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Harmony Kings warm the soul | Nandell Palmer
When the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso first sang for Giacomo Puccini in Italy, the flabbergasted Puccini supposedly remarked, “Who sent you to me? God?”
When I dropped in on a Harmony Kings rehearsal this summer, I was awestruck, to say the least. I am still pondering whether some providential intervention had brought me to the powerful sound of harmony.
I kept beating up on myself for missing out on such a treat for all these years since living in Federal Way.
For first-time visitors, the group forms a circle and serenades them with the welcome song, “You’re as Welcome as the Flowers in May.” What a treat!
People joyfully came up to welcome me intermittently, and these were not just empty words; they were heartfelt.
Apart from my 10-day visit to Ghana, West Africa, 16 years ago as a tourist, where natives tossed around “akwaaba” (welcome) to visitors, I must say I have never felt so welcomed anywhere by a group of people until I met the Harmony Kings.
To whom or what do I attribute this feeling? Music has a way of bringing about a sensation to its listeners, which renders them either to cry or laugh. I found myself doing just that when I heard the big voices swell to the heavens.
Would it be exaggeration on my part if I were to say that the robust sound could roll back billows and stop thunder in its tracks?
At 17, I joined a 117-member gospel choir. Five years later, I became a member of the renowned Jamaican Folk Singers under the direction of ethnomusicologist Dr. Olive Lewin.
The closest sound to that group is the Moses Hogan Chorale in New Orleans, La.
The Folk Singers have had multiple awards and citations over the years. They have sung live for Queen Elizabeth, Pierre Trudeau, Nelson Mandela and the Archbishop of Canterbury, among other noted world’s leaders.
They have sung at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and at Bob Marley’s Trench Town. But the highlight for me was just to sing. Rehearsals were just fine with me.
Singing for me is intertwined with love. In fact, my wife and I met when my quartet had a joint rehearsal with her group for a concert. And as they say, the rest is history.
She later went on to sing with the six-time Grammy award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir for eight years, while I just vanished from the world of singing.
On several occasions, she tried to wheedle me into joining her 300-member choir, but I just could not find the wind beneath my wings to soar with such a large group.
It is so nice, though, when we would drive by a lake or a mountain, and thematic songs would just jump out from our vast repertoire. We also take turns singing leads and harmonizing. But at times a brother needs just a little bit more.
There’s nothing like hearing four-part male voices blended together, doing songs like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” a cappella.
I strive to stay current with my contemporary music, but again, there is a special place in my heart for vintage songs.
This past January, my wife and I went to the hospital to visit a 22-year-old woman, a family friend who had just gotten out of a coma. She barely responded to nurses, doctors or family members. She just stared into oblivion.
Before long, I started to sing a tune, and my wife joined in. We laughed so hard as the young woman writhed in her bed, giving the most vigorous shoulder and head moves to our music. That somewhat revived her and put a very big smile on her mother’s face.
We pledged from that moment on that we would bring cheer to hospitalized patients and nursing home residents by singing with and for them.
This summer, I was so elated when I sang for a group of residents at a popular nursing home here in Federal Way. That is the beauty of music.
It is perhaps a little too early to speak in encomiums about the Harmony Kings Chorus, but I must say, the nudging to join them is growing more acute daily. If I’m asked to become a member, it will be very easy for me to say a resolute "Yes!"
One of the things that I admire about the group is its variation with age. You will find men in their late 80s as well as high school seniors.
If somebody had told me a month ago that I would find unadulterated joy among a group of predominantly senior-aged men on a Tuesday evening, I would call him or her a joker. I had not anticipated that there would be so much excitement at this church hall.
I hate to let go of a good thing. And as the 10 p.m. cutoff time for rehearsal rolled around, it was sad for me to say goodbye. But as the choristers sang their trademark parting number, “Keep the Whole World Singing,” the sound was delicately ushered into a place of seamless tranquility — that is until next Tuesday.
The Federal Way Harmony Kings perform at many events throughout the year, as well as singing in several barbershop competitions. The group is a nonprofit organization that contributes to the community through its international society, the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS).
Under the direction of the gifted Karen Frerichs, members meet from 7:30 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday at the Steel Lake Presbyterian Church, 1829 S. 308th St. They welcome men from every ethnicity and age group. There are also female barbershop quartets throughout the U.S. For more information, contact Glenn Hayes at (206) 724-7951 or www.harmonykings.org.