Opinion

Chordsmen offer sweet sounds, poignant performances

You stab the large piece of romaine lettuce in your salad when a simple melody breaks through your quiet reverie.

You glance up and the men dining at the table next to yours have burst into song.

Their music is sweet and soulful. The lead carrying the melody hands it off to a tenor and then before you know it there enters a deep bass voice and a rich baritone.

You close your eyes and let the music carry you, for you have stumbled onto an impromptu barbershop quartet performance.

Sung a cappella, there is an old-fashioned quality to the music that takes you back in time.

Back in time, Linda Jensen remembers when the high school sweethearts first came to them. So young and clearly in love, SKHS students, Debbie Petersen and Pasha Phares brought joy and enthusiasm to the theater company known as PAGSK, the Performing Arts Guild of South Kitsap.

The youngsters asked to be in cast in the play “Fools,” and how could the company say no? They were easy to love and the theater company did so readily, embracing them and welcoming them as family.

Wandering from family to family and community to community, minstrels in 16th, 17th and 18th century England roamed the land singing for their supper and sharing gossip through satire and song.

The lutes that hung in barber shops could be used by travelers and waiting customers alike and some believe that the soulful, irreverent and funny barbershop quartet music dates back to then.

John Jensen, Linda’s husband, directed the first play that cast Pasha and Debbie all those years ago.

The couple would later marry and live in an apartment above the Jensen’s garage. The play, the Fools, is a comic fable set in a fictional village where everyone operates under the illusion that they are cursed with stupidity.

A departure for Neil Simon, it is cleverly scripted, filled with multiple meanings and carries insightful messages — that what we believe to be true often influences how we behave and act.

Barbershop music captured the imagination of the lighthearted and socially conscious atmosphere of the South and deep, soulful, poignant, yet irreverent tunes came out of early America.

The numbers of barbershop quartets groups swelled and then waned with the advent of the automotive era, the start of World War I and the faster pace of America life.

PAGSK enjoyed fruitful years, operating as a theater family, putting on show after show with Debbie and Pasha cast in a variety of roles throughout the years. The theater family grew tight.

It acted together, played together and loved together, welcoming Pasha and Debbie’s two young daughters into the fold.

It fell onto tough times and the last play that Pasha did for the company at the Bay Street Playhouse was “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 2001.

In 1938, Owen C. Cash, a tax attorney and Rupert I. Hall, an investment banker, revived barbershop music by inviting a few friends to join in a songfest.

The ranks of interested men swelled, and before long the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc., formed all across the country.

Men from all walks of life are drawn to community groups. A local one, the Kitsap Chordsmen – Barbershop Chorus, meets to sing each Wednesday evening from 7 to 10 p.m. in Poulsbo at the Olympic Evangelical Free Church.

Port Orchard resident Jon Powless, who serves as the group’s vice president for marketing and public relations, and past president Jim Geiger join them.

Said Powless, “You can sing by yourself, but singing with others is so different. You can hear notes and build on each part in ways you can’t do alone. I love the chorus. Joining them is one of the best things I have ever done.”

If a singer is never without a song in his/her heart, an actor can never really give up acting.

Pasha went into the U.S. Air Force for a brief stint and the family moved to the East Coast for a short while, but felt the pull to come home. PAGSK members found other theater homes, many moving to the Bremerton Community Theater.

All the while, they continued to act and when not acting, they gathered for dinners, took trips together and operated as a family.

Taken together, Pasha and Debbie’s biological, theater and community family is huge and very loving.

The Kitsap Chordsmen are a giving bunch. Their busy schedule includes singing at Military Appreciation Day, offering concerts and workshops at schools, caroling at convalescent, retirement and nursing homes and hosting a major show or two.

This year’s event, called “Tracks of Life,” features two quartets — Fast Track and Beginner’s Luck, a quartet of singing teenagers — on Sept. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Admiral Theater.

A former member, Chuck Roegiers, previously stationed at Bangor Naval Base with a Navy Band before a transfer to Florida, wrote this year’s theme story, upon which all songs are chosen.

Called “Tracks of Life,” it flows through the life of our hero as he travels on a train bound for heaven.

Not at all ready to lose a member of their own, in March the theater family was jolted by the news that Pasha, who just turned 40, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

With his huge family by his side, he has remained optimistic and courageous, fighting a battle for his life, for his family.

Wondering how they could help, the theater family gathered together and brainstormed.

“How about doing ‘Fools?’” suggested Linda.

It is lighthearted and joyful. A performance of “Fools,” they reasoned, might capture how much joy Debbie and Pasha bring to the company.

“It would be a chance,” Carl Olson, former SKHS theater teacher and PAGSK performer said, “to give back to them. They mean so much. We want to show them how much we care.”

“It’s a funny, funny show, fitting for them and all the more poignant because it was the first show they did with us. It allows us and everyone to show how much we love them,” said Linda. “They are deeply loved.”

So many people responded that they could have cast the play four times over. The cast list includes Annette (Manis) Connor, Ray Duell, Carl Olson, Sherry Knox, Matt Tucker (who commutes from Bainbridge Island), Ron Cummins, Lisa (Hembd) McGill, John Jensen, Becky McKee, Jerry Snyder and Eric Wise.

A readers theater performance it will be performed on Sept. 21 at the Bremerton Community Theater at 7 p.m.

A silent auction will be held during intermission. Debbie’s co-workers from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office have helped extensively with the auction.

Everyone is hoping that all 190 seats will be sold.

The songs sung Saturday by the Kitsap Chordsmen — idyllic, sweet, sassy and irreverent, sad and poignant — touch on all aspects of life and all the many ways that the theater family loves Pasha and Debbie.

Tickets for Pasha’s show can be reserved by calling Linda Jensen at (360) 598-6914 or e-mailing her at jensenjw@wavecable.com.

Tickets for the Kitsap Chordsmen’s show can be purchased by calling (360) 373-6743. To be part of the singing group or to book them for a performance call (360) 337-SING (7464).

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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