Rich harmonies with the Quatrain Barbershop Quartet
By Michael Perlman
This past Sunday afternoon under a lustrous sun, analogous to a spotlight, the setting resembled a “Back To The Future” episode at the West Side Tennis Club.
From recent to longtime Club members, they stepped onto the iconic Forest Hills Stadium stage and everyone felt like a performer. They were ready for the first classic car show in its history.
One by one, each sporty car pulled up and parked on stage, with their headlights facing the members, and the nearly century-old horseshoe-shaped venue became the backdrop.
The friendly staff greeted guests and presented a buffet consisting of scrumptious salads, hors d’oeuvres, pastries and scotch among other favorite drinks.
Then the notable New York-based Quatrain Barbershop Quartet arrived in their fashionable red and white striped attire and straw hats, and began belting out barbershop harmonies with much distinction, proving that the genre is very much alive.
They walked around the stage, took requests and casually chatted with guests.
The quartet consists of lead Steve Marrin of Baldwin, tenor Bob Kelly of Freeport, baritone Jeff Glemboski of Merrick and bass Al Fennell of Yorktown Heights.
A barbershop quartet features a cappella singing, with three voices harmonizing to a fourth vocal’s melody, but then an invisible fifth voice becomes apparent.
Close harmonies and homorhythmic singing are commonalities.
This style’s roots can be traced to African-American traditions of the late 19th century in the South.
The melodies and sound are angelic and sentimental. It further came into its own in 1938.
“It’s an art form that was created in the U.S. With barbershop today, it’s performed worldwide, with groups in New Zealand, Germany and South Africa,” Kelly said.
“I passed the West Side Tennis Club thousands of times on the LIRR, and it’s an honor to stand on the stage of The Beatles,” Marrin said. “Al and Bob signed together in a quartet known as the ‘Sunburst Express’ in 1974. I met them a few years later. We were called ‘Spotlight’ in the 1980s and 1990s. Three of us have been singing together for about 50 years.”
The youngest member is Glemboski, a kindergarten through sixth grade music teacher in Merrick, and Fennell held the same occupation.
Their favorite numbers include “Don’t Blame Me” (1933), “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (1925) by Al Jolson, “Smile” (1936) by Charlie Chaplin and “The Chordbuster’s March.”
“It was written to introduce to the audience individual members and the parts that they sing,” Kelly said in response to the latter song.
Barbershop music is enjoyable for all age groups.
Marrin said, “Sometimes when we sing to children, it’s the first time they heard it. Some who are musically inclined want to hear more. Our No. 1 audience is 50-plus.”
“The Barbershop Harmony Society is getting younger people involved such as in high school and grammar school. We like to get our message out, where this is what we like to do and it’s fun,” Kelly added.
The quartet performed at historical destinations including Carnegie Hall, the Ed Sullivan Theater and Planting Fields Arboretum. They frequently entertain at family parties and can be booked by contacting [email protected].
WSTC Entertainment Committee Co-Chair James Navarrete is a nine-year Club member who has an open ear to member feedback, so he listened to fellow member Richard’s suggestion and said, “What a great idea!”
He explained, “The Stadium was there when these cars were first born. I wanted the cars to be center stage with the backdrop of the legendary stadium, which will key off for the 100th anniversary next year. The fall lends itself to darker drinks, such as scotch, so I felt like having a tasting of the new scotches on the WSTC menu.”
“I like to show off my Club to the members, have them really appreciate it and move the events in various locations throughout each season, as well as cater to all demographics,” Navarrete continued.
He cited an adult-only pool party, a family movie night with a piñata and a magic act, the Queen’s Tea event in the Clubhouse dining room, evening country line dancing with a mechanical bull on the Stadium stage and karaoke in the Rose Garden.
Jeff Becktold, a 13-year WSTC member, is also a WSTC Entertainment Committee member, who hosted the event.
He takes pride in keeping WSTC history alive by strategizing at monthly meetings, while also aiming to be inclusive of the larger community.
“With the history of the Stadium, the idea of bringing in classic cars that were traveling to the shows in those times made much sense. The Quatrain Barbershop Quartet adds a nostalgic ambiance,” he said.
Becktold pinpointed much dialogue for using the Stadium for uses beyond concerts.
“We will be celebrating our 100th anniversary in 2023, and it’s always on our mind to bring more attention to our neighborhood. Afterall, this was the first home of the U.S. Open. Watching the U.S. Open this year, our Stadium was mentioned several times, and people talk about how they want to come back to play here. Having players practice here before the U.S. Open would bring more attention to the Stadium. I also think a lot of people are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, so when they attend concerts, they walk around and see ‘a diamond in the rough,’” he said.
WSTC members shared their car stories.
Richard presented a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, a 1985 Porsche 944 and a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560SL.
He pinpointed that this Trans Am was met with extreme success, likely attributed to the popular film, “Smokey and the Bandit.”
“It had a huge 6.6 Liter engine with a 4-speed manual and a Hurst shifter, a true contribution to the ‘muscle car’ era.”
A few years ago, he added the distinctive big bird on the front hood.
As for the Porsche 944, originating in Germany, it was manufactured from 1982 to 1991 and was considered the most successful sports car in the company’s history.
Referencing Richard’s 1987 Mercedes-Benz, he said, “It has classic lines, but is sporty with a soft convertible top, but also a hard top for cold winters. Although only a two-seater, the big V-8 cylinder engine under the hood made it one of the fastest luxury sports cars of the time.”
Richard was always curious to know how things operated, and in his youth, took care of his family car.
He reminisced, “During my first effort to time the engine, I messed up the engine so badly, that I had to tell my dad that the car had to be towed to our family mechanic. Horrified and expecting my dad to be furious, all he did was insist that I accompany our mechanic to the repair shop and find out what I had done wrong. I never looked back, and have done most of the maintenance of my cars for the rest of my life, to the extent that I have a ‘pit’ at my country home, so that I can safely work under my cars.”
He felt the Quatrain Barbershop Quartet was excellent and called the car show a fun experience. “Having a little experience in a men and boys’ choir in my youth, I exclaimed and complimented them when they changed keys or did classic resolutions,” Richard added. “I hope we can have them again soon.”
“It’s a really nice way to meet people at this different kind of event,” said Ted, a 47-year WSTC member, who presented a 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Normale, a 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider and a 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe Launch Edition.
“My passion for cars is from my dad, who’s really into cars. A couple of the cars that I own are similar to the ones that he had when I was a little boy. He had a soft spot for Alfa Romeos. It has quite a following in the U.S. despite the fact that they didn’t sell cars for 20 years from 1995 to 2015,” he said. “The 1961 classic was styled by Pininfarina, designer of many classic Ferraris, and produced from 1955 to 1962 as the Giulietta Spider with the original 1290cc version of the legendary Alfa Romeo twin cam 4-cylinder engine, and from 1952 to 1966 as the Giulia Spider with a larger 1570cc engine version.”
The 1991 classic was also styled by Pininfarina and designed for 27 years in four series, where each is distinguished by unique rear styling. Interestingly, the “round tail” Series 1 version starred in the film, “The Graduate.”
“This Series 4 example is powered by a 1962cc version of the legendary Alfa Romeo twin cam 4-cylinder engine. The front-end styling incorporates the barest hint of the classic Alfa center grill and side brows,” Ted said.
In reference to the accompanying harmonies, he continued, “The Quatrain Barbershop Quartet is very talented and having live music is always great.”
A supercharged 2000 Jaguar XKR was presented by John.
“In 2000, I was sick and got cured, so my wife told me to go out and buy a classic car. I was going to buy a Porsche, but my friends told me, ‘Everybody has a Porsche,’ so they said, ‘Get a Jaguar,’ so that’s it. It’s a cool looking car.”
Another presenter, James, showed a 2014 Ford Mustang Race Red and called it “a car curated for the streets of NYC,” with a standard V6 engine.
“Like every little kid, you’re given a toy car to play with and roll around the floor, and growing up, I’ve always been a fan of a Ford Mustang. My dad always rents them when we go on vacation. I always wanted one, and I was lucky enough to come across this beauty.”
He added his own touches.
“The beautiful curves and aggressive tone are paired with a one-of-a-kind custom racing stripe design, which bears homage to the world’s greatest football club, Manchester United. Whether you are a child or an adult, this car puts a smile on your face,” he said.
An ivory 1977 Fiat 124 Spider with a camel interior was another showstopper.
Sometimes cars evoke tradition and one’s spirit, as in the case of Robert who acquired it that year.
After he passed away, it was gifted to his daughter Kate, and today she and her husband Oded recall how he valued “good design and Italian cars.”