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    Barbershop championships returns to Bellingham

    The Mount Baker Toppers, dressed as Toy Story characters, perform at "Show of Champions," an event showcasing winners of a barbershop singing contest, at the Bellingham High School Theater on Saturday, March 28. // Photo by Christina Becker
    The Mount Baker Toppers, dressed as Toy Story characters, perform at “Show of Champions,” an event showcasing winners of a barbershop singing contest, at the Bellingham High School Theater on Saturday, March 28. // Photo by Christina Becker

    A middle-aged man entered the stage wearing a dapper black suit and tie, smiling a genuine smile. The murmurs of the crowd muted in anticipation for the man’s opening words.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Show of Champions,” Jim Hooper said.

    Hooper, the event coordinator and chorus member of the Mount Baker Toppers, welcomed the crowd to the Bellingham Barbershop “Show of Champions.” This event was one of a series of three that took place over the weekend. “Show of Champions” is the closing event where all winners of the two-day contest perform two songs each.

    Barbershop singing is a style of singing in parts for small groups, usually four singers of the same sex, known as “barbershop quartets.” The notes sung by the voices are usually close to each other in pitch, resulting in tight chords or close harmony.

    The Mount Baker Toppers have been together for over 50 years, singing in barbershop quartets and choruses in Bellingham.

    “Personally, I joined the barbershop group about seven years ago,” Hooper said. “We rehearse every week in Bellingham and perform a number of times throughout the year.”

    This year, the Mount Baker Toppers decided to host the “Evergreen Division 1 Convention & Contest” in Bellingham, with hopes of having the competition in Bellingham again in the future.

    The Free Agents perform at "Show of Champions," an event showcasing winners of a barbershop singing contest, at the Bellingham High School Theater on Saturday, March 28. // Photo by Christina Becker
    The Free Agents perform at “Show of Champions,” an event showcasing winners of a barbershop singing contest, at the Bellingham High School Theater on Saturday, March 28. // Photo by Christina Becker

    “The last time it was held in Bellingham it was 1996,” Hooper said. “We’re particularly excited to bring the event to Bellingham.”

    The Convention is spread out over two days and has three main events. On Friday, March 27, fourteen quartets perform two songs each in the quartet contest.

    On Saturday, March 28, eight choruses participated in the chorus contest. Each chorus ranges from 15 to 45 men, Hooper said. Later in the evening was the “Show of Champions,” where all of the winning groups performed. Four different judges who flew from Boston, California and Kansas City judged each group.

    “The ‘Show of Champions’ is particularly fun because it’s our best quartets and our best choruses,” Hooper said. “In addition, we’re featuring a headlining quartet called Via Voice that is internationally ranked.”

    As the doors opened for the “Show of Champions,” hundreds of people flooded the Bellingham High School Theater. The seats were filled with a mature audience.

    The opening act of the night was the Mount Baker Toppers. The singers entered the stage dressed in costumes similar to the movie, “Toy Story.”

    Later in the show, Party of Four, formerly known as “Double Deuce,” greeted the stage with energy and humor. These four men have been singing together for 20 years and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

    “Double Deuce gets hard to say with dentures so we switched our name to Party of Four because we started to have fun with each other,” Matt Yorkston said.

    After their first song, the crowd raged and an audience member yelled, “You guys sounded too young for seniors.”

    Yorkston was the first to grab the microphone and banter back and forth with the crowd. After joking about being available for booking, another audience member yelled out, “How cheap are you?”

    Yorkston replied, “Not as cheap as that comment.”

    This humorous group wooed the crowd with their witty comments between songs before exiting the stage and received another standing ovation.

    Ezra Parker, a high school senior from British Columbia, is the youngest chorus member of a group called Gentlemen of Fortune, from Vancouver, BC. The chorus started up in 1978 and has picked up a few members along the way. Currently the chorus is composed of 36 members.

    “I actually started five years ago,” Ezra said. “My grandfather sang with a chorus in Salem, Oregon, so I kind of got hooked into everything.”

    Hooper took the stage before every performance and introduced the upcoming groups.

    “What’s amazing about this group is that they got together a few months ago to see if it’d work out and here they are,” Hooper said, announcing the first place winners of the quartet contest.

    The final performance and the winners of the chorus contest, The Squares, shuffled into the stands, all of them wearing smiles. Right before they were about to begin, two men from the previous performing quartet came running onto the stage announcing that they had forgotten they were performing next.

    At the end of the entire show, the lead director of The Squares led the barbershop anthem. The entire crowd stood and began to sing in unison as the director’s hands silently directed them. Not missing a beat, everyone finished the song and sat down as Hooper closed the convention.

    Walter Grenkow, a former Mount Baker Topper member, said he thought the show was absolutely great. After singing for 50 years and meeting so many people, he said he believes that barbershop is a fantastic way to live life.

    “This is a hobby for us,” Hooper said. “I would say that almost all of us that participate in this event do it because it’s fun, and we do it to learn and improve our musical skills.”

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