The Choo Choo Chorus is for men only, but women can find the same community in the Scenic City Chorus' Sweet Adelines group. The men practice every Monday, and people are always welcome to attend. For more information about the Choo Choo Chorus visit http://choochoochorus.org.
Harmonies reverberate off a wooden floor at All Saints Academy in downtown Chattanooga as rows of men warm up their voices.
They stand in front of a wall filled top to bottom with images dating back to the early 1960s. The photographs show generations of barbershop chorus participants dressed in numerous outfits, including the traditional red-and-white-striped coat, vest and straw hat. Featured in a handful of the images is Paul Blazek, a white-bearded man who could easily be Santa Claus' doppelgnger.
As the singers settle in, Blazek stands on a platform in front of the group, using one hand to keep time with the song "Hello, Mary Lou" while tapping out notes on an electronic piano with the other.
Blazek is the director of the Choo Choo Chorus, leading the performing unit of the Chattanooga chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society in its weekly practices and bi-annual performances. The Chattanooga-based barbershop chorus was established in 1962 and is now a fraternity of nearly 40 men.
Each sings one of four parts. Since there are more than four people singing at one time, the goal is to blend the voices of each group together to sound like a single voice so the chorus sounds like a really big quartet.
"When you do it just right, there are more than four tones audible." Blazek says. "I like to call it God saying thank you for doing a good job."
Blazek was 22 in 1976, when he was roped into attending a barbershop meeting by a friend in Nashville.
"I came home feeling so good. We were singing duets coming up the sidewalk to the apartment and my wife thought we were drunk." Blazek said. "I've been singing barbershop ever since."
The oldest member of the group is close to 90; the youngest is about the same age as Blazek was when he discovered his passion for barbershop. Daniel Kopf, 27, began singing in fifth grade and carried his passion for music throughout high school and college. After moving to Chattanooga, Kopf began looking for another outlet to share his love of song.
"Barbershop's different. Yeah, you can sing in a church choir but this has tight harmonies and the good group of guys really drew me to it," explained Kopf. "I'm the youngest guy but I fit right in, which I wasn't really expecting with everyone being older, but it is a great group of guys."