2020 was a tough year for singing groups after it became clear that singing was one way to rapidly spread COVID-19. The traditional barbershop singers of the Harbormen Chorus with their director Rob Ozman have been able to keep their spirits up with regular online rehearsals and fellowship this past year, learning some new songs and keeping their singing voices in shape with the old ones too.
For Valentines Day 2021 they have prepared something special, a custom virtual singing Valentine with a song from the whole chorus (each recorded separately and combined by the director) and a video message especially for the recipient. You can order one for $35 by calling “Mr. Cupid” at 631-644-0129. Order by February 7 to ensure the virtual Valentine is ready for the 14th!
They’re back! Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Harbormen, the local choral group affiliated with the national Barbershop Harmony Society, will be available in groups of four to sing in homes, offices, restaurants, hospitals, schools and more for the romantically inclined.
“A great home video memory,” as one satisfied customer said, not to mention a good Instagram story with each quartet in bright red blazers and bowties.
Love songs have great histories and each has its own way of getting to the heart. Some evoke longing, others celebrate the object of affection. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” one of the songs that the Harbormen quartets sing to Valentines, was written in 1910 by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson. It went on to be recorded by Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, Pat Boone and was sung every year for decades by Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard on Mother’s Day. Bette Midler sang the song in “The Rose” and Shirley McLaine sang it in “Downton Abbey.” It even ended up on the recent TV hit, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Quartet members include scientists, salesmen, engineers, an air traffic controller, a chef, author and policeman, among others.
Fred Conway, a retired math teacher with the group since 1966, has sung in all kinds of situations. “I remember showing up at an overcrowded bowling alley to deliver our songs to a bowler, and trudging through eight inches of snow to sing to a secretary and her audience of fifty amused colleagues.”
Herb Mordkoff, another member, remembers being hired to sing with his quartet to a waitress in a diner near MacArthur Airport one year, then being hired to return when her husband proposed. “Not a dry eye in the whole diner,” he said. A year and a half later, his quartet was singing for the couples’ child’s first birthday party.
The package for $75 includes two songs, a box of chocolates, personalized card and a signature rose. To book a quartet for a singing Valentine or any occasion, call 631-644-0129 or email [email protected] A portion of the proceeds go to the Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson.
“I’ll be singing for the rest of my life,” said Fred Conway, a longtime barbershop singer and six-time president of the local Harbormen Chorus barbershop group.
Earlier this month, the Miller Place resident was honored by the worldwide Barbershop Harmony Society at an international convention in Salt Lake City for 50 years of talented service.
“That was definitely a bucket list item for me, getting to 50 years,” Conway said.
His career began innocently enough. Conway reminisced about that moment. It was the day of the 1969 Super Bowl and his neighbor at the time showed him an ad in the paper looking for barbershop singers.
“It sounded interesting to me, I hadn’t taken any music lessons at the time, but I knew I had a good voice,” he said. “I went over there the following night and have stuck with it [singing barbershop] ever since.”
Since then, Conway has sung lead in nine quartets in his career, and he is currently a member of the Harbormen, Twin Shores Chorus as well as the Antiquity Quartet. Over the years, he has performed at some notable venues including the St. Petersburg Hall in Russia, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. The Miller Place resident has also received the Barbershopper of the Year award by the Barbershop Harmony Society.
As much as Conway dedicates his time to singing barbershop, he also pursued another passion — teaching and counseling. He graduated from St. John’s University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education before attending C.W. Post to get a professional diploma.
During his education career, Conway served as a guidance counselor and coached various sports team for the Miller Place School District.
Conway coached women’s cross-country, the men’s golf team and men’s/women’s track and field. He would later become the first commissioner of cross-country and track and field in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for 12 years and has served as the first executive of Section XI for women’s cross-country for 10 years.
“From about 1975-1986, Miller Place had some great teams,” said the Miller Place resident.
David Lance, a fellow member of the Harbormen Chorus, can attest to Conway’s dedicated to the craft of barbershopping.
“He is a real mover and shaker, he gets things done,” he said.
Lance has known Conway for the past 15 years and first got introduced to the chorus when a member had to leave due to health issues.
“They were looking for a tenor and they recruited me,” he said. “When I got there his voice [Conway’s] really stuck out to me.”
Lance mentioned practically everywhere they go and perform, Conway always seems to run into someone he knows.
“He’s a great guy and friend,” he said. “His ambition is contagious.”
Lance, along with the other Harbormen members, have also performed at various senior and assisted living homes throughout Long Island and have welcomed returning veterans fighting overseas at MacArthur airport.
Gary Wilson, a fellow member of the Antiquity Quartet, has known Conway for over 30 years
“He asked me if I wanted to join quartet and I said yes,” Wilson said. “We found two other guys and we formed Harmony Hotline.”
The quartet performed together for some time but had to disband after two other members moved away.
“He is a self-taught singer, he has such a unique sound,” Wilson said.
Currently, Conway lives with his wife of 39 years, Lesley, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He is also a six-year Vestry member of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church in Shoreham.
“Through the years he has made a lot of people happy,” Lance said. “He is the personality of the quartet and brings a personal touch to his performances.”
The Miller Place resident said he doesn’t see himself stopping doing what he loves.
“I’ll be singing forever,” he reiterated.
The Harbormen Chorus are actively looking for new members and Conway said anyone interested in singing four-part harmony to visit them on Monday nights, except national holidays, at 7:30 p.m. for practice at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall at 380 Nicolls Road, East Setauket, which is north of the firehouse, next to the new synagogue. People can call 631-644-0129 for more information.
The Harbormen Chorus again this year will send out quartets of handsomely dressed gentlemen to entertain loved ones for Valentine’s Day. In their long-standing tradition, they offer the finest, unique and most memorable gift — The Gift of Song! The quartets sing anywhere in Suffolk County: in offices, homes, restaurants, even bowling alleys and mechanic’s shops!
For information and to book a visit for only $75 (includes two love songs along with a box of chocolates, flower and personalized card), call 631-644-0129. The Harbormen Chorus is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and regularly supports the Good Shepherd Hospice at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with donations and song.
They’re back! For this upcoming holiday season, quartets of elegantly dressed gentlemen from the Harbormen Barbershop Chorus will travel all around Suffolk County to sing holiday songs and carols at your private, corporate or family party and spice up your holiday event with seasonal mirth and music.
The Harbormen Chorus is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that donates a portion of all its proceeds to the Good Shepherd Hospice. They can be found at www.harbormen.org or on YouTube under Antiquity Quartet and on Facebook under Harmonic Tides.
To book your holiday singing, call 631-644-0129. Credit cards accepted.
On Feb. 13 and 14 the Harbormen Chorus Quartets are again singing their way into the hearts of many an oftentimes surprised Valentine recipient.
Four elegantly dressed gentlemen travel to homes, offices, schools, restaurants, hospitals, nursing facilities and other locations in Suffolk County to serenade that special someone with love songs. Along with the professional performance, the singing Valentines will deliver a box of chocolates, decorative rose and personalized card. Call 631-644-0129 for more information.
The Harbormen Chorus sings four-part, a cappella harmony at many venues, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donates a portion of the proceeds to Good Shepherd Hospice.
Director Robert Ozman leads members of the Harbormen Chorus during a concert at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook in E. Setauket on June 27. Photo by Heidi Sutton
By Rita J. Egan
Current and former members of the Harbormen Chorus are warming up for a special luncheon scheduled on Aug. 13 at Lombardi’s on the Sound in Port Jefferson. The North Brookhaven chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, well known in the area for its four-part harmony chorus and quartet performances, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and decades of musical memories.
Chapter president Fred Conway is looking forward to the celebration commemorating decades of business in the community. “I don’t think there are a lot of organizations in Brookhaven, especially in North Brookhaven, that have achieved that,” he said.
Conway said on hand for the anniversary luncheon will be Chris Moritz and Ray Gape, the chapter’s first musical director and president, respectively, who in 1965 took out an ad looking for men who were interesting in singing. Also, on hand will be Don Van der Kolk who was a member of the Three Village Four Quartet along with Moritz, Gape and the late Bill MacDevitt.
The organization, which officially became a chapter in 1966 of what was then known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America Inc., held its first meeting in 1965. That meeting drew a handful of potential members, and by their first performance in the fall of 1966, there were approximately two dozen men performing. In early 1967, the group had its first annual show.
Since then the Harbormen’s barbershop quartets have performed at the Good Shepherd Hospice Memorial Service, the Port Jefferson Village Dickens Festival, the annual Brookhaven Town Fair, New York Mets and Long Island Ducks baseball games, as well as offered Singing Valentine quartets to serenade local sweethearts.
The chorus, which meets every Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Stony Brook, is open to men of all ages, who are interested in singing a cappella versions of Doo Wop, show tunes, love songs and other old favorites, even if they can’t read music. Conway, who has been a member for 47 years, said his experience with the group is a perfect example of how one doesn’t need to read music.
He was sitting on a crate in his new first house in Rocky Point while watching Super Bowl III when his neighbor knocked on his door and asked if he had seen the announcement in a newspaper. Conway said the ad asked: “Do you like to sing in the shower or in a bar?” “So the two of us went to the chapter meeting, and I stayed there ever since,” Conway said.
He said it took him three years before he could sing in a quartet due to not being a music reader. Since then he has been in nine registered quartets, including his current group Antiquity. Conway, who sings lead, uses a tape recorder to learn. “I form the quartet around myself being a weak link. Those other three guys they all play piano and organ and guitar and they read music, understand music,” he said.
On June 27 the chorus celebrated its first graduating class of “Ready, Set, Sing,” which included 14 men from college to retirement age interested in singing. Conway said the program is a “teaching mechanism.”
“The stipulation was that you have a love of music. You didn’t have to read music or really understand the science involved in it,” Conway said.
Chorus Director Rob Ozman said they don’t turn interested singers away as long as they can carry a tune and like to sing. “It’s nice if someone has a little bit of basic ability, and you just teach them everything they need to know to be able to sing, to work in the chorus,” he said.
The chapter’s director, a music teacher at Mattituck-Cutchogue school district, Ozman started in the chorus in 1980 and in 1981 became music director. He stepped down as director in 1995 to raise his family and was replaced by Antiquity member Gary Wilson as director. He returned a year and a half ago to direct the singers once again.
With over 30 current members as well as former members on hand for the luncheon on Aug. 13, there will be plenty of stories to share. Among Ozman’s favorite memories with the Harbormen is a visit to a local hospital to sing to patients during Christmastime. “There was a young woman who was in a coma and we went into the room, and we were singing for her and she woke up in the middle of the singing. She had been out for quite a while, a number of weeks. And, I’m not saying that we brought her out of it either, we may have just happened to be there at the time, but it’s sure was kind of neat to think well maybe there was just something about it that registered in her brain and woke her up,” Ozman said.
Like Ozman, chapter secretary David Lance, a member for 10 years, has many favorite memories from his years with the chorus. One is a show the group performed in 2012, “Return of the Pirate Chorus.” The chapter secretary said the singers donned pirate costumes while singing parodies such as “Don’t Walk the Gang Plank” to the tune of “Under the Boardwalk.”
He said the Good Shepherd Hospice Memorial Services, where they perform “Irish Blessing” and “I Believe” twice a year, are also special to him. Over the last few years, the Harbormen Chorus has donated part of the proceeds, totaling over $16,000, from their annual show to the health care organization.
“The Good Shepherd Hospice Memorial is the most moving of all because when we sing for them it gives them such encouragement and comfort,” Lance said.
The singer added that anytime the audience responses to the music that “appeals to an older crowd but is not only for them” is a good memory for him. He said they have had many great responses with people singing along, especially at nursing homes. He has witnessed a patient in a wheelchair standing up to direct the chorus and one patient that was practically catatonic perking up upon hearing a song.
Ozman said one of the interesting things about singing in a barbershop quartet for him has been meeting people from all different backgrounds. He said sharing an interest in the four-part harmony genre has brought so many people together.
“You can meet up with people you don’t know, you never sang with them before, but you can sing a song together,” Ozman said.
Among its milestone anniversary activities this year, the chorus will also hold its 50th anniversary annual show at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook in Setauket on Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For more information about the Harbormen Chorus and its 50th anniversary party at Lombardi’s on the Sound, call 631-476-6558 or visit www.harbormen.org.