PLATTSBURGH - In the 1950s, a man traveled to Korea and happened upon a group of people singing a cappella. So began the story of The Cumberland Bay Show Chorus.
After the historic trip to Korea, James Brown came home and met up with friend Lou Bernard to begin a barbershop quartet in Plattsburgh.
"They were so impressed with that they said, 'Well, wait a minute. Maybe we can get three, four people singing lead. Three, four people singing [baritone] and bass. We'll have a chorus,'" explained long-time chorus member Robert Brooks. "Well, they started doing that and it just started to grow and grow and grow."
Finally, in 1959, the chorus was chartered by the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Since then, men from "all walks of life" have heard The Cumberland Bay Show Chorus and wanted to join.
"I attended their Christmas concert at St. Peter's this year," said Ken Lushia, public relations coordinator and new member of the chorus. "They're always asking for new members. I heard that message and I said 'I want to be there.'"
Since then, Lushia has gone through the training, even taking voice lessons, and has now been a member for five months.
"The music sells itself. I think that's why we're all in it," said Lushia. "There's a certain attraction of that harmony, that ringing, that we can perform together. That alone brings the people in. And, once you fall in love with it, it's history after that."
However, for Brooks, his choice in joining the chorus was not entirely his own.
Forty-six years ago, after being away on a business trip, Brooks came home to his wife, Lois, who said "'You can't imagine where I [went] Saturday night,'" recalled Brooks.
"She said, 'I went over to the Peru High School and they had a barbershop parade there. And, guess what? You're going to be a barbershopper.' And, every Tuesday since, I've been a barbershopper," he laughed.
During the past 50 years of the chorus, many men have experienced the harmony of the chorus, with membership ebbing and flowing, but no matter who is in the group, musical director Dianne Tortorelli-Brooks said there is always a "closeness" and "support" she has never seen anywhere else.
"Everybody is there for each other and supports each other and you don't always find that in other groups," Tortorelli-Brooks explained. "And even some choruses ... don't have the camaraderie and the closeness that this group has. So, it's really special."
However, it's not just the members who support one another, it's also the community.
"When they heard us sing, they wanted us," Brooks said. "Every one of them."
"They are so supportive of the barbershoppers that it's hard to believe that we actually have followers that will follow us to different performances," added Tortorelli-Brooks. "As long as they see that we're performing some place, we'll see them there."
Over the last 50 years of existence, the chorus has also been there for the community.
"Of course everything we do, we give it to charity," said Brooks. "And, we've helped a lot of young people in the community."
The barbershop chorus also visits nursing homes and hospitals to sing to the elderly throughout the year. In fact, they'll sing just about anywhere to lift the spirits of those around them.
"For whatever reason we happened to be in the bank, the same bank, the same time," explained Lushia, referring to Brooks and himself. "And, the bank is backed up, the line is backed up. And, that's not a pleasant experience, standing in line at the bank. But it was pleasant by the time [Brooks] got done."
"He [said] to a woman, a young woman, 'I bet I can get you to sing.' And, sure enough, the whole lobby was singing by the time we left," Lushia said.
"It happens," laughed Brooks.
"We actually do make a difference," Tortorelli-Brooks said. "Music is such good therapy."
To celebrate their 50 years of being chartered and their commitment to the community, The Cumberland Bay Show Chorus performed for a nearly packed house at the E. Glenn Giltz auditorium in Hawkins Hall at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh May 30.
With the theme "Come Celebrate the Sound," the chorus sang many barbershop hits, sharing the stage with other nearby choruses.
Joining the barbershoppers were "Our Town," "The Green Mountain Chorus," "Philharmonix," "Champlain Valley Sweet Adelines," and the Plattsburgh High School Select Vocal Ensemble.
"It's going to be like a reunion, old home week with everybody coming," Tortorelli-Brooks said before the show.
The finale also had past barbershoppers from The Cumberland Bay Barbershoppers as well as throughout the chorus' district.
"It's a celebration," she added.
If interested in joining The Cumberland Bay Show Chorus, they meet at the North Country Alliance Church, 7 Northern Ave., every Tuesday from 7-9:30 p.m. You may also call president Mike Deeb at 561-0545.