(l to r) Dake, Spizany, Ellinger, Pettigrew
TenorCliff DakeLeadPaul Ellinger
BariRob PettigrewBassDave Spizany
On a comfortably cool summer evening at a Huron Valley Harmonizers rehearsal held in late August of 1989 bass, Dave Spizarny and baritone Rob Pettigrew were looking for two more voice parts to round out a pickup chapter quartet. There they found, Paul Ellinger, an energetic lead that was a total newbee that had no clue what he was doing, but absolutely loved singing and was gungho about any opportunity to learn about and participate in singing barbershop. The three of them talked and even though Paul was currently singing in a quartet "Sound Premise" he thought that getting to "hang out" and sing on a Friday night sounded like a lot of fun. There the plan developed a kink. Like in most chapters, tenors were so scarce that they were many times thought to be musical mythical creatures in the barbershop world. But, as luck would have it, it was the giving attitude that abounds throughout the barbershop community that came to the aide of these three men looking for a tenor in the form of one Kelly Brummett. However, Kelly was an absolutely incredible LEAD singer and Kelly were to sing lead, Paul couldn't read a note let alone be counted on to sing any notes that weren't the melody (typical for a lead). But, Kelly, without even taking even a second to consider it, said, "I'll sing tenor!" We were shocked at first, but later realized two things. One, that this was just the way Kelly was, always giving to others, and, two; that Kelly could sing ANY part. So the time was set and we all met at the predetermined place and time and discovered something right away. We REALLY enjoyed one another's company and probably did more talking and laughing than singing. Although this was to become an ever present and recurring theme for a Chordiology rehearsal, it was one that was and still welcomed and made/makes it all worth while. We decided to walk around U of M's campus and sing. People seemed to genuinely enjoy us and asked where they could come and see us. I remember that one young lady listened to the last chords of "Sweet and Lovely" reverberate off the walls of Nickel's Arcade (an outside, covered mall), and said after finding out that we were not a permanent group, "Well, you're just going to have to find a way to become one then". We all looked at each other and started pondering the idea. What did we have? We had friendship. And that friendship happened to be accompanied by music. And that's one of the best combinations you can get. We sang at a few chapter meetings and even worked up enough music to sing on a chapter show. And in 1990 we became an official quartet with the society. The name was one that Dave had been holding on to for a while (being a Dr. himself) and it stuck. I remember there being a Saturday Night Live skit at the time as well called the "the copy guy" and it sounded to me like something he might have said to a barbershop quartet so I got a kick out of it as well. We tried singing serious songs for a while, but it never quite seemed to fit our personalities. We were having too much fun to just stand there and sing. So we started bringing our personalities and brand of humor to the stage. People started noticing us and it wasn't long before we were singing on Chapter shows for both local barbershop and Sweet Adeline chapters and even sang on shows featuring us and the Ritz for the Pride of Toledo Sweet Adeline's Chorus. We had parodies, sketch comedies, well thought out comedic sequences, rap parodies, props, and energy galore. It was like being at a Friday night rehearsal for us. All we did is laugh and have a riot! And all the laughter was icing on the cake! It was great! Then we went to contest and reality sank in. We were having a riot, but we really could focus more on the singing. Hmmm? A singing competition where you focus on singing! Why didn't WE think of that!?! It wasn't too long after this that Rob had to bow out for a while to raise a family. We brought in a friend of ours, Ed Pendleton, from the Huron Valley Chorus who sang tenor and Kelly moved to baritone. Kelly could sing anything! Ed was just struggling singing in two groups (Chordiology and elmoTHUMM a contemporary a capella group that Paul also sings in) and had decided to stick with elmoTHUMM since he was in that group first. We didn't know what we were going to do. Kelly said, "Look, don't worry. I know this guy from Milford I think that is just a great guy and he would be just a perfect fit for us." Per usual. Kelly was right. The laughter and fun was redoubled with the addition of Cliff Dake! So now with the new configuration of the group, we decided after years of "antics" to really focus on singing. We tried coaching, Bush League, contests, singing with the chorus, learning tapes from the barbershop headquarters and although all them were great, they weren't consistent enough to make the permanent changes in our singing that we needed. So we found an opera singer, Linda Meehan (now Dr. Meehan), who was getting her Doctorates degree in voice from U of M and was teaching voice lessons out of her Canton home. All of us (okay, not Kelly, you couldn't improve on that beautiful voice, but he would go with us to many times) began taking voice lessons every week, taping those lessons week after week, year after year. We were a bit apprehensive at first. We were concerned that her singing style would so different that it just wouldn't work for us and she freely admitted that she had never worked with anyone singing barbershop, but we all (Dr. Meehan included) decided to give it a go. What we found out over the years is that good singing is good singing. I can't count the number of times she would say, "I'm not sure what a barbershop coach would say, but .........." and time after time, it would be exactly what all the best coaches were telling us even down to voice placement, voice inflection, energizing phrases, singing through the mask, when to turn dipthongs, you name it, even her interpratation of a certain phrase would end up being the same as the top barbershop coach's. It was uncanny. We wondered how this could be. How could an accomplished opera singer know so much about barbershop, But again what we came back to realizing was that good expressive singing with good vocal production is good expressive singing with good vocal production regardless of the style. The years went by and slowly we started learning to harness the voice and being able to apply the things that Dr. Meehan and other great coaches were telling us. We started going to competitions at this time and performed marginally well. We rarely had a vocal or presentation plan for a song and that led to inconsistency. And inconsistency leads to a great case of nerves! We consistently made the cut, but always seemed to fall right about 6th place (5th once, but we owned 6th place!). And over time we found that our scores were even dropping. It was at that time that competitions were becoming, to say the least, discouraging. Aside from that we ALWAYS loved singing afterwards and would sing with anyone that was standing around (something we still love doing). We were for many years, the last quartet to leave and were always proud of that monacher. A great thing did happen though. Rob now had more time and rejoined the quartet. We talked about doing a FIVE man quartet thing. This would be great since there would always be someone there to coach and if anyone was ever missing Rob could sing baritone and Kelly could easily fill in for whatever part was in need of his tremendous voice. You know, I have to say something here. Even though Kelly was a Disctrict Champion lead and would turn the heads of International level leads whenever he sang with them, he never once asked to sing lead in Chordiology. He just kept encouraging me and gently bringing me along. He worked with me probably the most, but all of us in the group relied on Kelly's natural God-given talents when it came to singing. The 5 man quartet thing was working fantastically well when we all learned that Kelly had cancer. It was a very emotional time. We spent countess hours at Kelly's bedside. We talked with him, cared for him, and yes, sang with him. But the music, friendship and love were not enough to arrest Kelly's decline and in June of 2003 we lost Kelly. Not a rehearsal, show and hardly a phone call goes by that we don't talk about him on in some cases "talk to him". On any given Friday night, it still feels like he will walk through that door with the most outlandish joke perched on the edge of his lips waiting to be jettisoned at you, and his full laugh which would inevitably and immediately follow the delivery of the punch line would allow you to enjoy the joke just that much more. And then afterwards the singing ... and THAT voice. It seems more than ironic, that it was exactly 10 years ago that Kelly won his District Championship as a lead in The Detroit Sound Company and the score for that championship performance in the fall of 1997 was 1631 points. And then in the fall of 2007, exactly 10 years later, the score for Chordiology was ........... 1631 points. What do you say after that? I don't know other than to say, we will continue singing ................. in "a 5 man quartet".