Spirit of St. Louis Chorus

St. Louis #1 Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society

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History of Our Chorus

black & white of old building

Our chapter, St. Louis #1, as it is officially known, was established on October 8, 1938. Of the over seven hundred chapters in the Barbershop Harmony Society today, we proudly are the third oldest after Tulsa and Kansas City.

That first meeting of the St. Louis #1 Chapter was held in a hotel in the city's downtown area. The earliest meetings used booklets with only the lyrics of old songs printed. There were no written quartet harmony arrangements, not even a melody line. The singers would make up harmony, which is known as "wood shedding." Members would break up into "pick-up" quartets and make up harmony to songs. Records show that by the end of 1939, experienced musicians like Dr. Norman Rathert became more involved in the St. Louis #1 Chapter. He began creating standard arrangements which he and another member, Joe Wodicka, taught everyone in the chorus by ear. Printed arrangements would not be available for many years. Today we continue to create "pick-up" quartets at every meeting. Instead of full songs, our modern pick-up quartets sing "tags," which are the endings of songs. The shorter tags allow more quartets to sing. Today, all of our sheet music is printed and we have learning tracks to provide a way to learn the parts.

In the early days, groups of old songs would be collected into medleys. While the entire chorus of 35 singers could perform these in St. Louis, they would often be performed by a key group of twelve singers in pick-up quartets at special events.

By the 1950s, the chorus had become an even more important performing part of the chapter. An annual show known as a "Parade of Harmony" was presented each year in major theaters such as the Kiel Opera House, where the audience filled the two thousand seats. By this time the chorus was performing musical arrangements provided by the Barbershop Harmony Society. However, the highlight was performances by as many as a dozen quartets from all over the country! These "Parades" would continue at Kiel Opera House until it was no longer available in the 1980s. With the rising cost of hiring and paying travel expenses for quartets, the later shows had only one featured quartet. Today, we have continued the "Parade of Harmony" each spring with a show presented in late May or early June. Our thirty-man chorus, chapter quartets and sometimes a guest quartet perform an evening of the finest in harmony. Each year we also perform a Christmas show in the beautiful Jefferson College theater.

Three quartets have been a key part of our cblack & white of barbershop quartetChapter over the decades. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was the "Hardway Four" made up of talented World War II veterans who were masters of the turn-of- the-century and Big Band songs. During the 1970s and 1980s, it was the "Tri-Towners" who came from Jefferson County and helped widen the membership to include singers from all over the southern metropolitan area. During the 1990s and 2000s, it has been the "Rivertown Sound" who added specialty songs from the Doo Wop era to expand their performances to non-barbershop audiences. Together, these three have presented barbershop music at hundreds, if not thousands, of events over the years. Even as their professional engagements increased, the members of these chapter quartets remained loyal to singing with the chorus, and served as officers and directors. During the 1980s the chapter started using the name "Spirit of St. Louis Chorus" which it has kept to this day.

In the early 1990s, membership declined as the Spirit of St. Louis Chorus logochapter continued to meet in the St. Louis area. With competition from five other barbershop choruses near the St. Louis City area, the chapter leadership eventually decided to move to an area with potential new membership. This difficult decision paid off nicely. In Jefferson Community College in Hillsboro, the St. Louis #1 Chapter has flourished for over ten years. Some thirty members come to rehearsals every Tuesday in the acoustically perfect chorus room of the college. The college could not be more gracious to us. We participate in college events to promote their important programs. Students as well as new singers join us frequently. We share facilities with the college choruses and bands. For many years, our chorus has met every week successfully carrying out the original mission of the Society to preserve harmony and have fun!