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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Marty Monson

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Marty Monson, CEO/Executive Director, Barbershop Harmony Society

If you were Nashville recently you might have noticed that “Music City U.S.A.” was under siege from 6,000 harmonizers with the Barbershop Harmony Society celebrating its 2016 international convention from July 3rd-10th.

Barbershop events—featuring four-part, a cappella, close-harmony singing---were hosted at venues throughout the city, including the Music City Center, Bridgestone Arena, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and the First Baptist Church

With 22,000 members, the Barbershop Harmony Society is the world's largest all-male singing organization with over 23,000 members, 800 chapters across North America, and 4,500 affiliates in 9 other countries.

Barbershop music was the rage in America between 1900 and 1919. A revival of a cappella singing—first centered in Tulsa, Oklahoma--took place in 1938 when tax lawyer Owen C. Cash sought to save the art form from a threat by radio. He garnered support from investment banker Rupert I. Hall.

Founded by the pair in 1938, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America was rebranded as the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2004. It moved its headquarters to Nashville in 2007 and has since been vigorously working with the local civic and education communities.

As well, Belmont University in Nashville became the home for the Society's flagship annual education event, Harmony University.

A 27-year member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, its CEO/Executive Director Marty Monson is a second generation barbershopper. He began singing barbershop In high school with the Old Capital Chorus in his home town of Iowa City. For over two decades, he was a member of the twice-honored international silver medalist Great Northern Union Chorus.

He was also president of the Hilltop, Minn. Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. His leadership led to a significant growth in membership and transformed the Hilltop chapter (and its Great Northern Union Chorus) into one of the Society’s most dynamic organizations.

While in Minneapolis, Monson and his wife Amy co-founded Paideia Academy, a K-8 public Charter School in Apple Valley, Minn.

With a B.A. in arts management, Monson spent 21 years in communication technology and distance learning industries before taking over the reins of the Barbershop Harmony Society four years ago.

Why do you contend that the future looks bright again for barbershop singing?

I believe that there is a cycle—you know how the world goes in cycles, and phases, and we are now coming back—I think that there’s an interest to coming back to integration, and increased social activity; even with how we sometimes think about the millennials being so captivated by technology. I think that they have a yearning to be involved with the community again. Maybe similar to what we had 80 or 100 years ago.

I think that it is coming full circle again.

In addition, a cappella music has made a resurgence and is still making a resurgence. Where you don’t have to have all of the instruments, and all that kind of stuff (to perform). You just show up with what you were born with, and you start singing and having fun.

Also, I think that there is a yearning for music in our homes, and in our culture. That kind of traditionalism for that kind of new song, maybe new American folk songs, are all starting to come back into play. I am seeing that, in particular, because our fastest growing age segment is the 19, 20 and 21-year-olds. Plus I am seeing an interest through our outreach activities in which we are touching the lives of about 60,000 participants a year through our ecosystem of barbershop harmony societies. Reaching people through our granting, festivals and workshops. We are seeing music educators, specifically choral music educators, really taking an interest. We are helping them be a little more vocal in that aspect. So I’m just seeing that more and more interest as I am out and about.

Let’s talk about the American a cappella revival of the ‘30s that led to the founding of Barbershop Harmony Society in 1938, first known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. One co-founder was a tax accountant aptly named Owen Cash. What a great name for an accountant.

Oh, I know. O.C. Cash, and Rupert Hall (an investment banker). Two guys from Tulsa, Oklahoma. O.C. gets most of the recognition from what I read just for his personality. He was a very garrulous, and outgoing. You didn’t know if he was giving the real story or an embellished story. He was a great storyteller. He loved to sing. He loved to say things like, “Singing barbershop is going to make you a better singer singing in a glee club or satb (an initialism for soprano, alto, tenor, bass singing). He was just emphatic about it.

How did his enthusiasm come about?

He grew up on a reservation in Kansas. The story is that his dad found a guy who came off the train, and he interviewed him to teach at the local school. This guy started teaching him (O.C.) barbershop sounds in the late 1800s. He used it with instruments. So he was a trumpet player. They did a lot of barbershop chords when they would play as a brass quartet or something like that. Then he transformed all of that to singing. I would have loved to have met O.C. I would have loved to understand his passion for all of this. At the same time, all of the recording industry took off, and all of these other (music) genres started to become popular in the mainstream. He was worried that it (a cappella singing) was going to get lost. Him and Rupert.

[The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America changed its name to the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2004. SPEBSQSA was intended as a lampoon on President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal alphabet agencies.]

I love the story you tell of the third meeting of SPEBSQSA in Tulsa attended by about 150 people. A local newspaper reporter asked, “Is this happening anywhere else?” Someone said, “I have a friend in St. Louis who wants to do this.” The morning after the newspaper printed the story the friend received 75 telephone calls.

Yeah, it was really something. It told you that there was a yearning for this. That people were doing it already, but they were looking for a way to really make it happen.

SPEBSQSA was not intended to be a formal association. It was founded in order to establish a directory of people interested in barbershop in the Tulsa area.

A Rolodex. That’s right. And that was the yearning. People wanted to do that. That age group, specifically, was very interested in all that. It was chaos for the first 10 years here. The history books that I have read show that they didn’t know how many people were members. That wasn’t important. They wanted to get together, sing, have a beer, sing some more, and have parades. Quartets of informal get-togethers, and just have a lot of fun. They didn’t have the Internet. But there was this need to get together. Some of that we really want to resurrect. This goes back to your first question. Because of the fast pace (of life) that we are in, because of all that responsibility that we take on, because of all this and that and the other thing, we aren’t taking the time to just go out, and balance ourselves.

Life has become 24/7 without a break from work. Even a decade ago you could still take a break from your cellphone. Today, it’s very hard to take a break. Remember how slow life used to be? Today, communication stimulants are continually bombarding us. I think people are seeking to have life either slowed down or to have an oasis of calm somewhere in their lives.

I agree on a number of fronts on that. I see that with the (Nashville) neighborhood that we moved into. We have a wonderful neighborhood. My son is out playing constantly. He and his friends yearn to be out playing with one another, even though they do have all of their technology stuff. Last night, my son came to me and said, “Dad, I just have to do something.”

I was part of a project that the Barbershop Society co-sponsored, the Choral Ecosystem (a summit hosted at Yale’s School of Music, April 8-9, 2016) for the United States which could be leveraged for multiple countries, but the goal here was to just try to understand what defines the choral ecosystem. It was fascinating because we were in a room with 30 choral leaders in a capacity that had never occurred before. This was an opportunity to get to know each other, to network, and to work on the definition. It was just fascinating because here we were opening up all of these doors. I made a comment, “Here’s our challenge. It’s not what we just did here. Our challenges are when we go back home that the inertia pulls us right out of all of the great things that we should be doing. And why is that? It’s because our pace is so fast. It’s because we move so fast.”

It’s really is, “Stop the world I want to get off.”

Yeahhhhhhh....We don’t have the discipline to put a pin on some of that stuff to really absorb what is that we are doing, and what is our impact on our world. That there is what is so incredibly important. I sound like an old guy sometimes. I sound like my great-grandfather, but it’s so true. If we go so fast, we can’t absorb it. We aren’t computers. We are humans. We are people. We interact. What’s wonderful about music is that when you master—even if it’s only one chord or 200 chords in a song—if you master that one chord that creates that overtone series that creates more notes than there are singers, then you go “wow.”

Many of us grew up with music in the school classroom, but we’ve seen cutbacks in all aspects of music education in recent years.

I think that is what so impressive about what the Coalition For Music Education is doing in Canada with its “Music Makes Us” (advocacy programs) and annual “Music Monday” initiative. The executive director Holly Nimmons has done a wonderful job of trying to bring back some of that to the fold. I commend her, and we support her, and our (Canadian) chapters support her.

[The Coalition for Music Education was formed in 1992 with the objective of improving the state of music education in Canada, with over 20 music education organizations as part of the coalition, they are a voice for parents and concern citizens about music in schools.]

Are there similar programs in America?

Nashville has a “Music Makes Us” program to bring more music education into (public) schools. It’s kind of a weird situation in that Nashville is “Music City U.S.A.,” but if you look at the fabric of the music education in the metropolitan area of Nashville, when I arrived here there were 34 middle schools, and only four of them had a choral music program active. They have grown that now because of this program “Music Makes Us.” They have grown it to 10. They continue to use that a focus group of kind, of “putting our money where our mouths are. If we are “Music City U.SA.” then we should see to it that all kids have an equal opportunity to perform in one form of music or art or whatever.”

There aren’t similar national programs though.

No. That’s just here in Nashville. In the United States, there’s nothing to that. That’s why I am looking at this kind of effort the whole “Better World Singing Day” that we are experimenting for the first time at our convention.

During tough economic times, the one thing that tends to be dropped by governments is their support of the arts. Most talk about the future of the arts tends to dwell on national or state issues. Not local concerns.

They have got to leverage the arts and there’s some wonderful 300 or 400 seat operas or vaudeville theaters that are just waiting to have some attention.

But aren't the arts truly local? Most every small town used to have an arts program, whether it was theater, dance, music or whatever. Much of that has fallen away, and there is an outcry in communities over that.

Completely. Again, that’s what our communities are looking for. They are looking for good wholesome family entertainment. They want to have fun. In fact, they don’t want to just listen anymore. They want to sing. If you look at the entertainment industry right now, when you go to a concert with these big name entertainers, nobody expects to sit the whole time. People go because they want to sing, and to participate; even if they can’t match a melody or a tune. They don’t care because it (singing along) puts them into a spot. It puts them into a place where they feel rejuvenated. Just driven. They have endorphins going off all over their bodies. People love that sensation. And that’s even without alcohol and all that kind of stuff. It’s (singing is) so much fun, and it’s addictive, and it’s healthy.

That nature of what music and what the arts do we have to stress how important it all is. It’s not about how it helps us do math or helps us do English. Yeah, that might be there, but it is just so important to our culture, that if we can get more people singing with us, incorporating where we don’t need a stage to perform. We just need a little place around the fireplace or somewhere in our home or we can sing at home with our neighbors, wherever it is because it moves us. Not because it was goofy or corny and everything like that.

It’s about how you and other barbershoppers started...

Right. It was because it was the right thing to do. We were inspired. We try and incorporate this kind of comfort, that music is cool and it can be appreciated. Deke Sharon, the Godfather of a cappella with Pitch Perfect, and all of the things that he’s doing -- he is just doing a bang-up job. He’s a messenger of this singing involvement. Don’t slap somebody’s hand just because they sing and don’t quite match pitch. Encourage them, instead.

Talk to me about the joy of turning a young person on to music. The gift of music is an incredible gift.

It really is. It’s something that will live for a lifetime, although they may come in and out of being able to actively participate. But it’s core in discovery. You can see it. You can see it. You don’t have to have someone describe it. It’s part of what happens when you are exposed to great music and the joy of singing. That expression or that visual is why I do my job. It’s why I come to work every day. It is because of all of those lives that, quite frankly, haven’t been given the opportunity to be engaged. I don’t care if you are 8,18 or even a 72-year-old. Frankly, 72-year-olds can still sing pretty well, and they can have a lot of fun, and can have a joy of life through singing and music.

Connecting with youngsters is so rewarding.

It’s those glassy eyes. It’s those sparkly eyes, if you will, that you can just tell (about the discovery of music). That when you see that you just know that you’ve got them. That’s how we see it. I am not interested in moving the needle one or two percent. I’m interested in moving the needle at a magnitude that people aren't used to. That’s how we do it. That’s how we recognize it. That little smile on their faces, and all of that joy.

Barbershop and choral singing have touched so many parts of North American life and culture. A friend of mine recently joked that without barbershop there wouldn’t have been the Beach Boys. Of course, they were also influenced by the Lettermen.

That’s right, and the Hi-Lo’s, and the Mills Brothers.

Also, the Nonesuch album, “The Music of Bulgaria,” a live recording of the Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic made in Paris in 1955, influenced Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Graham Nash and so many other contemporary artists.

Wow. The influences.

With music, there’s always been a push-and-pull response in popularity in the marketplace. As music becomes more technology-driven or complicated, acoustic-driven Americana and the singer/songwriter genre tend to grow in popularity. Look at the soundtrack for the Coen brothers’ 2000 film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” in 2000 with “Lonesome Valley” being sung by...

The Fairfield Four.

One of America’s first nationally popular gospel quartets who will be appearing at your convention on as part of the line-up of the "The Saturday Night Spectacular" at the Bridgestone Arena (July 9th, 2016).

Right, we have been collaborating with them for the past two years. It’s been wonderful.

[The Fairfield Four are recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Award. They also have won several Grammys, including the 2016 Gospel Album of the Year. This is in addition to a Grammy for Album of the Year as part of the soundtrack of “O Brother, Where Art Thou” which sold 9 million units. They have also appeared on albums by Dolly Parton, John Fogerty, and many others.]

The Fairfield Four began 95 years ago at Nashville's Fairfield Baptist Church.

I know. They are old guys.

Out of Nashville.

Yes. Well, that’s where we started. Here in the South in the triangle with the references to the African American barbershop where people hung out and harmonized to the songs of the day.

What’s intriguing about the barbershop community is its high degree of mentorship, its sense of community, and that there is a joy in singing that takes people away from their day-to-day lives. Am I right?

You bet. I subscribe to that.

A barbershop singer is part of a sizeable community. One drawback is that singing barbershop is intimidating to most new members.

It is. No doubt about it. There may be the intimation factor that when you show up or you hear the sounds for the first time, you go, “Wow, that’s pretty complex.” It is complex.

Anyone stepping into a room for the first time with experienced barbershoppers will be intimidated.

That’s why on Saturday (July 9th) we are kicking off for the first times “Better World Singing Day” which is an encouragement to the local Nashvillians to come and sing with us. We are going to have people encouraging other people to sing. That is our gift to better understanding (barbershop) which is to be more welcoming for those who want to sing for the first time. Even if you are retired, and you have 20 or 25 more years ahead of you, you can come and sing. We want you to come and sing. We are here to help and encourage you.

But, yes, barbershop harmony can be very intimating. You watch the YouTube videos, and you go, “Wow. How do they do it?” Quartets, especially, have reached a quality level that is unprecedented. We do have the chapters and choruses out there that are just a bunch of “Joe Barbershoppers,” as we call them. They are guys that-- “I don’t read music. We are just singers” -- and they just love the harmony (of barbershop), and they are very interested in helping. I would say a majority of our membership is made up that kind of member. So people can learn, and we want to be a lot more welcoming.

Is there still disharmony in barbershop ranks between the “kibbers” and the “libbers”...

You’ve got the lingo.

The “kibbers” argue, “Keep it barbershop,” whereas the “libbers” with a more liberal interpretation of barbershop, say, “We just can’t keep singing those songs from the early 1900s.” I understand both sides.

Sure. I would say that barbershop is a style of music, not necessarily a genre. It’s more a style. It’s an arranging style in that we take songs of the day, whatever era that you grew up in, and apply the arrangement style to those songs. Of course, certain songs are more friendly to harmonizing than others. Some provide a little bit more variety than others. Some have more complexities. Some have more lyrical lines.

It’s hard (to change) because as members we yearn to replicate what brought us into the organization in the first place. We gravitate to that, and we want to reproduce that over and over again. It’s a human instinct and nature to want to replicate and to repeat that because you felt so good, and you want to do that as often as you can.

For many, that traditional approach is identified with barbershop practiced by the Buffalo Bills featured in the ‘50s on CBS-TV’s “The Arthur Godfrey and His Friends” program, and in the 1962 film version of the Broadway musical “The Music Man.”

Oh, of course it is. Yeah, yeah. And what is really fascinating, I will go back to the youth sort of coming into play. The 20-year-old singers, especially the quartets, they are singing more of the classic barbershop music from the ’20, ’30 and ‘50s and, maybe, even from the late 1800s, more than our more experienced high-end quartets. When we have talked to them, they say, “I heard this.” It is what we call the “gateway” music of barbershop which is probably not its purest form.

Then they take aspects of barbershop chords and apply them to pop music that you might hear today. That brings them into to the fold and exposes them to a cappella barbershop or a cappella harmonies. Then they start digging. They find these wonderful arrangements like “Sweet Adeline,” like a number of songs that we have in our “polecat” books---that common songbook that people just fall in love with. They love to interpret and change it up and be flexible. It’s funny to see how that goes. There’s a yearning to understand that historical element (of barbershop). We have neglected telling that historical element (of barbershop) until the last three years or so. How we got from the roots from where we came from. The European cultures, the African-American cultures, and all of those kinds of things that came together to produce the sounds that established the barbershop ballad in the early 1900s. It’s just great history. Just great history.

[The "Barberpole Cat Program" is an essential repertoire of 12 songs (commonly known as "polecats") that every barbershopper should know. The purpose of this program is to give all barbershoppers a common repertoire so that any new quartet will have something already prepared to sing.]

I was recently at an Americans For the Arts conference and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Michelle Dorrance (founder and artistic director of Dorrance Dance) who is a tap dancer, told us about all of these great collaborations that she’s done with tap. She said how the responsibility is when you reach a certain level that you have to be able to articulate the history of why all of this is important. Not just to be able to tell a great routine with all of these wonderful people, but you have to be able to explain how it came about, and how it started. It’s so important. We have the direct same piece in our society. Part of your responsibility as you become a member (of the Barbershop Harmony Society) is to be educated in the history, and all of that backing, and not just dress up, and be singing and that’s it. That’s a shorter shelf life than if you gain the appreciation of the art form, and the style of music that we sing, love, and so dearly yearn for.

What have you done for the “kibbers?” Have you set aside separate programming for the old guard?

No there’s no unique aspects or programming that we have done any differently. There are certain chapters that have identified themselves as more a 1920 kind of barbershop chapter or chorus, and that’s fine. We aren’t trying to create or to articulate only one form which we may have done in the past. Going forward, there are a lot of different flavors that may scratch somebody’s itch and interest and they each can co-exist.

Every style or genre of music has evolved.

Oh, I know. And that’s the reality. It will always change to adapt and to reflect, but you can’t forget the history of the sounds. Probably one of our biggest pieces we have is that one of our historians, Dr. David Wright, who is the chairman of the Mathematics department at Washington University in St. Louis, is just this wealth of knowledge of this history. He teaches this class we’ve have filmed that goes through the whole timeline of the sound change of barbershop harmony. He has articulated it, and if you going to an immersive week of classes at our Harmony University program at the end of July every year at Belmont University here in Nashville, you get to hear that. Well, we recorded that with high-end cameras, and it’s going to be going out in the next month so that everybody can understand this historical transformation, and how it has changed. And there’s nothing wrong with any of it.

While barbershop has been an ever-changing musical art form, some aspects have remained the same: Singable melodies, understandable lyrics, call-and-response patterns, as well as the distinctive barbershop 7th chords.

Exactly. That is what creates that sound which is unique to the art form. Yep.

Did a realignment of the Barbershop Harmony Society start in 2011 with the Chapter Visitation Project that probed barbershop’s future, and that signaled a need to recruit younger members?

Yeah. I would say that it really started in the ‘90s after we had a real upswing of membership in the 1980s. There were about 35,000 members, but when we got to the early ‘90s, it started to decline to where we are 22,000 members today. We were really insular in so many things that we were doing. We had a lack of continuity. What does it really mean to belong to the Barbershop Harmony Society? We have all of this great conduit of singers and barbershop singers, and great camaraderie, genuine friendships, and all those kinds of things. All of the fraternal aspects of everything going on, but we weren’t rallying around the history, and all of the wonderful things that got us to this point after 74 years in 2011...

At the same time, barbershop looked clichéd to those exposed to only “The Music Man.” Striped jackets and straw hats which isn’t what it really is about.

Right. It’s modernized. Those things are modernized, and yet it’s not something that we throw away because, man, people think about barbershop quartet and they instantly know what it looks like. There are big Fortune 500 companies and brands that would love to have an image like that, and a recognition or a brand like we have. My challenge in our organization is, “How do we modernize that? Don’t throw it away.” So we are seeing that. Even with the guys wearing more mustaches. Some of that thing is coming back with beards and all those kinds of things. It all goes back to that era. These are all indicators that show that there’s interest in this kind social/fraternal, this social activity of singing together.

Dr. Tim Sharp, CEO of the American Choral Director Association which has 20,000 members, pointed out in 2013 that your two organizations have overlapping missions, promoting music and music education. Natural allies?

Very much so. So we have collaborated with the American Choral Director Association. We have collaborated with Chorus America. At the recent National Association For Music Education conference, our esteemed quartet Crossroads Quartet was given their highest honor of music education and advocacy called the Stand For Music Award. They just did a wonderful job with all of that. But we are collaborating with others. We understand that if we aren’t getting excellent music educators in our schools, in our communities, choral directors, we are a group of singers. Yes, we have some musical directors, but we are a group of singers who love to be inspired by great artistry, and by great teachers and educators in the choral art form. And not just barbershop, but the choral art form. That is such a dependency that we have for the health of our organization for the next 50 or 100 years. We really depend on that wonderful artistic leadership where the statistic, which is really sad, is that kids graduating college with a music education degree, 50% of them leave the profession within the first five years.

How does your organization reach out to the smaller isolated barbershop chapters that may be aging?

Well, we have to encourage the people there. Music is about encouragement, and creating harmony. I know that sentiment is overused, but it’s very true. They have to have the confidence and the peace of mind that they can use music to help heal and grow their community, and be part of the fabric of their community. It’s not necessarily how they are evaluated to a chapter in the Chicago area. That’s just not fair. That’s not right. It’s not the approach that we feel brings the best approach to encouragement at the end of the day. They are completely in different environments. But it is also a reflection, sometimes deep down, if you look down inside of that, if you evaluate not just the chapter but the community. Are they supporting us as a community struggling to support the arts, struggling to support music, and all those sorts of things?

You are from Iowa City?

I was raised there. Dad moved around as a minister of multiple churches. I grew up out of the womb singing. My brother and sister are very active (in singing). I was destined for this job.

Your father was in barbershop quartets. Your grandfather too?

My father was. My grandfather was kind of the Harold Hill (a character from “The Music Man”) of Nebraska. He was a band uniform salesman.

Looks like you planned to be in this job when you studied arts management at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, receiving a B.A. Did you know what you wanted to do then?

Yes, I did have a yearning (to be in the choral field). But I had a fork in the road. I had to decide one of two things. Did I love the business, the arts side, the administrative side or did I want to become a choral director or a music educator? I saw all of the work that my friends, especially my father, went through trying to do both administration, and support and as well as teaching the artistry of music. I felt that there needed to be more people out there to support the music educators and the choral directors; to be able to support the true artistic capability of these people like my father.

In order to help build an infrastructure in the field?

Completely. I got a taste of that when I was in college.

Well, you had performed barbershop with the Old Capitol Chorus while in high school.

Right. Dad got us exposed to that. He was our high school director, and he was directing the local chapter. We had about 30 guys, and we competed as part of the Barbershop Harmony Society. That’s where I got started. From there, I got more and more exposure. Dad decided to do “The Music Man” at the city high school there. He plucked four guys from the choir—really good singers, by the way—and we knocked it out. We are best friends to this day. In fact, we sang at Six Flags for a summer as a barbershop quartet. We sang to people who were standing in line, singing and helping them to pass the time. The stories and the joy that we have...

Later on, you hit the big time of barbershop performing with the Great Northern Union Chorus in Minneapolis-St. Paul. That’s high cotton.

Yes, it was. That project was a wonderful project with Mr. Pete Benson who was the chorus director. He and I had this great working relationship as well as with a number of others that we surrounded ourselves with. Growing an organization that had been going to International for 20 straight years, spending about $2 million to experience the joy of barbershop harmony in front of thousands and thousands of people every year, was a wonderful experience. A lot more people knew about us outside of the Minneapolis area than knew about us in the area.

That changed though.

We really did a transformation (of the Hilltop, Minnesota chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society). We really looked inside, and said, “If what we really want to achieve is community, and to influence our community, we really have to look what we are doing inside the community.” We definitely grew the membership and the quality of the (barbershop) experiences. We became part of the community. We started hosting a collegiate festival with groups from 10 different universities. We would bring two of them in, and rotate them each year. We’d bring 170 to 200 young men from these colleges, and sing with them, and we’d bring in a youth quartet. We would just have a wonderful expression of harmony and sharing and collaboration and exposure at the same time.

Meanwhile providing life-changing experiences.

Yeah, that was transformational for our members, for our community, and for our students. They were in a male chorus, and there were no other male chorus groups at their university. Where do they go to hang out with other male chorus members? And they got immersed in (the program). Those were great programs, great shows, and were very inspirational.

They (the Hilltop, Minnesota chapter) is doing really well now. Ten years later, they have a huge engine. They have grown their budget fourfold. They have exceeded a lot of dreams that I had for them which is wonderful to see that it’s sustainable.

In 2004, you and your wife Amy co-founded Paideia Academy, a K-8 Charter school in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Yes. We felt that local schools weren’t providing adequate arts education. We felt that there was another flavor that we could offer with an emphasis in hard language.

Paideia Academy closed its doors last month.

Unfortunately, they have closed their doors, yes. They existed for 11 years. We had a great succession plan, but they got into some administrative struggles like a lot of our schools can. It’s sad, but we certainly influenced a lot of kids very favorably during out term.

You have a creative career resume with two decades in the communication technology, and in distance learning industries. You are largely an educator who works outside the box by utilizing technology. Is that one of the factors that led to you beating out 60 people for the top job at the Barbershop Harmony Society?

I don’t know if I am the best communicator in the world, but I certainly do have a love and a passion for people and collaboration.

Previously, you had worked as VP of business development at Glowpoint Communications and then operated Visual Communication Advisors, a strategic planning firm. What was the focus of your work?

My interaction was to remove barriers for people to continue to have learning opportunities. The distance learning was to help complement the brick and mortar teaching that has been standard for years upon years. How do you leverage technology to continue and to support education efforts? So we brought a lot of that into the Barbershop Harmony Society from communications. We could still do a lot more. There are so many new endless technologies that can be used.

The Internet takes barbershop globally.

It’s so true. My brother Eric lives in Hong Kong where he sings professionally in an a cappella quartet, Metro Vocal Group. He started his career in barbershop, and then he got recognized as did his group. These four Americans moved to Hong Kong in 2005, singing barbershop and a cappella in Cantonese and Mandarin. (Through the internet) I can watch him and talk to him on video. That would cost me $2,000 or $3,000 for round trip airfare to keep in touch with him. And I feel like I am involved with his life and his wife’s life. And vice versa. He knows what we are doing here too.

[Metro Vocal Group's first single “Inside the Skyline” from its upcoming album, “500yds” can be found at:]

How have you adapted to Nashville after four years?

I love the warmer weather and the shorter winters, but I do miss the snow. I don’t miss the frigid cold temperatures, but I do miss the snow. I miss snow activities.

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.

He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”

Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, and a consultant to the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta.

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