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A cappella fellas sing for schools

The Rogue Valley Harmonizers, a men's a cappella chorus, are working in four-part harmony with schools to get kids singing. The group is presenting two performances of its fall show “Cruising Down the River,” featuring songs that evoke the 1890s South and the era of romance, adventure and riverboat gamblers. Proceeds from the show will support school music programs at North Medford High School, says Bob Hall, president of the Rogue Valley Harmonizers.

“Cruising Down the River” will run twice — 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 — at Central Medford High School auditorium.

“We've got a lot of great songs that recall life on the river-gambling boats back in the 1890s South, though we take some liberties. We've modeled a character after the gambler in the famous Kenny Rogers song, and we'll be singing 'The Gambler,' even though the original song takes place on a train,” Hall says.

The Harmonizers' support of North Medford High is a first-time collaboration between the group and Medford public schools. The Harmonizers will provide musical coaching, technical support, recordings and individual work with students once a week for 10 weeks.

“This is just the beginning. We hope, with the Barbershop Harmony Society, to create similar programs at high schools across the country,” Hall says. The Harmonizers are a nonprofit chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, a group with over 25,000 male singers nationwide.

Proceeds from “Cruising Down the River,” as well as a grant from the Carpenter Foundation and donations from the Friends of Harmony, will go to the school music program.

“We've done work like this before teaching singing to fourth-graders through our 'Get America Singing Again' programs,” Hall says.

Last year, the group taught high school students in Grants Pass.

“That was an amazing experience. I think it was transformative for us as well as the kids,” Hall says. “Last year, we had a kid who came to the class a little shy and awkward at first, only to discover he had a strong voice. The difference in the kids at the end of the program was striking,” he adds.

Most of the group's work with schools has been outside of the Medford school system, and Hall — who lives in Medford — says he is particularly pleased to be working in his home town.

“We want to provide more services to the communities we live in,” he says. “We've been in the valley for 25 years, and it's a real joy to have the opportunity to work with local kids.”

While the Rogue Valley Harmonizers is an all-male group, the music programs are for boys and girls.

“We work with a number of great women singers and educators who have helped make this program a real success. There's a lot for girls and boys,” Hall says.

Last year, the group worked with 48 students, and Hall says they are expecting to increase that number over time. With this in mind, they are actively searching for volunteers.

“We'd like to have more coaches, men and women. We're doing so much and we want to do even more. Working with kids is great for us too. They are so sweet, and most of them haven't been exposed to this kind of music,” says Hall, who adds that there is something especially moving about the a cappella sound. “It's a bright sound, straight from the heart,” he says.

Central Medford High School Auditorium is located at 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $5 for children and students. Tickets can be purchased at the door or via the ticket hotline at 541-450-9352.

Visit www.rvharmonizers.org for more information. Call Bob Hall at 541-857-6557 for volunteer information.

Left to right: Pamela Lee, Michael Biggs and Mark Tollefson pose in the Mail Tribune's photo studio. Mail Tribune/Julia Moore