chorus of the atlantic stage rehearsalPHOTO: The men of the Chorus Of The Atlantic get "notes" from the stage manager in preparation of their holiday show, which was held December 16th.

RED BANK, NJ - It was an elegant evening, a night before Christmas that made me feel like a pampered Queen. I had an entire chorus of men singing and it was all for me!

Well, that part isn’t exactly true! I was assigned to do a story on the Chorus of the Atlantic for the Two River Times, and Allan Dean, who happens to be, in addition to editing the Atlantic Highlands Herald, a member of the Chorus, suggested I attend a practice session to hear the music firsthand.

How exciting, I thought. A bunch of men of all ages, on stage and singing their hearts out. I agreed.

I arrived at Red Bank Middle School just minutes before the first member, Andy Ferreira of Holmdel, showed up. He’s been in the group 15 years, he said, sings bass, and joined for “lots of reasons,” mostly because it was relaxation from his chaotic work at Lucent Technologies.  Andy couldn’t talk long; as soon as the next member arrived, they had to start setting up the stage for practice.

Over the next few minutes, another 20 or so men came in, all with big smiles, hearty hellos to each other, and more than a strange glance over at me. It isn’t normal for an ‘outsider’ to attend a practice, though all are welcome.

Then Kirk Thomson of Middletown arrived, and in an instant, every one of them forgot there was a spectator in the building.

Kirk, who is assistant director of the local chapter’s music men, put the singers through what would have been a tough workout were it not for all the laughter and good--natured banter that surrounded his orders to bend, stretch, loosen your limbs, stand up, sit down, do it all over again. Then the warm-up switched from body to face at Kirk ordered the singers to “get your face involved…relax your smiling muscles….wiggle your tongue, hold it still, make vowel sounds without moving your lips….”  I didn’t know there were that many different facial muscles that could be put through such a workout.  Are they ever going to begin singing, I wondered?

More conversation, more limbering up, then finally, singing took center stage.

Dave Murch, a former Marine officer turned high school football coach, wasn’t up on stage taking direction from the calm, cool Director Craig T. Page like the rest. He was sitting in the back of the auditorium, his pen and notes in hand, listening, occasionally questioning the order of talk and song, and keeping to the script. The Chorus was practicing for the event at Ocean Township High School and it included, in addition to Christmas carols, some of the standard favorites barbershop quartets are known for. Dave writes the script for the banter and actions that lead from one song to another and is a perfectionist at his job.  Did I mention he’s a former Marine?

The program at Ocean Township was spectacular last week, and seeing them on stage in their wonderful outfits rather than the causal flannel shirts and jeans most wear to practices makes it even more special.  At practice, the look like a far cry from the perfectionists at a performance.  At practice, some of the older gents sit rather than stand between songs; but they all at all times project the facial movements, the animation and the smiles that let you know they might be singing to entertain you, but they’re downright enjoying themselves doing it!

For their performances, the members have a couple of different outfits, what they call their Class A and Class B uniforms.  Class A are the blue Blazers trimmed in gold, with white pants and red bow ties; Class B are blue collared shirts with the Chapter emblem, black or white pants, depending on the season, and white shoes with white pants.  The Matinee Idles, the smaller group of members who meet during the day and perform at daytime gatherings of clubs, at nursing homes and hospitals, also have a red vest with black trim, a red bow tie, white shirt and red armbands.

Makes no difference whether they’re casually or formally dressed; when they launch into song, you can’t stop your feet from tapping, your fingers strumming to the melody and enthusiasm. It’s just plain downright fun!

I got all the information I needed for the story, listened to the director’s careful tuning of each vocal part, laughed at the actions with their rendition of Rudolph and left them to finish their evening of practice without an audience.

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PHOTO: The Chorus of the Atlantic in their Class A uniforms.

But I felt a lot happier, a lot more Christmas-spirited, a lot more appreciative of the natural talent of so many local men who turn out so many hours every week simply to hone and appreciate the ability they have, not only to sing, but to make you feel a lot better about the state of the world. And now I’m even looking forward to February, when they generally announce a special Valentine’s offer, and folks can have a quartet come to your home or office to sing their hearts out for a special someone.  It’s a great gift for a son or daughter to give to a mom or dad in a nursing home or hospital!   Or to surprise that teacher-son or daughter in a classroom! Or a boss in the office. The list goes on!