Hunterdon Harmonizers look to expand with free voice lessons

FLEMINGTON -- As the Hunterdon Harmonizers embark on their free singing lessons program for the spring, the barbershop-style, a cappella group men's group is seeking to expand its membership and its music. In an interview Wednesday, two leaders of the...

Hunterdon Harmonizers look to expand with free voice lessons

FLEMINGTON -- As the Hunterdon Harmonizers embark on their free singing lessons program for the spring, the barbershop-style, a cappella group men's group is seeking to expand its membership and its music.

In an interview Wednesday, two leaders of the Harmonizers, Dennis McKevitt and Norman Diegnan, said the group is reaching out to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who might enjoy a little singing and camaraderie.

Former addicts who are in rehabilitation programs are "many times in a closed environment, and if they have to leave they are escorted," McKevitt said. "This gets them out in the public with other human beings."

Singing is a way to socialize and "build self-confidence," the two pointed out.

Coming to the lessons is no guarantee of a spot in the 50-member group that performs at public concerts, and those who come aren't expected to join the Harmonizers for anything more than rehearsals, the two men said.

It's just a chance to try something new and enjoyable in a low-pressure setting, they said. Those who want to join the 50-member Harmonizers may request an audition.

The voice lessons program, known as "Ready-Set-Sing," will have its opening session on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Flemington United Methodist Church, 116 Main St. The half-hour lessons will continue on five more Tuesday evenings.

"Some people stay one night, some stay six weeks," McKevitt said.

Harmonizers perform at Rutgers Athletic Center

"It's a great opportunity for anyone who maybe wanted to sing but is shy and thought 'I won't fit in'," McKevitt said.

At the March 14 session, the participants will all work on a pre-selected standard. McKevitt and Diegnan declined to reveal the name of the song, but said it will be something everyone knows.

During the course of the six-week program, the singers will meet in classes with music director Don Reckenbeil, who will teach such fundamentals of singing as breath control, how the voice works and how to get the audience to hear you better, McKevitt said.

As for expanding the group's horizons, McKevitt noted that after performing for Valentine's Day at Lambertville Elementary School, the principal recommended that the group talk to Christopher Wisbeski, a teacher's aide who has experience in beatboxing, a form of vocal percussion.

Wisbeski may be joining the Harmonizers. "This will be an interesting combination, barbershop and beatboxing," McKevitt said.

Noting that the group is nearly all white, Diegnan said the group would also like to become more diverse. Noting that 20 percent of Flemington's population is Latino, he said, "We would like to have them be part of our group" and the Harmonizers would like to also get more African-Americans to participate.

Although it is an all-men's group, Diegnan and McDevitt said they are in discussions with a women's vocal group and they will likely perform together at a concert this year that would include one number combining both groups.

The group does have a wide range of ages, Diegnan said, from a young man in the sixth grade who still sings in a high register to a man who is 82.

The group, which recently performed Valentine's greetings on request and appears at concerts throughout the year including a major holiday concert, sings standards and rock'n'roll classics. It performs such numbers as Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream," along with the Carpenters' "Top of the World," a Beach Boys medley and the standard "It's Only a Paper Moon."

"The men enjoy singing popular music," McKevitt said. "We don't read music" and no one is required to know how to read music.

"We try to select music that is uplifting and fun to sing," Diegnan said.

Noting that music has the "power to heal," Diegnan recalled that former President Barack Obama was able to defuse a potentially volatile situation when he sang "Amazing Grace" during a service at a black church in Charleston, S.C., where nine parishioners had been gunned down.

"Songs will do that," Diegnan said.

More information about the "Ready-Set-Sing" program is available by calling 908-806-6683 or emailing freesinginglessons@gmail.com.

Ben Horowitz may be reached at bhorowitz@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @HorowitzBen. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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