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Band of brothers
The largest gathering of Silverdale’s Kitsap Chordsmen harmonized and shimmied in their red vests and bow ties before at Port Orchard Church of Christ last Friday.
“It’s the most chordsmen ever at this event. It’s overwhelming,” said Jon Powless, vice president of the Kitsap Chordsmen.
The event was an emotional one for Powless because it was in his honor. Powless was diagnosed with end stage renal disease in June of this year.
The Kitsap Chordsmen, a barbershop song group based in Silverdale, learned of the strain that medical bills and being out of work put on their brother and his wife, Renee Powless, and rallied to coordinate a fundraiser.
The Kitsap Chordsmen have raised money in the past through their four-part harmonies for groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and Sing America, according to their web page. They also bring music to Kitsap County assisted living facilities and hospitals during the holidays.
Friday’s event, however, was a family matter, according to James Lund, a fellow chordsmen.
“We consider Jon a good, close friend. Never in his wildest dreams would he ask for anything like this, but they could really use it. The turn out is pretty exciting,” said Lund.
In addition to the 31 chordsmen gathered, 12 banquet tables in the church basement were packed with church members and barbershop enthusiasts sitting elbow-to-elbow in support of Powless.
“I stand up next to him every week. We are definitely like family, a quirky singing family,” said Marshall Starkenburg, Chordsmen president.
The Chordsmen performed a set list which ran the gamut from the classic “Silent Night” to the racy, 1960s ditty “Red Riding Hood.”
“Barbershop is storytelling. It’s simple, ingenuous, heartfelt emotions,” said Tony Jones, chorus manager, explaining the allure of the singing style to performers and listeners alike.
“But it’s presented in a way that gets into your head. The chords are in sevenths, fifths, and thirds, it’s not something that you hear every day,” said David Nance, chordsman.
Starkenburg highlighted this concept in his introduction for Bing Crosby’s “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” a song that he explained launched barbershop when it was performed in that style during World War II.
“It was a very dark time for the nation, men fighting and not knowing when or if they would ever go home. In 1943, the barbershop version of this song really took off because it warmed people’s souls in a way that nothing else could,” said Starkenburg.
The Chordsmen, and barbershop in general, continue to boost morale in the U.S. military, according to Tony Jones, chordsman and occasional lyricist.
“The Chordsmen’s president used to be a Navy captain who just loved barbershop. We hear about officers recruiting for barbershop members on their ship all the time, a mandatory morale booster,” said Jones.
Barbershop can make you cry during one song and have you in stitches, explained Starkenburg.
The Jay Birds, an award-winning quartet division of the Chordsmen lent comic relief to the fundraiser.
Starkenburg is the leader of the quartet, and sensing Powless’s discomfort at being the center of attention, diffused the situation.
“We want to recognize the reason we’re here, the guy that we’re singing our hearts out for. He’s really an amazing guy. Would everyone please join me in recognizing…Tony Jones,” said Starkenburg.
The foil received uproarious laughter from the crowd and an appreciative nod from Powless.
“We love you Tony,” continued Starkenburg.
Donations streamed in through the evening for the Powless family and their most recent addition, a twelfth grand daughter, according to Rev. Melvin Byrd.
“That’s six girls and six boys!” said Byrd.
According to Byrd, the Powless family has tirelessly served the church and their community for 30 years, teaching teen groups, holding puppet classes for the younger children, coaching those that are interested in music, and organizing food drives.
“We’ve always been happy to help. But now it’s the opposite. It feels awkward, but really good,” said Powless.