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52 years a director, and still going strong

52 years a director, and still going strong

Jim Shisler’s formula for a long run at the helm of the Defiance, Ohio Chapter blends musical training with plain old affection. It has kept him happily out front through five decades.

by Jim Shisler

I come from a family of four—one older brother and two younger sisters. Being of consecutive ages, I grew up singing in a family quartet. A mixed quartet – imagine that?

In 1958, after graduating from a small high school, I attended Tri State College in Angola, IN and joined a quartet called the Pi-R-Squares. Engineering students – get it? In 1959 I transferred to The Defiance College to pursue a career in music education. I graduated in 1963 with a comprehensive degree in music education. They said I was now qualified to teach instrumental and vocal music in grades K through 12.

In the summer of 1959 a member of the Defiance Chapter came to visit me as I was working as a mechanic in the family-owned marine business. He asked if I would like to sing in a quartet. I said “YES – with whom?” I joined the Defiance Northwesternaires chapter and the Noteables quartet. The quartet was active until 1965 and as you know I’m still involved with the chapter to the present day, which makes me a 62-year member of our society. I remember my first chorus rehearsal. I was a young brash 19-year-old in a room full of old men – some were already 50 years old!!! They liked to laugh, sing, tell stories. and most of all ring chords!!! Nothing has changed in the past 62 years – only the names.

In 1968, the chorus director, Jim Imber, asked if I would be interested in directing the chorus. I said yes, and the rest in history.

A chapter well involved in its community

The Northwesternaires chorus comes from a primarily rural area and consists of 40-50 active members. The closest large city is 50 miles away. We have a core group of people who are life-long members plus those who join for a time then move on. We participate as part of the Defiance College-sponsored Black Swamp Choral Festival that gives us great exposure to high school singers. With that we have had several younger men sing with us until they go on to college.

Our largest activity, and one of the bigger social events in Defiance, is our annual show in the spring. We usually do a themed show and entertain between 1500 - 1600 people in two shows. (If any of your readers need ideas for show themes and songs to fit the theme, see me!) Historically our show includes an international champion, a district level quartet, chapter quartets, and our chorus. In my time as a member, we have had international champions including the Mid-States Four, Schmidt Brothers, Buffalo Bills, Gay Notes, Western Continentals, SunTones, and more recently Acoustix, The Ritz, Gas House Gang, Yesteryear, Marquis, Vocal Spectrum, Forefront, Instant Classic, to name a few.

Other activities the chorus participates in throughout the year are singing at community churches (7-8 in one day), raising money for “Christmas for Kids” with the local radio station, and various other sing outs as hired. All of these activities are good for recruiting new members and for promoting our annual show.

Our chorus competes in the Johnny Appleseed District against great choruses like The Alliance, Southern Gateway, Singing Buckeyes, and the Men of Independence. As you can see, finishing in the top five is a challenge, but we consistently do so and have placed as high as third several times. (Our chorus sings at a 75 level.)

How to be a director for five decades

You ask how I keep an interest in directing the same group of men for so long — simple! One, anyone can direct a chorus of trained, talented singers. I enjoy the challenge of taking the person who just likes to sing and working with them to raise their musical level so we are able to put out a quality musical performance, be it a show, contest, or sing out.

Two, association with great people is another reason I love directing this chorus. Whether it is simply meeting at the local watering hole after each rehearsal, coming together as a group at my place in the country for our annual BBC (beer, brats, and corn), or to our annual Christmas dinner with our significant others, the special friendships developed make these guys like family.

In addition to directing the Defiance Northwesternaires for 52 years I was in active quartets including the Pi-R Squares 1 year, the Noteables 6 years, the Four-In-Legion - JAD district champ in 1973 for 6 years, the Sound Syndicate - JAD district champs 1979; 16th place international finish after 6 years, The Ritz - Pioneer district champs 1984; International Champs 1991 for 20 years. I also directed the Pride of Toledo Sweet Adelines chorus from 1989 until 2004 which included 9 Regional championships and finishing as high as 7th at their international competition.

I consider my association with the Defiance Chapter not just a hobby, but more like a way of life. I continue to cherish the friendship and camaraderie my chorus provides.

Jim Shisler (far left) is tenor of the 1991 International Quartet Champion, The Ritz.