By Jann Wiswall
One of the highlights of Christmas in Ellicottville on Thanksgiving weekend, and the Christmas Stroll the following weekend, is the roving carolers who put the entire village in the holiday mood.
This year, the Seneca Junction Chorus will again be serenading folks both weekends, and you can be sure that these professional singers will reawaken your taste for the dulcet tones of barbershop music, that gorgeous blend of male voices singing in perfect four-part harmony.
If you don’t know barbershop from a hair salon, we recommend you go out and rent the 1962 movie “The Music Man” and fast forward to the part where the Buffalo Bills sing “Lida Rose” (or just check it out on YouTube). Those Buffalo Bills — none of them football players — probably remain the best known barbershop quartet in the world, and hail from right here in Western New York.
The Seneca Junction Chorus (SJC), also from Western New York, is part of the international Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), an organization headquartered in Nashville that brings together men who love to sing. There are 17 BHS districts in the U.S. and Canada. SJC is in the Seneca Land District, the smallest of the 17 districts in area, covering western and central New York and the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania. (By contrast, the Far West District covers all of California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii; the Land O Lakes District includes Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and part of Ontario.)
Size notwithstanding, the Seneca Land District boasts some of the top choruses in the BHS, and the Seneca Junction Chorus is one of its most successful. SJC is the 12-time winner of the Plateau A Championship (for choruses of less than 35 registered members) and was honored as the Best District Choir of 2013.
The chorus rehearses weekly at the Salamanca Senior Center, where residents are always invited to listen in and even sing along. It is made up of men from all over the area — from Jamestown to Boston to Buffalo — ranging in age from 16 to 80-something.
“Everyone loves to sing great music, of course, but the camaraderie is what keeps the group together,” said Eric VanDruff, a tenor with the chorus who also serves as its vice president of marketing and public relations.
The group performs barbershop classics, patriotic, religious and Broadway selections, as well as fabulous arrangements of favorite Beatles, Elvis and more recent rock n’ roll songs.
VanDruff, who lives in Olean, says caroling in Ellicottville is one of the chorus’ favorite performances of the year.
“We make it fun for everyone. If there’s a cluster of little kids, we’ll stop and sing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ just for them. If the restaurants and stores will have us, we go in and sing for their customers. Everyone stops to listen and sing along.”
While the chorus charges fees to perform at events throughout the year, funding is always an issue for the non-profit organization. VanDruff spends a lot of time writing grant proposals to keep the group afloat and asks for support from area businesses, organizations and individuals.
“Ellicottville’s businesses are great supporters of our annual show program, and many of them make very generous donations,” he said.
Much of the chorus’ funding goes to support its Youth in Harmony program, which teaches boys and young men about a cappella and barbershop singing with the long-term goal of promoting the art form and attracting new chorus members.
FYI: Women interested in singing in the four-part harmony style can join one of two female groups — Sweet Adelines International or Harmony, Inc.
The SJC will be caroling along the streets of Ellicottville on Friday, Nov. 29 from 5-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 30, all afternoon; and again during the Christmas Stroll on Dec. 7 from 2-6 p.m. For more information, visit www.senecajunctionchorus.org.