Clippers stay in tune, but could use more voices

Like all volunteer organizations, the Conewango Clippers Chorus is always looking for new recruits.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the barbershop quartet group isn’t busy throughout the area with concerts and other civic events.

John Shaughnesy, who has been with the Clippers for eight years, said that back in the 1970s, there were 60 or 65 members in the group, and now they number 11 active singers. In addition, there are two who participate when their health permits and one who still pays dues but doesn’t sing anymore.

“It would be a whole lot easier if we had twice as many guys,” he said.

“Back in the ’60s they were one of the few games in town,” he noted. “Now with the electronic age, it is easier to sit at home and watch a DVD or listen to a CD.”

Anyone can remain a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA) by paying dues to at least one chapter.

“Apparently, the organization is losing more members than they are gaining. There is concern not only for our group, but the society as a whole,” he said.

The Clippers are always looking for singers, and the ability to read music is not required. They rehearse every Monday night at Grace United Methodist Church, starting at 7:29 p.m.

“We had a young fellow who started singing with us when he was eleven years old,” Shaughnesy said, noting that over the years there have been a number of young singers, but when they graduate from high school, they move on with the rest of their lives.

He said that while normally people think of barbershop singers as quartets, they generally sing as a chorus, which is five or more members. “A VLQ, or very large quartet, but you need at least four,” he added.

They do perform as quartets occasionally, but no matter the number of performers, the music is four-part harmony consisting off bass, tenor, baritone and lead, or melody.

The Clippers have a year-round schedule, with nearly 30 events. “We regularly perform at the Four Flags ceremony, on Flag Day at the Elks Club, the 9-11 Memorial at Warren County Memorial Park, at Warren State Hospital’s Interfaith Chapel for Thanksgiving and this is the third year we did a fund-raiser for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) at the Library Theatre,” he said.

Shaughnesy said that one of the popular events is when they perform by request on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

“We’ll go anywhere the recipient is, and it’s usually a surprise. Sometimes we deliver roses or a box of candy along with a song,” he said.

Last January, Shaughnesy recalled, they got a call from someone in Kentucky saying, “Grandma lives in Warren, and we don’t think she will live until Valentine’s Day.” They sang for her right away, and again for her birthday in December.

“She just passed away recently, and the family told us all she wanted for her birthday was to hear the barbershoppers again.”

He said that three years ago they had 12 requests for Valentine’s Day, last year 16 and this year 20. “It’s a long day, but well worth it,” he added.

In a twist, last year the Clippers performed at the Warren County Historical Society’s Murder Mystery – as supects in the Society’s annual play.

He said from 1947 to 1963 the Conewango Clippers did an annual show on Nov. 23, but after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination it was postponed until February.

Last year, their annual fund-raiser was a cooperative concert with the group Seneca Junction from Salamanca, N.Y. On April 12, 2014, they will try to do one by themselves.

The Clippers have a large sign that they display at concerts, listing all of their sponsors, and they are currently looking for sponsors for the upcoming show.

When they sing at community events and nursing homes, the music is free, but there is a charge for private events.

“We are available for almost any kind of event,” Shaughnesy said.