Within the Santa Clarita Valley lies the Harmony Hills Chorus, a chorus group that recently expanded from an all-male group to now encompassing women and people of all ages.
Every Tuesday, the chorus meets for two hours — from 7 to 9 p.m. — at the Valley Oaks Village Apartments multi-purpose room. President and longest-tenured member, David Norman, has spent the majority of his adult life in the chorus, since 1977, when his son was merely a year old.
In fact, when he first began this unique endeavor, he says his wife initially thought it wouldn’t last long. Decades later, singing lead in his barbershop quartet — with business cards and matching outfits — along with his heavy involvement in the chorus, has turned curiosity into a full-fledged passion.
“I tell [my wife], ‘Well, it’s Tuesday. I’m going [to rehearse],’ and usually she comes up with, ‘Oh, no kidding.’ For the last 40 years, I’ve been saying the same thing,” Norman said.
The a capella group entails four distinctive voice parts: “The top is a tenor, lead, baritone and bass. That’s the descending order of voice parts. Although we have talented people in all four parts, [they don’t] sing those parts at the same time,” Norman said.
Current rehearsals involve preparing for Christmas, even though it’s only August.
“[We perform] by invitation. We average around one a month. Christmas time gets busy. We’re having our 50th annual show, and it’ll be half Christmas and half regular barbershop,” Norman said. “For those who are not absolutely sold on barbershop singing, we’ll do some carols, too, and sing-alongs, because we love to get people singing.”
As for the authenticity of the a capella group, the only instrument they use is a pitch pipe.
“We do have written music, but we sing and perform without music. [We practice with] sheet music. We rely on our members to memorize notes, music and then occasionally movement.”
Wanting to grow the group and expand into the next generations, Norman urges anyone who loves singing to join. The No. 1 rule? There are no bad singers.
“When we have a large chorus, we can hide a lot of ‘mediocre’ talent, but we don’t have to: People blossom, they grow. And we do teaching: we correct, we tune, we try it again,” Norman said. “Everyone’s welcome to come by. They can come by to listen, but better yet, come by to sing with us.”
Recently changing their name from the Santa Clarita Valley Men of Harmony A-Capella Chorus, Norman wanted to expand the group and allow people of all backgrounds to join.
“We would love to have people come and listen, and especially if they want to come and sing along. They don’t have to be great singers — we will make great singers. Since we [now] have a lady director, she knows how to integrate [both male and female] voices,” Norman said.
The lady he speaks of is new member and appointed director, Kira Wagner.
“I have been with this group since February. I have been directing for almost 60 years. I started when I was 8 years old in church, and grew up doing a capella,” Wagner said.
With her background being associated with Sweet Adelines International, an international group for female singers, along with teaching high school choir since 1978, she is well equipped to handle the task. However, she did not always feel so sure about fulfilling a role as a director.
“I’m left-handed, and typically, you don’t find a lot of left-handed directors because the pianist and orchestra, everything is geared towards seeing it on the right hand,” Wagner said. “When I was singing with a particular chorus, it was very successful for us up in the Bay Area, and something happened for the director to call attention to the fact that she’s left-handed. And I thought, ‘Wait, what? Well, I can do that.’”
Wagner approaches the music technically, understanding how voices can be complementary.
“One of the great things about having men in that organization is that on their good days, they are just awesome. I love working with them — they’re very enthusiastic,” Wagner said. “The fact that now it’s a mixed chorus, we have so many more possibilities open to us, because now the men and the women can play off of each with harmonies. We can interact.”
First seeing the chorus’ ad on Facebook encouraging women to join for the first time, Wagner was met with cooperation when suggesting the change to a more inclusive name: “[The members] were perfectly open to that.”
If any potential member has hesitations about their vocal coordination, Wagner insists it is more of mental block, rather than the capability of the diaphragm.
“Here’s the key. If you call [someone] on the phone, do they recognize your voice? Because if they do, they’re not tone deaf,” Wagner said. “[As adults], we often don’t let our body just do it. I tell the singers, if you’re going to make a mistake, or if you’re going to try something, make a big mistake. We can fix that.”