Singing a youthful tune
MEDFORD — The Rogue Valley Harmonizers have nearly three decades under their belts as local entertainers, but for the past 10 years the singers have also focused on providing musical education for local youth.
They've hosted events, provided educational experiences and even tried their hands at building choral shells — curved, hard-surfaced shells designed to reflect sound toward an audience — to reduce the cost of music performing for local singers.
Now the group of some three-dozen members is embarking on a general support campaign, saying its focus on education seems like a natural progression. With school budget cuts a common occurrence for schools, the group has evolved to a point that much of its membership dues and performance earnings are being put back into educational opportunities for youth.
"Starting in 2006, we began to help local schools," said Harmonizers marketing vice president Bob Hall. "At first it was in the elementary schools. We distributed 1,500 songbooks to classrooms around the Rogue Valley. Then we had our guys go out and teach those songs to fourth-graders for the next several years.
"Five-thousand fourth-graders later, and those songbooks are still out there."
While the group's budget is meager — about $30,000 to $40,000 from membership dues and performance sales are spent each year on outreach programs — they're inspired by the response the fun-loving group gets from community members and would love to do more, Hall said.
Three years ago, the demand for the group's help grew from the grade-school level to high school. First they filled in and provided singing tutelage for students when a local high school lost a music teacher.
In 2015, the Harmonizers formed a quartet and had some of its student groups perform on stage.
Currently working with North Medford High's new choral teacher, Kendra Taylor, the group signed on to help with whatever was needed. The Harmonizers helped to launch the current academic year by sending its Tone Deaf Quartet, dressed in chicken suits, to host an opening-day chorus camp for students.
Hall said the school has a large number of singers and minimal resources.
"They have 160 kids in five choirs, and they've planned four public performances and four in school. But ... they don't have enough money to buy music or music folders. So we got all that and said, 'OK, what's the next problem?' " Hall said.
"They said they didn't have an accompanist in class, so we said to send us the sheet music and we will record the songs for you. Next?"
For Crater High, a significant need was a choral shell to improve sound quality for concerts.
"Those things cost $19,000," Hall said.
"We figured no way was that happening. I live at the Rogue Valley Manor, and we also needed a shell. So we decided to see if we could build one."
The solution, Hall noted, involved a $5,000 structure instead of the $19,000 version.
Harmonizer Michael Biggs, a member of the Tone Deaf Quartet, said he enjoyed both the performance aspects and educational aspects of being part of the local group.
"As a chorus, we have a real passion for helping to spread the harmony to the next generation, and it really is a way that we can give back. The schools have had to limit budgets, and for that and other reasons, kids seem to have less and less exposure to music," said Biggs.
"I grew up in chorus and band in high school and, at 50 life years, I know that I got more life lessons from those years in chorus than all those years in algebra. So if we can help give that to the next generation of musicians in some way, it brings a lot of joy to me."
Hall said his focus is two-fold: providing mentorship and music to future generations. Near to his heart is a memory of a performance with local high-schoolers, after which a parent was moved to tears by how much inclusion in the group had meant to her son.
"One of the boys in the group had a nice bass voice and could keep time but was nearsighted and not one of the 'in' crowd," Hall said.
"The mom called me the next day and said the performance was one of the finest things that had ever happened to this boy. Here I thought we were teaching some songs, but the feedback we get is that we are providing a lot of great support to the teachers and even serving as role models to these kids."
— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.