YARMOUTH – On Friday morning at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the Yarmouth-based Downeasters Barbershop Chorus will achieve a first in its 60-year history: Forty of its members will take the stage in the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Competition.

The competition is stiff. The Downeasters, representing the Northeast District, will compete in a field of more than 25 barbershop choruses, including the 11-time champion Vocal Majority of Texas and the Westminster Chorus of California, the 2009 Choir of the World Pavarotti Trophy champ.

Trying to keep the nerves at bay (and all the details straight), Jack Baggs, the chorus’ director, has the group’s Friday-morning schedule down to the minute: breakfast at 6:30 a.m.; vocal warm-up and makeup at 8 a.m.; costumes at 8:40 a.m.; more vocal warm-up at 9 a.m.; chorus photo at 9:43 a.m.; arrive in competition warm-up room at 10:03 a.m.; backstage at 10:15 a.m.; and, at 10:29 a.m., the chorus goes on stage.

Forty-five seconds later, the Downeasters will sing two songs in six minutes — “Who’ll Take My Place (When I’m Gone)” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” — in front of an audience of 10,000.

On Monday night at Harrison Middle School, the pressure of competing was in the distance as the chorus ran through its last full rehearsal.

The all-male chorus defied the stifling humidity with voices that were at times like the soft, caressing breeze everyone yearned for and at others booming like the full marching band they were evoking.

Everyone looked excited. There was a lot of shoulder- and back-clapping encouragement, jokes and smiles. Not a nervous one in the bunch.

That’s because they weren’t in front of 10,000 people, said Phil Gage, who sings bass and has been with the chorus for 12 years.

Getting to compete at the international level “takes a lot of work and a lot of cooperation,” he said — and a lot of guidance, piped in chorus member Richard Roberge, hands raised as if in prayer.

Maybe the lack of nerves comes from the confidence of knowing the songs as well as they know their names. The chorus won the Northeast District championship last fall with the two songs it will sing on Friday, and has practiced them at every rehearsal since that competition.

But much of it may come from the calm leadership of the director. Baggs has been with the chorus for almost four decades, the last three as its sole director.

He got a round of applause from chorus members as he welcomed them to the last rehearsal before the competition.

“You know where the music comes from,” he exhorted. “Sing it from your heart. Be there. Don’t wait to hear from your neighbor. You know it. Be there.”

Chorus fans who can’t be at the convention will be able to see and hear the Downeasters Barbershop Chorus perform live via the Internet. The webcast costs $40.

You can also watch the recorded competition performance, available beginning Sunday for $30, or stream the audio-only portion of the competition live for $10.

Go to www.bhs-live.com or www.barbershop.org for more information.


Staff Writer Stephanie Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6455 or at: [email protected]