Manny Lopez: true encouragement
From tagging to directing to leadership, San Antonio native Manny Lopez has made encouragement his personal mission. BHS Board Member Christian Hunter sits down with Manny to tell us more.
Above: Southern Stride quartet in Montana, shortly before what turned out to be their most recent pre-COVID chapter show. Wallace Stanley (Bs), Diane Stanley (T), Peter Cunningham (Br), Manny Lopez (L)
WHAT BARBERSHOPPERS DO YOU ASPIRE TO BE LIKE?
People like Dr. Jim Henry. I was in St. Joseph, Missouri when he gave his “Gold Medal Moments” speech, and it was just so inspiring. Not only because he was a music educator, but the passion he had for the craft of barbershop.
YOU ARE DIRECTING A MIXED BARBERSHOP CHORUS, YOU’RE MUSIC VP OF ANOTHER MIXED CHORUS, AND YOU’RE A YOUNGER LATINO MAN IN A CULTURE DOMINATED BY CONSIDERABLY OLDER WHITE MEN. IN LIGHT OF ALL OF THIS, WHAT DOES “EVERYONE IN HARMONY” MEAN TO YOU?
That you’re accepting of everybody and anybody. You know, whether it’s race or age or gender or anything else, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re accepting.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN BARBERSHOP?
In my freshman year as a music major at Texas State University, I saw a flyer with flames and all this stuff for a “HOT Chorus” concert. Attending would fill a class credit, so I went, and I saw a familiar face singing a solo—my then-roommate and soon-to-be director of The Marcsmen, Brent Dunavant.
After the show, he told me that “HOT” meant Heart of Texas, a barbershop chorus. A month later, I asked him about barbershop. I joined the chorus and the rest is history.
HOW SOON DID YOU START SINGING IN QUARTETS?
It didn’t take long—you sing in a quartet as part of the chorus audition. It was the most exhilarating and nerve-wracking thing I’d ever done, and by then I’d already been in an opera. But I thought singing in a quartet was more exciting.
HAVE YOU FOUND IT HARD TO GO BETWEEN THE WORLDS OF OPERA AND BARBERSHOP?
I didn’t, but a lot of young classically trained barbershop singers find it hard to switch back and forth and find their voice. However, I found classical training enhances my barbershop performance. I do sing with a vibrato and I use it more for color texture.
WHAT PART DO YOU SING?
I’ve been a tenor in my four registered quartets and had some lead experience, but I wanted to have a challenge and move to baritone. In my current quartet, Southern Stride, I started at baritone and Peter Cunningham was lead, but we later decided to swap voice parts. Peter, Wallace Stanley, and I were all fraternity brothers with Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the music fraternity. Diane Stanley (married to Wallace) is Sigma Alpha Iota, the sister sorority. Wallace is the music director of our choir at Grace Church in New Braunfels, Texas.
Diane is the soprano section leader. I’m the alto section leader. We were always a trio, and when we added Peter and started singing barbershop, Diane said, “This is what I want.” From time to time, Peter comes to our church and we’ll sing for our congregation.
HOW DID THE PANDEMIC AFFECT SOUTHERN STRIDE?
The first week of March, 2020 was probably the last “normal” week in North America, and we were in Montana with the Bozeman Chordsrustlers. We also joined a local high school band and choir on a city tour, where we sang for at least 10 schools. Because of the pandemic, the Chordrustlers show was very sparse, but we sang our hearts out to the people who came. We haven’t rehearsed a lot since then—we have been very mindful of our families.
YOU ARE A HIGHLY SOUGHT-OUT SOURCE OF REALLY FUN, ENTERTAINING TAGS AND SO WONDERFUL IN YOUR INCLUSIVE WAY OF BRINGING PEOPLE INTO TAGS. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON TAG CULTURE?
When you are teaching somebody a tag, whether they are new or shy to singing, remember the E of encouragement without being pushy. How would you feel if you were in this person’s spot? Vulnerable? Unsure? Internalize that feeling and let it guide you.
SPEAKING OF ENCOURAGEMENT, TELL US ABOUT THE AMAZING BARBERPALOOZA EVENT YOU ORGANIZED.
San Antonio has three BHS chapters and a lot of Sweet Adeline chapters, but we weren’t getting together a lot except at district conventions. My idea was to organize a late September 2019 festival for San Antonio and surrounding area groups featuring a local venue, free admission and a chance to “tune up” for upcoming contests in front of other Barbershoppers. We especially wanted the non-competing chapters to perform. It was free, but our San Antonio Chordsmen organized a silent auction, a bake sale, and a suggested “love offering” from participants, with proceeds going to go to local Youth in Harmony and Young Women in Harmony. We had 300 Barbershoppers from 11 chapters in South Texas, some traveling more than four hours each way, plus hundreds of other community members.
THE MARCSMEN DID AN AMAZING AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE PERFORMANCE OF “YOU DON’T KNOW ME” AT INTERNATIONAL IN 2019. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THAT?
It was a team effort. I had the idea to use ASL to step out of our comfort zone, then Matthew Cassi brought in his ASL teacher friend, and then a lot of us got to work.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN BARBERSHOP?
All the friends I’ve made and the amazing connections barbershop brings.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of The Harmonizer.