Sure, the presentation was corny. It’s barbershop harmony for goodness sake. But, that’s why you go to see barbershop groups perform, isn’t it? It’s good to see humor injected into music. Too much of today’s angst-ridden and angry musical scolding by introspective shoe-gazers becomes tiring. At least, for me. There are times I want to forget my personal problems and just laugh. The Humboldt Harmonaires and their offshoot quartets like Mirth First! and The Banana Bunch (a quartet with appeal) provide the humorous aside when needed.

Oh, did I mention they can also sing quite well? You see, as these gentlemen aged, they didn’t give up on music, they embraced it. What you should also know is each year they give a $1,000 scholarship to a student who plans on continuing his or her music education. How many other musical groups around town offer that? Personally, I don’t know of any. This year’s recipient of the scholarship was high school senior Otis Harriel of the ArMack Orchestra. After receiving his scholarship, he performed solo for the audience. The young man showed us his tremendous skills on the violin. His performance medley showcased classical strains featuring exquisite use of harmony counterpoint, difficult arpeggios and forays into jazz violin before topping the performance with a rousing rendition of the fiddlers chestnut, “Orange Blossom Special.”

True to form, as both a violinist and fiddler, Otis Harriel brought the house down. I’m telling you, the old coots in the Humboldt Harmonaires sure know how to spot talent!?

The guest artist for the spring concert was the comically gifted Riff-Raff, a truly professional barbershop quartet from Los Angeles. Were they corny? My God, YES! And the audience loved every minute of their show. But, beyond cornball antics and sight gags, they were some of the best harmony singers I have heard in my life. Again, the over-the-hill Humboldt Harmonaires sure know how to spot talent. Perhaps, it’s their age. Older and wiser. Been there, done that. Or, they could adhere to the adage that; old age and treachery always defeats youth and skill.

Go see the Humboldt Harmonaires sing on opening day of the Humboldt Crabs at the Arcata Ball Park. They say singing the National Anthem may be the only time they’re guaranteed a standing ovation. Not true, gentlemen, not true.

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