Originally Published: November 27, 2014 6:04 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Decades separated the women on the risers from the young man watching from the sidelines. Not to mention gender, occupation and geography.But for two hours one evening this past week, they all spoke the same language: barbershop harmony.The women came together, as they do nearly every week, to rehearse the music they perform regularly as members of the long-established local Sweet Adelines group, Song of the Pines Chorus.As they assembled for rehearsal at the Prescott Boys and Girls Club Thursday evening, the singers were surprised to find a spectator in their midst - a young man from Bellingham, Wash., interested in listening and learning.In between enthusiastic renditions of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," the women learned that 25-year-old Joshua Honrud was then about two-and-a-half months into a yearlong road trip across the U.S.His purpose: To listen to as many barbershop groups as possible.After starting from his Washington home in September, Honrud had traveled through Oregon and California, and then into Arizona. So far, he has listened to 20 to 25 men's and women's barbershop groups.It is a mission that appeared to delight the Prescott singers. They applauded after hearing his explanation and invited him to stay and listen.Honrud, who told the group he had been impressed when he checked out Song of the Pines Chorus' performances online, videotaped the group's rehearsal to add to his already considerable offerings on YouTube.In fact, part of his goal for the trip is to launch a website that would raise the profile of barbershop music - especially among the 25- to 40-year-old demographic, which is often absent from barbershop groups.Honrud, who sings in several groups back home in Bellingham, explained that he has been interested in vocal harmony ever since he sang in a doo-wop group in high school. After a senior-citizen barbershop group performed at his school and "blew my ears off," Honrud said he was hooked on the genre.Taking a yearlong break from his job with a carpet cleaning/restoration company, Honrud said he is helping to finance his trip by offering private lessons along the way.Honrud's level of passion did not come as a surprise to the women of Song of the Pines.They all have stories of their own about how barbershop harmony had captivated them and changed their lives.Judi Williams, team coordinator, and Mickie Hansel, finance manager for the group, both trace their interest in the Sweet Adelines back to Prescott's annual Acker Night. On separate years, they recall listening to the Song of the Pines singers and having an immediate affinity.After robustly singing along with the chorus' nostalgic music at those performances, Williams and Hansel both remember being approached later by a member of the group, urging them to consider auditioning.For Hansel, the group's "riser auditions" turned out to be a scary experience. "I burst into tears during my audition," she said, with a laugh. Although she loved to sing, she said, "It had probably been 30 years" since her previous performances.Hansel overcame her nerves, however, and went on to become a confident performer and a mainstay in Song the Pines.Suzy Lobaugh, director of Song of the Pines, said she has witnessed countless similar transformations."I constantly see women change right before my eyes," said Lobaugh, a third-generation Sweet Adeline. "I love to see women prosper and grow."The dedication was visible on the faces of the singers as they performed the nostalgic Christmas music, swaying at times, and raising their arms to emphasize a point."We encourage a visual and facial commitment," Lobaugh said. "It brings the music to life."Lobaugh said her decades of involvement in barbershop have benefited her as well."I believe that it has helped me to stay healthier, stay grounded and be happier," she said.Lobaugh, 74, started arranging music about 50 years ago, when she realized that many of the existing arrangements were not appropriate for her group's younger voices.Over the years, she has honed her skills as a singer, director, arranger and teacher, and has been an active member of Sweet Adelines International for more than 40 years, and the director of Song of the Pines since 2003.An interior designer and builder (along with her husband Hal Lobaugh) by occupation, Lobaugh said barbershop has been a positive constant in her live. "There is something about the harmonies that brings goose bumps and warms your soul," she said. Like Honrud, 49 years her junior, Lobaugh sees barbershop as a way to connect. "We're sharing this commonality and harmony," she said.The Song of the Pines Chorus will be back in its usual spot in the lobby of the Hassayampa Inn for this year's Acker Musical Showcase at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12.The group, which started as the Manzanita Chorus, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. More information on the group is available online at sotpchorus.org.Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.Mobile Users:Click here to view YouTube video 1.Click here to view YouTube video 2.