2009-10-29 / News

Islander plans 50th anniversary celebration of national barbershop music organization

By Eileen M. Daly

Harmony Inc. will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month and for islander Barbara-Ann MacIntosh, participating in the group is more than a hobby – it’s a way of life.

Although she sang in an international championship quartet in 1983, MacIntosh does not have a formal background in music. She describes herself as “just one of those people who sang in everything you could sing in at school.”

She “learned by doing,” she said, as do many members of the group.

“At least 50 percent of our members do not read music,” she said; in fact, it is not necessary to read music in order to become a member of the group.

“Learning tools are provided and any woman can become a member,” she said.

The non-profit all-women’s singing organization is recognized not only for world-class singing in the barbershop style, but also for promoting bonds of friendship. According to its website, the group’s members are said to be dedicated to the performance, promotion and preservation of fourpart a cappella harmony in the barbershop style; personal growth through music and leadership education; the practice of democratic principles and the celebration of friendship. One of two all-women singing organizations, Harmony Inc. has more than 2,000 members in more than 80 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada.

According to MacIntosh, the local chapter has undergone several metamorphoses throughout the years. When she first became involved with the group some 43 years ago, there were three small choral groups in Rhode Island that merged into a chapter called “Rhode Island Sound” in 1975.

Seven years ago, that group merged with a North Attleboro group called “The Harmonettes” to form what is now called “Harmony Heritage.” The group meets each Tuesday night at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pawtucket, MacIntosh said, emphasizing that “membership is open at all times to every woman.”

During the last 43 years, Mac Intosh has held many roles in the organization, including that of international president. She has also been a contest judge and chairman for 21 years, and she started a judging program. After judging and traveling widely for 10 years, she left the judging program in 1995 to spend more time with her grandbabies, who were living next door.

“Since then, though, I’ve been involved in the organization doing one thing or another,” MacIntosh said. Her “one thing or another” involves everything from chairing the national convention to sewing nine new gold costume jackets for this year’s anniversary celebration and even making two gold table skirts for the hotel because “they didn’t have any.”

MacIntosh’s energy and devotion to Harmony Inc. seems to know no boundaries.

“This organization has offered so much to me and to my family,” she said. “It is difficult to put it into words.”

In addition to singing and traveling all over the U.S. and Canada, MacIntosh said it is the relationships she has developed through the organization that have been most meaningful to her. Though MacIntosh has undergone some significant struggles throughout the years – including cancer surgery and the sudden loss of her mother, as well as caring for a dying friend for seven months in her home – she credits Harmony Inc. members with helping her to weather these storms.

“Everyone has challenges at times,” she said. “When I’ve gone through my own struggles, everyone in the group has been phenomenally supportive. They carry you through.”

Despite all the struggles, “I’ve still had a wonderful life,” MacIntosh said, adding, “Before too long, those things seem like a lifetime ago.”

It is fitting that the 50th anniversary celebration of Harmony Inc. is to be held in Rhode Island, as the group originated here in 1959, according to MacIntosh.

“Our roots are here,” she said.

The celebration will take place at the R.I. Convention Center beginning on Thursday, Nov. 12 and will be open to the public. There will be a show on Thursday evening that will showcase all of the championship quartets that are still performing, MacIntosh said. On Friday and Saturday, there will be competitions that will include 30 quartets and 25 choruses, she said.

“Barbershop-style music is so wonderful,” MacIntosh said, adding that the Thursday night show ought to be a fabulous showcase of talent that everyone is likely to enjoy. As for when she plans to stop singing, MacIntosh laughed and said, “Whenever we’re asked ‘When should I stop singing?’ we say, ‘When they pull the sheet over your head.’”

Tickets are $15 per event and are available by calling Gaile Jordan at (774) 306-6681. For information on the local organization, Harmony Heritage, contact Barbara Ann MacIntosh at 560-0073, by e-mail at joyhi@cox.net or visit www.harmonyheritage.org.

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