2012-05-11 / Community

Men throughout Maine to perform in chorus

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Walt Dowling, of Old Orchard Beach, leads the Downeasters in a practice last week prior to a May 12 performance in Scarborough. Dowling joined the group 14 years ago and serves as the group’s vice president of music and presentation. (Michael Kelley photo) Walt Dowling, of Old Orchard Beach, leads the Downeasters in a practice last week prior to a May 12 performance in Scarborough. Dowling joined the group 14 years ago and serves as the group’s vice president of music and presentation. (Michael Kelley photo) Love will be in the air this weekend at the Winslow Homer Auditorium at Scarborough High School when the Downeasters, an all-male barbershop chorus group, performs “Love Me.”

Ryan Norfleet, chorus manager and organizer of the 2012 show, said the show, held on the eve of Mother’s Day, “is all about celebrating love and celebrating family.”

“It gives us something to work toward and it’s something that we can do to give back to the community,” said Norfleet, a Scarborough resident. “It is the major fundraiser for our chorus.”

The Downeasters, which was formed in 1949, will share the stage with The Average Joes, the 2012 New England district barbershop chorus champions, and Zipline, a quartet from Liberty Belle Chorus, an all-women’s Sweet Adeline group.

The program, which begins at 7 p.m., will loosely follow the ups and downs of a fictitious couple’s relationship and features songs such as: “Love Me,” “I Never Knew” medley, “Once Upon a Time,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Come Fly With Me,” “Lost in the Stars,” and “God Bless America.”

The concert will feature the three groups of singers from Scarborough High School. The high school’s select and jazz chorus, lead by Choral Director Suzanne Proulx, will present songs they performed on April 28 at the Heritage Festival competition in New York City. The Select Chorus will perform “Go Down Moses,” “Of Love,” by Dede Duson and “The Awakening,” by Joseph Martins. The Jazz chorus will perform “More I Cannot Wish You,” from “Guys and Dolls.” The Scarborough High School men’s ensemble will perform “Bill Bradley” and “In the Still of the Night.”

“This is an opportunity for us to share a few highlights of (the Heritage Festival) with the larger Scarborough community,” Proulx wrote in e-mail.

Norfleet said he is particularly excited to share the stage with the Scarborough High School chorale group and have the opportunity to share the barbershop style of singing with a younger generation.

“As a group we really want to bring a youth element to barbershop. If we can share our craft with kids, like those at Scarborough High School, it is a great thing. It’s fun to share our hobby with other people,” Norfleet said.

In fact, it was during high school 15 years ago that Norfleet first began singing barbershop chorus arrangements. He has been with the Downeasters group for more than two years.

Since joining the Downeasters, Norfleet said he has built strong connections with the group’s other members.

“Being younger than most in the group, I feel like I have 35 other dads. It’s a good group of guys. It is another family really,” said Norfleet.

By no means, Norfleet said, is what he and the rest of the Downeasters do easy.

“I really enjoy making good music. Barbershop is like a science. There are a lot of adjustments you have to make because the harmonies are so tight. I enjoy the science behind it,” Norfleet said.

Jack Baggs, a resident of Windham, has been directing the Downeasters for the past five years, during which time he has seen the group continue to improve.

“The last five years there has really had tremendous growth in the chorus musically,” Baggs said. He attributes this to the musical leadership team and section leaders who are very musically inclined and bring a lot of barbershop experience.

One such musical leader is Walter Dowling, a resident of Old Orchard Beach who serves as the vice president of music and presentation.

Dowling joined the Downeasters 14 years ago after seeing the group perform a holiday concert at the Maine Mall.

“When I saw them perform, I knew it was for me,” said Dowling, who sang in his church choir while living in Vermont. He had never sung barbershop arrangements until joining the Downeasters. Now Dowling is not only a member of the Downeasters, but also the Port City Sound and Back Bay Four, two barbershop quartets made up of members from the Downeasters.

“Our common base is we all love to sing, whether it is on the concert stage or not,” Dowling said. “We want to do what we love and do what we do the best we can. I never knew there was so much every one of us could learn by being involved with this.”

Baggs, who has been involved with barbershop choruses for 40 years, said he cannot imagine his life without barbershop.

“It’s a very important part of my life,” he said. “For me it’s the friendship. It’s hearing great music sung by these gentlemen.”

“I’ve always been involved with music. My parents were into music, so I grew up in it,” he added. “This is a continuation of the love of music given to me by my parents.”

When not meeting Monday nights at the United Methodist Church in Cumberland, Dowling said the group keeps busy putting on 10 to 11 concerts a year, including three or four free concerts around Christmas time.

“We want to be able to provide our audience with the best quality music we can,” Baggs said. “Every year we improve in that capacity,” Baggs said.

The group has won the most improved chorus award for District 5 in 1988, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2005 and 2011. The Downeasters was named the top choral group in the Granite and Pine Division from 2000 to 2004, as well as 2006 and 2011. The division is made up of teams from Maine and New Hampshire.

David Sweet, a resident of Kennebunk who has been singing barbershop for 35 years, takes pride in his involvement with the group.

“I love to sing. I love the harmonies behind it. I love the a cappella without music,” Sweet said. “There is always a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes it is a lot of work, but it pays off when you get the thrill of hearing the audience show you how much they appreciate all you have accomplished.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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