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Ken Kiehne wins silver in Barbershop Quartet competition

Mon, Sep 12th, 2011
Posted in Arts & Culture

What is as American as apple pie and baseball? The four-part harmony of Barbershop music of course! Many of you have heard my dad, Ken Kiehne, sing either at church, weddings, funerals or around various construction jobs in town. My earliest memories of my dad are of driving down the road in one of our beat-up old pick up trucks singing "Oh we ain't got a barrel of money, maybe we're ragged and funny, but we're travelling along, singing our song - Side By Side." And then there were the weekly practices where we would all pile in the car and drive to quartet practice in Winona or Rochester or La Crosse. Barbershop wasn't just about singing, it was about families.

Years passed and quartets changed and through the years I watched as my dad got better and better. I remember his first division win and the celebration. And then a few years later I was there to hear him win his first district title with his quartet, Simply Grand. That same quartet qualified for the International the next spring and it was a highlight of my younger years to share in the amazement when they were announced in the top 20 as the 17th place quartet. It was a long trip home from New Orleans, LA, but so worth it with that International pin.

Over the years Ken has sung with choruses from all over the area. He was instrumental in getting Harmony's own chorus, The Ambassadors of Harmony, started back in the 1980's and directed that chorus for years. He also sang with the Music Men in Rochester, the Coulee Chordsmen in La Crosse, and most recently he directed the Harmony Junction Chorus in Albert Lea for a few years. While he enjoyed all of the friendships and "harmony" that were created with those choruses, he has most enjoyed his recent time spent singing with the chorus in the Twin Cities area, Great Northern Union.

GNU, as the chorus is nicknamed, requires an audition and has rules set down on practices you need to attend, music you need to learn, and performances you need to excel at. They are a competition chorus and take the level of competition to a whole new level. This year the goal was International 2011 in Kansas City, MO. In 2009, in Anaheim, CA, the chorus finished third overall and they took a year off to regroup and practice as they aimed for gold in '11. So off Ken went to practice, driving for hours weekly to learn the music and moves necessary to be an International champion. As International drew nearer, practices increased to 2 - 3 times weekly, and the pressure was on to be ready for the competition. Then it was contest time.

There were choruses from all over the world and with hundreds of barbershoppers all in one city, it was a very musical one for that week. Any elevator with a tenor, bass, baritone and lead would break out into quick renditions of "My Wild Irish Rose" or "Sweet Adeline", old barbershop favorites that everyone knows. The hotels were ringing with four-part harmony, and the excitement of competition was in the air. While most families were winding down from Fourth of July picnics and celebrations, my dad was singing his heart out on a stage with 93 of his fellow chorus members. They sang their ballad, slow song, and their "up tune" complete with four costume changes, put it all on the line and waited for the results. As much as they had hoped for gold, they were proud to bring home a silver medal for all of their hard work. And when they studied the points sheet and discovered that out of 3,000 points possible they missed the gold by a measly five points, it showed them all just how great their performance had been.

Since he first joined the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1976 to his silver medal finish in 2011, Ken's musical career has been riddled with accomplishments. A silver medal is a crowning achievement to be celebrated! Congratulations to the "singing carpenter" from Harmony!

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