Photo: Lowell Boyer (Center) sings with the Midstatesmen’s Chorus at the Alma Middle School.”
Lowell Boyer knows a lot about trends in music. That’s because he’s sung his way through most of them.
Now 94 years old, Boyer, of Alma, has reached a milestone: He has been a member of the Midstatesmen Chorus, a local barbershop group, for 65 years, and is believed to be one of the few in the country who can make that claim. The group, which is the Gratiot County Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, is dedicating its annual show in September to him, with the theme of “Boy Oh Boyer.”
Lowell Boyer has been in Midstatesman Chorus for 65 years. “I feel so honored, I’m just doing what I like to do,” he said. Boyer will be singing in the Sept 22 show at the Alma High School Auditorium, and will be accompanied in one quartet by his son Roger.
“We asked Lowell to go through his song library, and give us a list of the songs that he has done over the years that he would like to hear again,” said Chuck Moerdyk, director of the chorus. “He’s gonna sing with at least two quartets in the show, possibly three,” Moerdyk said.
Moerdyk has known Boyer for about 20 years. “He still sings a good strong bass,” he said. “He’s an inspiration. We always tell people that singing is something you can do all your life, and we can point to Lowell, as ‘Here’s the living proof.'”
In his 65 years with the group, Boyer has missed only one of the annual shows, when he had to take his wife Bernice to Wisconsin. Still, he points out, he was active in the group the rest of that year, and also sang in a barbershop group in Florida “so I count that.” Boyer will be 95 in December. Born and raised in Ithaca, he sang his first solo in 1936 at his graduation ceremony at Ithaca. The song was “When the Bell on the Lighthouse Rings.” His first church solo was in 1937, when he sang “In the Garden” at the Methodist Church in Ithaca. That song, it turns out, was his brother Kenneth’s favorite song, and when Kenneth passed away in 2008, Boyer sang it at his funeral. Just one example of how music has played a significant role at all stages of his life. Boyer joined the Midstatesmen Chorus in 1947, inspired by Hollis Delosh, a family friend who was already in the group. The chorus had formed just the year before. He remembers that Impure Airs was his first quartet, which he sang in along with three guys he knew from school in Ithaca, when he sang in Glee Club with them. Boyer doesn’t read music, and he said his wife Bernice would help him learn the music. The couple shared a love for music, as she played the piano and was in Sweet Adelines. Bernice passed away in 2006.
They were together for 70 years, he says, starting from the day his best friend introduced them in 1936. They were married in 1939 and had two children, Roger, now of Berkley, near Detroit, and Judith, who lives in Georgia. They moved to Alma in 1952. After 18 years with a lumber company in Alma, Boyer focused his career on carpentry and building homes, retiring at age 62. He found that once he started with barbershop music, it was simply something he enjoyed. “I like the harmony. You have to learn your own part too..” “And the fellowship. You get into something like that, you meet so many nice people. Everybody that ever came in that I knew, they gave something to the chapter.”
“There’s nobody else that’s been here as a long as a I have. In fact, there’s maybe only about a half a dozen in the whole organization, that have been there for 65 years.” He also sings in a barbershop quartet in Zephryhills, Fla. He was part of the chapter when it had its first show in 1984. Boyer isn’t sure what to attribute his long life to, but notes that his mother lived to be 85, his father was 87, and an aunt died at age 93. “It could be in the genes, but maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe I’ve done things right, or maybe there’s something I’ve got to do yet,” he said.
He likes to keep busy. “I just get out and do something instead of just staying home. In the house, it’s just the four walls, you know.” He plays golf at least once a week. When asked what he usually shoots on the golf course, he was quick to say “Terrible.”
“I don’t swing very good, but I have fun doing it, Boyer said. “I do my own yard work, I cook when I feel like it, I’m not a very good cook, but I survive on it.”
Although he grew up with music of a different era, Boyer said he liked Elvis Presley and the Beatles when they came along. “I used to like some of the rock and roll, when you could understand the singing. Elvis Presley and different people like that, The Beatles, I could understand their words,” he said. “But it seems like what the singing nowadays, they’re singing a half dozen words and mostly noise. I don’t really appreciate it, but I think, ‘It’s just a sign of the times.’ You go through different phases. “I’ve got to understand what they’re singing about. I always feel that if you’re singing something, you’re telling a story, and it should come out in your singing.” For him, that is part of the beauty of barbershop harmony, a style of music he’s been proud to sing for six decades.
“Funny thing” he says with a smile, “My dad was a barber.”