The Hays High Plains Barbershop Chapter embarked on a “Sentimental Journey” on Saturday afternoon as the a cappella choir performed its 50th annual concert at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center on the Fort Hays State University campus.
The show gave a nod to the group’s origins and early beginnings, with its charter certificate and photos portraying the last 50 years on display outside the auditorium. The group, however, also is looking to the future and working to recruit younger talent, said Don Barber, a founding member and the 2018 show chairman.
The chorus last year brought in a new director, Max Befort, who is currently a student at Fort Hays State University and got his musical start in the local Full Chord Press boy’s chorus, which also performed at Saturday’s show.
“He’s brought some new kids in, some college kids and high school kids, so we are looking younger all the time,” Barber said. “And they are our future.”
The youngest barbershop singer is Carl Rorstrom, a 16-year-old who joined the chorus three years ago. Barbershop chorus is a family affair for the Hays teenager, as his 21-year-old brother, Hans, and his father, Jim, also sing in the group.
Jim’s wife and the boys’ mother, Jane, also performed Saturday with a women’s quartet, Shades of Joy.
Both Carl and Hans also sang in Full Chord Press, which is funded in part by the Hays High Plains Barbershop Chapter.
“That’s why we sponsored that group because … it’s something you can do for the rest of your life,” Jim Rorstrom said. “Some of our members are now well into their 80s. This is our 50th anniversary show, so we have some guys up on stage that were here 50 years ago.”
Carl also sings in the Hays High Chamber Singers and Hans performs with choir at Colby Community College. But both knew they wanted to join the barbershop chorus at a young age after watching their father perform with the group.
“I just liked the singing. It’s a lot of fun to be in close harmony,” Carl Rorstrom said.
“I sing in all different sorts because I sing at college as well — but barbershop is different,” his brother, Hans, added. “It’s a different type of harmony and with just guys, it’s kind of cool.”
Musical selections for Saturday’s shows — which also included an evening performance — varied greatly as a reflection of the group’s long history. Songs performed ranged from “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to a performance of Billy Joel’s “Still Rock and Roll” by Full Chord Press. The concert also included performances by champion quartets Vocal Spectrum and Instant Classic, as well as local quartets Prairie Timbre and Uncalled-4.
The High Plains chorus has nearly 40 active members who travel a combined 1,000 miles each week to attend practice. Men travel from as far as Colby, Ransom, Russell, WaKeeney and other surrounding communities to participate. Members of all ages are welcome and encouraged to join.
For many in the audience, making plans to enjoy the annual show also has become a tradition.
“I’ve loved the music all my life,” said Judy Corley, who lives in Gorham and has attended the Hays concert for the past few years. “Just all kinds of music. But (especially) when you’ve got it right here, live.”