Members of the Cañada del Oro Barbershop Chorus are relieved to see pop culture embrace their style of unaccompanied singing, saying they feel as though they helped keep a fading art form alive for a new generation.
Movies such as “Pitch Perfect” and TV shows including “Glee” and “The Sing-Off” make a capella singing seem fresh and topical, inspiring groups of young singers to sprout up, while singers such as Cañada del Oro’s Don Bott are still refining the craft they have worked on for decades.
Bott is happy to see the renaissance.
“I was worried the style would suffer its demise,” said Bott, 81, who has been singing since his college days. “But in fact it’s growing. It’s a rebirth of good, fun harmony. We sing the good old music that people remember from the good old days.”
Bott and more than 30 other members of the all-male group, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s and live in SaddleBrooke, rehearse for two hours weekly and perform in concerts in SaddleBrooke and other retirement communities.
Bott said singing keeps his mind sharp, gives him exercise and allows him to have as much fun as he did when he was just starting out.
“It’s a great vocation for senior guys, because, one, it has us breathing all the time,” he said. “You gotta learn to breathe better. You also do a lot of standing on risers when rehearsing, so you have to maintain a sense of a physical condition. And you use your mind to memorize all the songs.
“When we sing, we don’t hold any music, unlike any other performing group. That’s one of the things about barbershop singing — you commit all the music to memory. It’s great for longevity, you might say.”
Assistant director Rogers Hornsby, 83, said he appreciates the mental workout singing provides.
“It’s a place to let music massage the brain,” he said. “As humans, we really need music. It’s a great leveler. You can’t do much singing when you’re anxious. You can’t do much singing when you’re mad. You need to be relaxed, breathing properly and be in great health. I attribute it as one reason I have been able to live as long as I have.”
Nancy Bergman, 86, has helmed the organization for 10 years. At first, she said, she was nervous about guiding an all-male group, but those concerns quickly went away.
“We have fun, entertaining music,” she said. “They’re just a fine group of men to work with. From the very beginning, they have been very accepting and very respectful. They treat me like one of them.”
Bott credits Bergman for the group’s success.
“She is just so good and has so much energy,” he said. “She inspires us because she has so much passion. She’s a lot of fun.”
Although many barbershop groups take part in competitions, Cañada del Oro stays away from that aspect to focus on enjoying the performances.
“We have two goals: one is to have fun and the second is to make good music,” Bott said. “It’s just fun. All of us come from different careers, and some of us have physical limitations. It’s just good, honest hard work, but fun.”