Chapter highlight: Des Moines Metro, Iowa
A Million Dreams: becoming Vox Infinitus
Their path to becoming a BHS chapter included a pandemic time-out, a few starts and stops—and a commitment to being exactly what they wanted to be.
The genesis of most chapters of the Barbershop Harmony Society is similar: a few people with similar aspirations, goals, and tastes get together to make some music.. and get more people to sing with them… and get more people… and pretty soon, there’s a barbershop chapter.
When Nathan Green and a few friends in Des Moines, Iowa, first started talking about forming a new choral group, about the only things they knew for sure were that they wanted to sing a cappella, and together. That was about it.
“We really were more of a tag-singing gang,” says Nathan, getting together in the back room of a Rock Bottom Brewery, and later, the delightfully named Keg Stand. “Of that original six guys, a few were old quartet mates. One had zero barbershop experience, but plenty of collegiate a cappella experience. Another had sung some barbershop in high school and college.”
As casual experimenting turned to performance ambition, they thought hard about what start-up models would serve them best. After conversation with Mike Loque, who had been a catalyst in the founding of Central Standard and Fog City Singers, they moved toward a “concert series” concept. Eight more singers were invited to a four-rehearsal preparation run-up to a concert date. Expectations were high: “Show up ready,” with notes and words already mastered. “We expect everyone to be competent on a piece of music with standard learning tools, which is our main mission concept, ‘Deliberate self-development,’” says Nathan.
Mission accomplished: the inaugural performance of Vox Infinitus was satisfying and energizing enough to wish to continue along these lines, with music selections ranging from choral to jazz. But continuity proved a challenge. A few new singers came in, a few moved along, sometimes for career changes, some just to move along.
“We realized that we needed to not try to be everything to everyone, and we homed in even tighter on developing a real vision,” Nathan reflects. “We realized that at heart, we sang together because we are enriching individuals through the power of music— both ourselves and our audiences.” All decisions were to be viewed through that lens.
“We also realized that we were pretty well rooted in key barbershop traditions, especially camaraderie and four-part harmony,” says Nathan. “We have wide musical interests, but we may be more barbershop-py than we had initially realized. We aim to unapologetically be us, and people who join be unapologetically themselves,” while expressing the group’s key values —acceptance, an eclectic personality as a whole, and celebrating people who are not inhibited in who they are.
The group switched to a more typical weekly rehearsal format, and as 2019 came to a close, was a few signatures away from actually chartering as a BHS chapter.
And then came the pandemic.
“We pretty much went dormant, didn’t program anything, kept loosely in touch, but didn’t have any real organized activity.” As comfort levels for singing together rose in early 2021, the group re-launched with enthusiastic response. “We had 100% attendance for our first ‘return’ meeting. It really brought home that we had something here that people needed and wanted. Immediately we were pulling folks from everywhere, some driving two hours based on just seeing us on YouTube.”
Charting a varied, engaging course
A full BHS charter became a reality in 2022. “We’re having a great time,” Nathan enthuses. “We’ve done just about every style of performance — contest, holiday show, concert series, and our casual ‘Taps and Tags’ nights in the back rooms of various breweries and tap houses.”
Vox Infinitus consciously seeks collaborative performances with many different kinds of arts groups and a cappella ensembles in the community. In 2023, Vox was invited to perform some Music Man material with Lani Eclatt, of Des Moines, and Tapestry, a CSD quartet, in a concert setting. After they had learned Robert Rund’s great arrangements of “It’s You” and “Til There Was You,” a schedule change moved the Central States District contest ahead of the concert. “We thought it would be great to get some high-quality feedback and coaching,” Nathan explains. “We went to CSD with no expectation other than showing the district who we are. Our chorus of 12 singers had 5 first-timers, and we just hit it for fun and WOW! It was electric.”
“Believer” – Imagine Dragons
contemporary a cappella adapted from The Tufts Beelzebubs
“My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose” – Eric Barnum
“Something Just Like This” – The Chainsmokers
arranged by Jonathan Fortino, member -
“Come Fly With Me” – recognized contestable barbershop
The chorus is in no particular hurry to grow and change. “It’s not a matter of being picky, but our approach is not for everyone. We want to ring chords and have fun, but what fills my cup may not be the same as the next person’s needs. We think that 100% of you deserves 100% of us, so it’s nice that there are many barbershop chapter options in the world.”
Brian Lynch is Public Relations Manager for the Barbershop Harmony Society.