Leavenworth, Kan. — It’s taken 41 years, but Leavenworth’s Cody Choraliers are now champions.
The 39-member barbershop chorus, a member of the international Barbershop Harmony Society, took top honors in its division at April 9’s Central States District convention in Wichita, Kan. The Central States District includes most of Kansas, parts of South Dakota and Nebraska and all of Missouri and Iowa.
It came as a welcome but much sought-after surprise for the singers in the chorus both new and old, member Rod Rivard said, the culmination of three years of work. At each of the two previous conventions, the chorus took home the “Most Improved Chorus” award and continually improved their scores. Jerry Garrard, the group’s director, said working on fundamentals of singing the right notes with the right word sounds in the right blend to hone the cohesiveness of the chorus as a whole has helped garner those recognitions.
“Over the past three years, we’ve been trying to become a better singing organization, a better performing organization,” he said. “We’ve just been singing to the point where every time we sing it’s just a really pretty sound.”
Rivard said the first-place win April 9 — a first for the chorus — still came as a surprise, despite some assurances from Garrard.
“Jerry is the perennial optimist,” he said. “And he’s also extremely competitive.”
So Rivard said he didn’t quite know what to expect when the awards were announced, with the “most improved” award first, followed by the third-place and second-place awards. With each announcement, Rivard said the anticipation grew greater.
“I’m trying to figure out if we’re first or fourth,” he said. “It was quite an exciting time, to say the least.”
Garrard said before the convention the group joked about the possibility of winning “Most Improved Chorus” a third time for the “harmony hat trick.”
“We didn’t get it, so we had to settle for winning,” he said.
They didn’t get a whole lot of time to celebrate — Rivard said the chorus had to perform again right away as a sort of victory lap.
It was one of the high points of a watershed year for the chorus, Rivard said — the second of two Most Improved Chorus awards last April and a sold-out annual show in August that allowed the Cody Choraliers to award grants to each of the county’s school districts for music-related projects.
But with the district win behind them, Garrard said it’s time to look forward. The Cody Choraliers have until now competed as an A level-chorus, with fewer than 39 dues-paying members. But if they pick up one more member, Garrard said they would move up to AA competition, where the choruses have between 40 and 75 members. Choruses with 75 or more members compete at the AAA level.
“We’re about ready to burst into AA,” Garrard said.
At those higher levels, he said the Cody Choraliers are likely to encounter tougher competition. The AA division in the Central States District includes choruses from St. Joseph, Mo., and Wichita, Kan.
Some of those larger choruses are made up of only members who have made it past auditions, while Garrard said the Cody Choraliers are still comprised of people of all walks of life and ages who want to sing. Rivard said he is glad to have that kind of variety in the group. Some singers are teenagers and two other members have been involved since the organization was chartered 41 years ago.
To prepare for new challenges, Garrard said he will continue to work on the chorus’ sound — maintaining overtones and “pedal tones” that result from the harmonies and developing the performative aspects of the Cody Choraliers’ show.
“Showmanship is the next level,” he said. “To actually reach the hearts and souls of the audience members with the type of music that you do.”
Garrard said the members could soon be getting a taste of future competition, both at the district and international levels, as they plan to compete at the international barbershop convention, scheduled for July this year in Kansas City, Mo., the home of the international Barbershop Harmony Society. He said big local groups, like Kansas City’s Heart of America Chorus and St. Charles, Mo., based Ambassadors of Harmony, are bound to be at the convention.
The group also has its own annual show scheduled for Aug. 27 at the Lansing School District Auditorium at Lansing High School again this year. And Garrard said the group will also continue to attract new members, another effort that for the past year has been successful perhaps due in part to the group’s improvements.
“If you’re good, it’s fun,” he said. “If it’s fun, you’re going to attract more people who want to have fun.”