South Hills Keystone Chorus preserves barbershop sound

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Each Tuesday night at 7:30, about two dozen men of all ages, addresses and walks of life get together for a night of harmony.

The South Hills Keystone Chorus is dedicated to preserving the nation's barbershop heritage, and members perform classics such as "Lida Rose," "Sweet Adeline," "My Wild Irish Rose" and "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie."

The group was formed in 1957, incorporated the following year and currently has 30 members in what is officially known as the Johnny Appleseed District of the National Harmony Society.

The next performance will be at 2 p.m. next Thursday at Atria Assisted Living, 5300 Clairton Blvd., Baldwin Borough. The chorus also performs an annual show each November and about 15 "sing-outs" each year at places such as retirement homes and community events. At Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, some members even do "singing telegrams."

"We're an all-vocal group with no instrumental accompaniment," said Keith Apelgren of Upper St. Clair, a baritone who is vice president of public affairs for the group.

The repertoire varies year to year but always includes a medley dedicated to the U.S. Armed Forces. This year, to mark the 75th anniversary of the parent group, the National Harmony Society, based in Nashville, Tenn., the local chorus added a song called "Celebrate" to the November show.

"Our four-part harmony is made up of lead, tenor, baritone and bass voices," Mr. Apelgren said. "When a new member joins, our director of 20 years, Ken Williams, decides what voice he'll be assigned. Basses and tenors are the hardest to come by because they're at the extremes of the voice ranges. I feel that baritone is the hardest voice to sing because it's difficult to hear in your head the note that harmonizes with the others."

Each new member is given a "Polecat Barbershop Song Book," which includes a dozen classics and is named for the striped pole associated with barber shops.

With a diverse repertoire that includes country, jazz, rock, patriotic songs and ballads, the chorus can customize a performance for events, including corporate gatherings, holiday parties and sporting activities. In the past, the chorus has sung the national anthem before a Washington Wild Things game at Consol Energy Park, at an event for former Gov. Ed Rendell, at Kennywood Park and at South Park.

Chorus president Ken Kleja has been singing bass for 10 years and also is part of a break-out quartet called the Keystone 4.

"I joined the chorus because I always wanted to sing, especially harmony," said Mr. Kleja of Upper St. Clair. "Like many others in our chorus, I also sing for my church."

Mr. Kleja, an information technology executive, said that some weeks get pretty busy, but he finds time to rehearse, perform and practice -- a lot -- because he enjoys singing.

"I love to entertain and bring smiles to people's faces," he said.

The chorus is always looking for new members, he said.

"If you love to sing, no matter your talent level, come join us," he said.

The group practices at Hamilton Presbyterian Church, Bethel Park; see


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:


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