A world in harmony: Local chorus heads for international stage

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YARMOUTH — About 50 men from the Portland area are breaking the conventions of barbershop singing, and now have the chance to showcase their talent in an international competition.

The Downeasters Chorus is part of the Portland chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, and will represent the society’s northeastern district at its 2015 International Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next summer. The group will perform acapella in front of 10,000 people at the Consol Energy Center stadium.

“Performing in front of that size audience is surreal,” said chorus member Miles Hunt. “You literally get goosebumps. As a performer, there’s nothing like having that experience of stardom.”

Hunt, who’s been in the chorus six years, understands the feeling firsthand. The group went to the competition in 2010 as well. Hunt said 25 to 30 choruses go to international competition, often coming from as far as New Zealand and Sweden.

The Downeasters qualified for the international event two weeks ago, placing second out of 20 entrants. After the first-place chorus stepped down, the Downeasters were selected for the week-long competition that begins June 28, 2015.

The Downeasters used to rehearse in Yarmouth, but now practice Monday nights at the Tuttle Road United Methodist Church in Cumberland. Hunt said the group still performs at the Yarmouth Clam Festival each year and puts on an annual show at Yarmouth High School.

Hunt said the chorus is actively recruiting new members and that anyone is welcome, regardless of age or skill level. While the average age of group members is 40-ish, Hunt said some are high school students and others are in their 70s and 80s.

“The cool thing about our hobby is that we have legitimate professionals and then people with regular day jobs,” Hunt said.

Hunt is a lawyer and said other members have a wide range of professions including salesmen, veterinarians, doctors and engineers. 

“Everyone’s got their own story,” he said. “Everyone offers something different.”

Members pay most of their own way to distant events, but the chorus tries to raise money so no member is left behind. Information about the group and its fundraising can be found at downeasters.org.

Hunt said there are a lot of misconceptions, but that barbershop singing is changing and that the Downeasters can show the people of the greater Portland area what it’s really about.

“People really have a preconceived notion of what barbershop groups are, but in the past 10 years the face of barbershop is changing,” he said.

Hunt said performing with a barbershop group of such a large size and getting to see other groups at competitions is a fun and unique experience.

“Until you actually experience a barbershop convention, you don’t really understand,” he said. “Barbershop is all about entertaining the audience. It’s beyond singing, it’s performing.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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The Downeasters Chorus, which has been in existence over 50 years, will go to an international competition next summer.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.