On this past weekend forty-nine men from across the continent, including Canada, converged on The Free Methodist Ministries Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, for two days of singing and remembering. It was a first for the Free Methodist Church. A Male Quartet Convention!
To attend, our only requirement was that at some earlier time we had sung in a male quartet – either during college days or on the Light and Life Hour radio broadcast or even with a home-grown male quartet from a local church. Men were there who had sung in college quartets as far back as 1942.
The Nomads from Greenville, Illinois, five singing men, added variety to the event by harmonizing for us twice. And in the foyer of John Wesley Church where we later convened there were enlarged pictures mounted here and there showing some of our faces in younger days, and also how male quartets of former years dressed — matched suits, ties all knotted alike, pocket handkerchiefs each displaying four peaks, and even the same haircuts. Individualism had not yet made its influence fully known to male quartets.
The idea for the event originated in the mind of Marvin Zahnizer, retired history professor from The Ohio State University. The Marston Memorial Historical Center sponsored the event, and Cathy Fortner, the director of the Center, took the project on and with tenacity made it happen.
Retired conference superintendent Bill Cryderman formed the men into a massed choir, David Anderson of the Roberts Wesleyan College music faculty, presided at the piano, Jo Ann Noble, emeritus professor from Greenville College, added organ interludes, and retired pastor, Ron Robart kept the gathering on schedule.
We sang, and we sang. But not without a break at which Professor Zahnizer presented a fully researched and fascinating paper on the many stages of male quartet singing throughout American history.
As our two days together progressed, the sanctuary of John Wesley Church rang with music produced by nearly fifty male voices. For example, the rollicking “I Want to Be There When We Crown Him King of Kings.” Then, the solemn, “Remember Me, O Mighty One” And, the moving “Jesus, What a Friend of Sinners.” And more.
By the afternoon of the second day this choir’s voices filled the sanctuary with refined cadences, both robust and rich. And 29 women who had come along with their men as observers were the first audience to hear this music – soon to be available, it is hoped, on DVD. On one occasion as they sang, my wife passed a Kleenex to a friend nearby, as her tears flowed.
As Kathleen and I drove toward home in Canada we kept reviewing the event with joy. The music created by nearly fifty men played again and again in our memories. Some of the wonderful words kept coming to our minds and we shared them.
Driving the 570 miles we tuned into the news on the radio. What we heard there was of a much different tone. A nation was waking up to governmental blundering and deception. There were angry words. We heard again and again the questions for which answers are yet to be extracted.
But nothing on the radio could smother the words of Christian hope we had sung over and over again at this male quartet convention. The Psalmist, however ancient, could have given this gathering of mature men the very theme for the occasion: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 104:33).