The St. Charles-based Ambassadors of Harmony [AOH] has been wowing crowds with their all-male a cappella choir since 1963, when it was known as the Daniel Boone Chorus. With more than 130 singers, this internationally-touring group has recently created the AOH Outreach Foundation to bring the music program to youths.
Past President Mike Rubin, who oversaw the establishment of the foundation, said it will be a more formal approach to managing funds and will “allow us to show transparency in how funds are allocated for our established outreach programs.”
The outreach programs have increased in popularity as a cappella-style music has become more acceptable, through hits like “Pitch Perfect” and “The Sing-off.”
“There used to be a stigma attached to a cappella-style music. It’s considered mainstream now and trending in the right direction,” noted Jim Henry, who has been co-directing since 1990.
The first outreach program was Acappellooza camp, a one-day camp festival for guys. It has grown organically and their programming now includes a four-day summer camp for both male and female high school students. It is held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis [UMSL], where Henry, co-director since 1990, works as the head choral director. After the singers spend their week in UMSL dorms, the event culminates with a performance at Touhill Performing Arts Center.
“Our mission is to get the music out to kids and develop a musical culture among youths interested in singing,” Henry said. “I am very fortunate to work at a university that shares and supports that vision.”
AOH Co-Director Jonny Moroni explained the AOH is open to males as young as 12 years old, but with a three-and-a-half hour practice weekly, in addition to their shows, teenagers are reluctant to make the commitment to join. That is how another outreach program, Project Harmony, was born.
It was the brainchild of former member Graeme Allen, who teaches the music program at Carman Trails Elementary in the Parkway School District. Mentored by AOH singers, Project Harmony helps form quartets of interested youths, usually within the same school and helps find practice venues. Through mentors, the year-long program teaches harmonies and barbershop singing techniques to students from more than 25 area schools.
Allen explained that the quartet has flexibility with the frequency and length of each rehearsal, accommodating their busy school, work and social calendars. Some of the quartets are invited to sing as special guests at the AOH shows.
“It is a natural extension of what I do, which is teaching music to youths, without the structure of mandated curriculum that schools must follow,” he said.
To ensure that funds are available to continue the mission, AOH singer Todd Johnson is co-chairing the first annual 2017 Gala event on Feb. 10 at the St. Charles Convention Center. In addition to meeting the directors, the evening includes a silent auction, and of course, entertainment. Joining AOH for the evening are the equally talented barbershop ensembles, Vocal Spectrum and The Recruits Youth Chorus.
While the group touts themselves as average singers, not trained professionals, they are four-time international champions of the Barbershop Harmony Society, with the most recent gold medal earned last July in Nashville. Locally, the Ambassadors perform two shows in June and before more than 8,000 people during five shows each December.
“This isn’t just a hobby,” said Moroni, “It’s a calling.”
Despite not actively singing for Ambassadors, Allen still feels very much a part of the group. “Part of our success is the shared vision to give back and the unity we feel as a family,” Allen said. “That bond never goes away.”
For information on the 2017 Gala, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (636) 395-0150. AOH holds rehearsals every Thursday from 7-10:30 p.m. at the Memorial Hall at Blanchette Park and welcomes the public to come for just a few minutes or stay for the whole practice.