- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

MOUNT ZION, Ill. (AP) - When Jon Lones and the rest of Some Assembly Required touched down in Reno, Nev., in late January, they had little experience in the culture of barbershop.

To pass the time as they went through the airport shuttle, the group of 14 students from Mount Zion High School began to ‘mumble’ a song to one another.

What they did not know was they were within earshot of the Barbershop senior champions of 1997, who decided to jump in and sing along.

“Immediately, once we were off the plane, we were singing with past champions,” said Lones, a Mount Zion senior. “We sang together all the way to the hotel.”

Just like that, the Mount Zion barbershop a capella group got a taste of what they were in for as the first-ever representative from Illinois at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s annual International Midwinter Convention.

Nearly 50 teams from as far away as China and Sweden took part in the convention over the final weekend of January, performing their pieces and sharing a bond over their love of barbershop.

Though the language barriers were there, the singers shared the language of barbershop style, as Rich Hansen said the issues addressed in the music are similar to people of all walks of life.

“A lot of barbershop songs have common, relatable things: love, friendship, brotherhood and comradery,” said Hansen, director of Some Assembly Required. “It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, they are issues people relate to anywhere.”

An international conference appearance is an impressive feat, let alone for a group that did not exist as of a year ago.

Hansen has helped establish several quartets during his tenure, including a barbershop group shortly after he started in the late 1990s. With the return of Mount Zion Show Choir Director Connie Mulligan, a longtime supporter of the musical style, Hansen decided to create Some Assembly Required as an eight-member group at the beginning of the school year. The group later expanded to 14 as it prepared for the trip to Reno, as support from Mulligan and financial support from parents made the trip possible.

Even with stigma of barbershop as an old-style of music with big mustaches and outfits, members of the group had various reasons for wanting to become a part of the newly formed a cappella group.

For Lones, it was rooted in a history of barbershop in his family.

“My dad always loved to sing barbershop . so him always singing around the house made me curious about it,” he said. “Last year, when this came around, I asked Mr. Hansen if I could try out and join.”

Blake Eggers, a junior who joined the group in December just ahead of their trip to Reno, was looking forward to a cross-country trip, but also a chance to try something new.

Like many in the group, Eggers is a member of the school’s show choir group, but the chance to do barbershop adds an element to his musical education.

“(Barbershop) took my vocal education to a whole other place that I couldn’t before,” Eggers said.

Unlike some of the other music styles, barbershop relies completely on the voice. With just a handful of members, the group has to replicate all the backing instruments and melody with their voices to accompany the more traditional singing.

While only one more trip, to Peoria, is planned for the school year, the impact of the past few months already has far-reaching effects.

Members such as junior Wade England said he sees barbershop as something that will remain a part of his life. While he noted he may not be as committed as some of the 80-year-old singers he saw perform in Reno, he said it is something that can at least be done in his free time.

Hansen said the success of the group this year has him hopeful that Some Assembly Required could become a staple of the district.

“It went over so well this time, I think that it could really become a theater program here that people will want to take part in and support,” he said.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/1Q80BpR

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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