History of the Hunterdon Harmonizers

THE HUNTERDON HARMONIZERS: OUR FIRST FIFTEEN YEARS

The Barbershop Harmony Society, officially known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) was founded in 1938 to celebrate and relish a unique American a cappella style of singing.  The music that drew the founders of our Society together had endured without radio or recordings because it was heartfelt and satisfying to sing. The barbershop harmony movement soon expanded across the United States, Canada, and several other countries.  There are over 700 Barbershop Harmony Chapters in the United States.  Here is a link to our Society history, and you can find dozens of educational and entertaining resources on the Barbershop Harmony Society website.
http://www.barbershop.org/about-us/history-of-barbershop/how-it-all-began/
Some music passes the test of time, and those are the songs we sing.  New songs and styles (doo-wop, Broadway, etc.) continue to stimulate our appetite for melody and harmony.  

In September,1983, Bill Britton Sr. and Craig Johnson were members of the Somerset “Hounds for Harmony” Barbershop Chorus, based in Piscataway. Art Cole was with the Muscenetcong chapter in Phillipsburg NJ.  Recognizing an opportunity to sing more and travel less, Craig, Bill, and Art spread the word and set up an organizational meeting to form a new SPEBSQSA chapter / chorus.  The word spread, and this was before Facebook, You-Tube, Linked-in, etc. etc.

1984: The message was conveyed, and on January 26, 1984, 18 men arrived, despite an 8-inch snowfall, at the Baptist Church in Flemington.  Yes, there was sufficient interest in founding a new Barbershop Chapter.  One of the founding members was Dick Boyle, an experienced director, and before the night was over he had been drafted as the director of this yet un-named group of wanna-be singers.  Rusty Williams (who had been an assistant director for the Harrisburg chapter) was assistant director. Craig took the President’s job, Bill took Program, and Art took Membership. In a few weeks, we had 10 men with some barbershop experience and 16 absolute newbies who were full of the “can-do” attitude that has characterized the Hunterdon Harmonizers.  We had a chapter, we gained our charter, and we started singing.

We did a lot of little things to raise our seed money, and soon acquired green golf shirts and a set of used risers.  Director Dick Boyle did his directing job for expenses only (gas money), and anybody who coached us did so out of the goodness of their hearts.

We held our charter show on November 17, 1984, at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in their old auditorium.  Being new guys, we needed help to pull this off, and we got it (gratis) from quartets and our sponsoring chapter:
  • The Royal Chordsman: with Don Reckenbiel from the Livingston Dapper Dans of Harmony on baritone.
  • The Variety Improvisors (Imps) with Dick Boyle on Baritone
  • The Eastern Review, with Cliff Schumann on lead
  • The Journeymen from Harrisburg Pa, with two of Rusty’s former quartet buddies from “Old Routine.”
  • The Somerset Hounds for Harmony.
Bill Britton Sr. preserved a video of the entire charter show, and although the VHS is not as great as we’d like, it is an admirable record of what a group of dedicated men can accomplish in less than a year.  The Hunterdon Harmonizers’ first annual show was a fantastic success.

We started the show wearing white shirts with home-made green bow-ties and arm-garters.  Our first choreography was performed during the second verse of “My Wild Irish Rose:”
...” some day, to her I’ll propose (front row goes onto one knee)
            And if she will agree, It’s Heaven for me,
                        When I marry my Wild Irish Rose.
When I marry (Chorus pulls out hidden red roses) my Wild Irish Rose. 

The show closed with our first monster finale.  We started with the Harmonizers performing the standard opening to “God Bless America.”  When we went into the martial reprise, we were joined on stage by the Somerset Chorus.  Concurrently, a huge American Flag (Flemington Car Country was helping us even then) rose behind our chorus.  We were the newest chapter in the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Singing in America, and we were here to stay. 

We had two working quartets in 1984, and they were essential in supporting our initial singouts:
  • The “Main Street Ramblers” (Bob Britton, Joe Logan, Art Cole, and Doug Bayliss),
  • The Variety Improvisors (Lee Bisher, Jim Ross, Dick Boyle, and Ed Weston)

1985: director was Dick Boyle, and major public performances were:
May – Singout at (the then enclosed) Flemington Mall
May – performance for the Del Val Key Club
May – Contest.... our first assay into the contest world.  We finished 7th on this outing
June – our first annual show
August 2, 3, and 4: “Balloonsbury” gig – our first really paying performance! 
August 8: “Music Under the Stars” at Deer Path Park – our first of many!
Performance at the Clinton Historical Museum
Christmas caroling at Lyons VA, Hunterdon Medical Center, and other wonderful places.

In April we bought 41 light blue Newport II Tuxedos (@49.95 each) with white ruffled shirts @ 9.95 each.

Our 1985 show in June at Hunterdon Central was also captured on videotape, and was the first of our themed productions, with the members in vintage costumes, centering around old barbershop songs, and featuring Ray Milnor as the “Man of Many Hats.”  He was also the barber, gradually “balding” his poor client.  The young Williams ladies (Amy, then 8, and Kate, then 7) had walk-on and “stroller-on” cameos.  Kate (now an MD with two boys) was armed with a loaded squirt-gun and instructed to go for targets of opportunity, which she did with gusto.  I really didn’t appreciate the quartet reloading her gun before wheeling her onto the stage next to me for the curtain call.  She capitalized and nailed me.  We had two and a quarter chapter quartets performing in this show:
  • The Main Street Ramblers, with Bill Britton Jr, Bobby Britton, Art Cole, and Bill Britton, Sr.
  • Turntable Junction, with Joe Logan, Cliff Schumann, Donn Grady, and Rusty Williams.  
  • The Vintage Squires, with Paul Terreri, whose name graces our BOTY award.
It was the first of our series of “serious” productions.

Also in August, we made our first performance in Deer Path Park, and followed it later in the year with our first performance at the Clinton Historical Museum.  We did some good singouts and went permanently “into the black” during our first year of operation.  One hallmark of our chorus has been strong administrative leadership and fiscal responsibility.

We started singing at the Lyons VA hospital (Christmas Party on December 9, 1985), and have continued the tradition of appearing regularly, either with chorus, pickup groups, or quartets, to this day.  Also, that first year, we toured the wards at the HMC before Christmas – and still regard this as an important part of our community membership.

1986: Director was Dick Boyle.  Our uniforms were the beautiful blue tuxes and the green golf shirts.  Our Quartets were the Variety Imps, Turntable Junction, and the Main Street Ramblers

Major public performances were:
February 24: Comedy Quartet Night
March  8: Potato Supper at the Baptist Church
April: Show for Multiple Sclerosis Society
May 3: Benefit performance for “Deborah” in Frenchtown
June 6 & 7: Competition in Asbury Park
June 23: Beer bust with several chapters: Somerset, Linden, Princeton, Westfield, etc.
July 5: Singout at Clinton Historical Museum
August 1,2,& 3: “Balloonsbury”
September 21: Sunday afternoon street fair in Whitehouse
October 25 & 26: We had our first Flemington Craft fair - a resounding success.
November 15: Benefit (Food for Hunger) singout at Flemington Mall
November 16: Singout for the Flemington Lions.
Christmas caroling at Lyons VA, Hunterdon Medical Center, and other wonderful places.

The annual show was a massive video presentation at North Hunterdon High School, arranged by Bill Sharer.  It dealt with the many different nationalities that make up our wonderful country, leading up to the musical climax of “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” rendition of the Emma Lazarus poem that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

We had a repeat of the “Potato Supper” which included a Chinese Auction.  The chapter sold Barbershop Cookbooks, and both Art and Rusty still have the rare first editions!

In October, the first edition of “Barbershop Briefs,” our first newsletter, was published.  Our editor was Big John Ancellotti.  We had been distributing newsletters at the chapter meetings, but these never seemed to get home to the wives.  The board was therefore told (on no uncertain terms) that we should start mailing them – if we know what was good for us.  Motion passed...

In 1986, we were the third-fastest growing chapter in the Mid-Atlantic District.  We closed the year with 55 members on the books.

1987: Dick Boyle and Rusty Williams (starting in March) were our directors
We were meeting at the Flemington United Methodist Church
Uniforms were still the beautiful blue tuxes and the green golf shirts
Our registered chapter quartet was Two (sic) Bills and Change.
“See and Say,” a program of HMC that dealt with children with speech difficulties, was formally adopted as the Chapter’s Community Service Project.  We supported “scholarships” for several years, until HMC indicated they did not fit with their charter.

Major singouts  were:
March 4: Lyons Veterans Hospital
March 7: Potato supper, with singing waiters
May 2: Benefit for Deborah in Frenchtown
August 2 & 16: “Choir” gigs at local churches.
September 21: Coaching session with Jack Pinto September 26 & 27: Craft Show in Flemington
November 21: Annual show – “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!” – an Al Jolson Tribute
Christmas caroling at Lyons VA, Hunterdon Medical Center, and other wonderful places.

In August, 1987, we did our first year of singing in local churches while their choirs were on summer break.  For these events, our feature songs were “Faith of our Fathers,” “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and “Whole World in His Hands.”  On the 2nd, we went from St Paul’s Lutheran to Flemington Methodist to the Assembly of God to St. Elizabeth Seton.  The tour on the 16th was Flemington Baptist to Flemington Presbyterian to Calvary Episcopal, to Hunterdon Christian Church.

In September, John Ancillotti and his wife followed several other members and “flew the coop” for Florida.  The bulletin was resumed under the editorship of Bill Britton Jr., who is the creator of our Hunterdon Harmonizers logo.

For our annual show on November 14, we moved the venue to the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse for a dinner theatre.  The show was titled “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet” and featured the “Notewits” who were in their 25th year of cracking up audiences with their comedy.  Our audiences raved about their antics for years to come.  Also, in 1987, we premiered a new chapter Quartet, “Two Bills and Change”
  • Bill Britton Jr (T)
  • Dave Lockhart (L)
  • Jeff Logan (Br)
  • Bill Britton Sr. (Bs)
We sold out the theater!  Also on the show was “Prospect Place” (Division Champs) with Jack Pinto on bari and Joe Logan on tenor.

1988: Our director was still Rusty.  We were meeting at the Flemington United Methodist Church.  Our trademark red tuxes were added this year.  We still had the green golf shirts.
Our Chapter Quartet was “Three Bills and Change,” and our adopted charities were Logopedics (society) and HMC’s “See and Say” program.

Some of our major events were:
April: Deborah benefit concert in Frenchtown
May: Division Contest in Asbury Park.  We were at the Berkely-Cartaret (Johnny Cash’s Hotel) for the third year.
July: Picnic at Hunterdon County YMCA
September: Flemington Craft Fair
November: Annual show at Hunterdon Hills Playhouse: “Of Thee We Sing.”
Christmas caroling at Lyons VA, Hunterdon Medical Center, and other wonderful places.

In 1988 we “went into the reds” and acquired our trademark red and white uniforms.  Our Ladies Auxiliary had been very active from the first days of our existence, and had organized potato suppers, auctions, cookbook sales, and several other fund-raising activities.  In 1988, the Harmonizers’ Ladies Auxiliary provided $2500 for the purchase of these outfits - our “Class 1 Uniforms.”

Our annual show in November, 1988 was at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, titled “Of Thee We Sing,” and featured  “Tradewinds,” who had just become our 1989 District Quartet Champion.  One of our own quartets traded in some change (Jeff Logan) for a new Bill:
Three Bills and Change:
  • Bill Britton Jr (T)
  • Dave Lockhart (L)
  • Bill Sharer (Br)
  • Bill Britton Sr. (Bs)

1989: Hugo DeWinter became our new director late in the year
We were meeting at the Flemington Methodist Church
Uniforms were the red tuxes and green golf shirts
Quartets were Three Bills and Change and County Fare.
Our adopted charities were Logopedics (society) and HMC’s “See and Say” program.

Show again was at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, featuring the East Side Kids (with Jack Pinto) doing their trademark “Honeymooners” bit.  Our theme was “Q-TV” and also featured “Three Bills and Change” and a chapter quartet (Whadda We Here 4) that morphed into “County Fare” (Paul Terreri, John Faust, Rusty Williams, and Rich LeSchander).  The stage manager at Hunterdon Hills that year was Katie Blackwood, where she met the performers, and soon thereafter became Mrs. Jack Pinto. 

Bill Britton Sr. was the show chairman, Rich Kacvinski did the props and staging for this show, Art Cole was the treasurer, and Rusty Williams was the producer / script writer.

We again hosted the downtown Craft Show, and we had a singout at Trinity Methodist Church in November

1990: Director Hugo DeWinter was relocated.  Rusty Williams and John Faust took over the directorship chores.  Our adopted charities were Logopedics (society) and HMC’s “See and Say” program.

Featured quartets for our annual show were Three Bills and Change, the New York Lock and Ring Company, and County Fare.   It also featured a ladie’s quartet, “Sound Effect” with Lois Terreri (wife of County Fare’s Tenor Paul).  Bill Sharer was show chairman, with Rich Kacvinski again busy behind the scenes with production work.  Art was the treasurer again, and Rusty and John Faust shared the directing duties.

The annual show was “The Old Hometown Quartet,” held at Hunterdon Hills Playhouse,

1991: Jim Batykefer was our director all year
We were meeting at the Flemington United Methodist Church
Uniforms were the red tuxes and green golf shirts
Quartets were Three Bills and Change, County Fare, and the Riverside Four
Our adopted charities were still Logopedics (society) and the Hunterdon Medical Centers’ “See and Say” program.
Our annual Craft Fair was September 14 & 15

Our annual show was at Hunterdon Hills on 11-8-91…”Great to be an American.  Katie Blackwood (Pinto)  appeared on the show this year with her own Adelines’ quartet, “Sensations.”

Chapter quartets appearing were
Riverside Four:
  • Eric Christ (T)
  • Marty Lynn (L)
  • Paul Terreri (Br)
  • Bob Burnet (Bs)
County Fare
  • Joe Logan (T)
  • Art Cole (L)
  • Rusty Williams (Br)
  • Rich Leschander (Bs)
Three Bills and Change
  • Bill Britton Jr. (T)
  • Dave Lockhart (L)
  • Bill Sharer (Br)
  • Bill Britton Sr. (Bs)
In November, we participated in the dedication of the North Hunterdon High School Theatre, along with the Hunterdon Symphony, the Far Hills Sweet Adelines, and several North Hunterdon and Voorhees musical ensembles.  The NHHS musical director, Dave Lockhart, also performed with his three “Bills.”

1992: Jack Pinto became our new director, and Norm Helmstetter was our president
In the middle of the year we moved to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Uniforms were the red tuxes and green golf shirts, and dquartets were Three Bills and Change and County Fare
Our adopted charities were Logopedics (society) and HMC’s “See and Say” program.

Jim Batykefer left us after the Division Contest, and after a brief stint with Rusty, we were able to hire Jack Pinto as our new director.  To accommodate schedule needs, we switched meeting nights, which necessitated a location change to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The Craft Fair was September 12 & 13

Our show was titled “Grandpa’s Attic” and featured “the Entertainers” with Freddie King, Three Bills and Change, and County Fare.  We had a Friday show (November 6) at Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, and a Sunday matinee (November 8) at the Flemington Elks

1993:  Jack Pinto was our director, Paul Terreri was our president.
We were meeting at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Uniforms were the red tuxes, and we added “pink & tans:” Pink long-sleeve shirts with the distinctive HH logo, and tan trousers.  Classy!
Quartets were Three Bills and Change and County Fare, and Ladies Night was at the American Legion.

Joe Blihar was still running the coffee concession at practice, and Rusty was in his second year of managing the picnic.  The Craft Fair was September 18 & 19

Show was again at the Hills, entitled “A Decade of Harmony” and was moved to a Friday night.  Freddie King was our emcee, and the featured quartets were “Arcade,” “Tune Tyme,” and “Three Bills and Change.”

The Harmonizers were Intermediate Chorus Champions for the Appalachian Division and made our first trip to Districts!  We also were the “Most Improved” and placed second overall in the division.

On November 20, 1993, the Harmonizers were featured on the Far Hills Sweet Adelines’ presentation of “With a Song in My Heart,” which also featured the comedy of “Variety Pak,” from the Manhattan chapter.

1994: Jack Pinto was our director
We were meeting at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Uniforms were the red tuxes
Quartets were Three Bills and Change and others

Our first spring show was on May 14, 1994, at North Hunterdon High School.  Titled “an Evening of Harmony,” it featured “Yellow Brick Road” (Alexandria), BSQ (international medalist), and as part of our “home and home” arrangement, The Far Hills Sweet Adeline Chorus.

For our Fall show, we were still at the Hills, and show guests were New Vintage (district champion quartet) and Madison Ave (Adelines).

The Hunterdon Harmonizers participated in the Hunterdon Medical Center’s “Lights of Love” Christmas ceremony, and were well appreciated.

1995: Jack Pinto was our director, and Sheldon Katsoff was our president
Uniforms were the red tuxes and pink & tans
We had seven active quartets, including The Firm, Duly Noted, Oasis, and .... Three Bills and Change.
Chapter member ages ranged from 13 to 78, and our numbers had increased beyond what could be accommodated at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse. 

In 1995, the Hunterdon Chapter was designated as THE outstanding chapter in the society, an award that recognized our musical and administrative excellence.  Our rapid growth and strong community presence, as well as a comprehensive promotional program were key to our success.  Since its founding, our chapter has been blessed with strong and dedicated administrators, and it is to them as well as the music team that our continued success is based upon.

On April 8, 1995, we presented a “Show of Champions” at North Hunterdon High School, featuring “Showtime” (1994 SAE Queens of Harmony), BSQ (1995 MAD District Champs), and the Hunterdon Harmonizers.  The guest Master of Ceremonies was Fred King.

Featured on the annual show were Music Street (featuring Don Reckenbiel) and Three Bills and Change.

This was the final year of See and Say support, which ceased only because HMC had separate program funding and was not able to accept the donations.

1996: Jack Pinto was our director, and Greg Jones was our president.
Uniforms were the red tuxes and pink & tans
We had six active quartets, and our enrolled membership rose to 100 men, most of whom were active singers. 

MAY 4, 1996 – our third annual Spring Show… Fascinatin’ Rhythms.  This was a big show  at RVCC, featuring Music Street, the Firm, BSQ (International Finalists), Return to Zero (From Walt Disney World), and Three Bills and Change.

OCT 26 -  We qualified as a Wildcard entry for the International Competition in Indianapolis!   

We produced our Fall show with chapter resources, including the quartet “Razzamatazz.”  The quartet lead singer, Rich Ashby, was part of the chorus.  Our theme song for this show and for the district sendoff concert was “Impossible Dream.”

1997: Jack Pinto accepted a job as Director for the Masters of Harmony in California.  Darryl Hill took over directorship of the Harmonizers, assisted by Don Reckenbiel
Uniforms were the red tuxes and pink & tans
Quartets were Harmony Square and Voice Activation

On 3/22/97, the chorus did a gig as the feature act on the Homesdale, Pa annual show.  We piled onto a bus and rode up into the hills to provide an International – level performance.  A few months later, we piled into two busses, and headed for Indianapolis.  Directed by Darryl Hill, we finished 18th in the big dance, and loved every second of it.

We did a major gig at the First Baptist Church in Washington, NJ to support their building fund.

1998: Don Reckenbiel became our director, and Lee Roth was president.
Uniforms were the red tuxes and pink & tans, and quartets were Harmony Square and Voice Activation

Fall Show was at RVCC, and was a “diner” sort of theme, entitled “Three Plays for a Quarter” with the Firm and Michigan Jake as the feature quartets, and Vida Alworthy (our choreographer) as the waitress.  One of the main numbers was “A Tribute to the King,” which was a medley of Elvis songs arranged by Marty Israel.

Don Reckenbiel became the Harmonizers’ director, Lee was president, and we started our Christmas Show tradition.  The first show had Jingle Bell Rock and the 12-days-of-Christmas (with the box).  Quartets were The Firm and Voice Activation.

We appeared at “First Night” on New Years Eve, and had a lot of people coming through our  venue.

1999: Don Reckenbiel was our director
We moved into Elks for our rehearsals, and stayed there until 2008. 
Uniforms were the red tuxes and pink & tans, and our quartets were Harmony Square and Voice Activation

Show theme was “the Grinch.” Our first Grinch was Bill Joachim.

On May 14, 1999, we appeared at the NJ Bar Association convention in Atlantic City, NJ.  Voice Activation and Katie Pinto’s latest Sweet Adelines quartet were featured, along with a parody on Chief Justice Rendquist to the tune of “Rudolph.” 

This was the year that Linda Williams began her 11-year stint as editor of the Hunterdon newsletter, the “In Tune.”  Linda was named the Barbershop Society’s Bulletin Editor of the Year in 2008, the first woman editor and the first woman winner.  She later edited the Mid’l Antics (The District Newsletter) for 5 years.

Chapter History from 1999 Through 2015 is chronicled in our In-Tune Newsletter, and summaries of our adventures will be “mined” and soon added to the website.  Stay “In-Tune.”

Director History:
  • Dick Boyle 84 to 86
  • Rusty Williams  86 to 89
  • Hugo DeWinter 89 to 90
  • Rusty Williams / John Faust  90 to 91
  • Jim Batykefer 91 to 92
  • Jack Pinto:  92 to 97
  • Darryl Hill 97 to 98
  • Don Reckenbiel 98 to ….