BY KATIE MATTESON
It’s just before 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening and about a dozen mature men get out of their cars and enter Preservation Hall through the side doors on 8th Street.
Once inside they take their places in chairs arranged in a semi-circle around an electronic keyboard. They enter into casual conversation and chuckle when someone makes a joke, but when the director gives the signal it’s time for warm-ups to begin.
Years fade away as the lead, tenor, baritone and bass voices join together to create perfect harmony without accompaniment – a unique form of music with elements of folk songs combined with chord bending and sliding that originated in the 1890s, was nearly lost in the early 1900s and revived in 1938.
These are the Racine Dairy Statesmen, a chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing America, and they have been creating barbershop music since 1943.
Their numbers are down a bit from the group’s heyday when they won seven Land O’ Lakes District championships and represented the district in international competitions held in Cincinnati, Kansas City, Portland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, placing between seventh and 15th in each of those competitions.
After venturing into the world of doowop for a short time, the group is now returning to its roots of singing purely barbershop harmony.
Leading the group’s rebuilding effort is Steven Joyal, an experienced choral music director, who travels from West Allis each week to lead the men in a capella singing.
Joyal holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree in voice and piano from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.
He also serves as the conductor of the Milwaukee Liederkranz, a German male chorus.
Joyal’s upbeat personality (and bag of candy) keep the singers enthused and motivated.
When asked why they enjoy the Dairy Statesmen, the members quickly agreed it was the joy of singing with a group, the camaraderie among the men and the stress relief of doing something fun.
The members with the longest tenure include Chuck Turbush with 60 years, Don Betts with 54 years and Bob Gall with 51 years.
Gall, who led both adult and youth choirs through the years, said he told his students that “you can only play football and basketball for a limited number of years, but you can still sing all your life.”
The Dairy Statesmen invite those in high school or older who enjoy singing to check out a rehearsal.
President Bill Linnenkohl assures prospective members that they don’t need any special training or be able to read music.
“It’s all very accessible and it’s very easy to get hooked on the fun of it,” Linnenkohl said.
For more information, call Linnenkohl at (262) 498-9955 or just drop in at Preservation Hall, 740 Lake Ave. at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday.