April 14, 2004
Bound by barbershop quartet
Love — and singing barbershop quartet — will keep Jerry and Kim Orloff together.
The Aptos couple lead the Mixed Harmony Barbershop Quartet Association, which includes members from 11 countries. They’ve helped introduce barbershop harmonies to China, traveling there five times in the past six years.
"We go all over the country and the world," said Jerry. "It’s just become a wonderful project."
How Jerry, 73, and Kim, 63, came to be is a tale worthy of a love song.
Jerry and his family had moved to Daly City from Minnesota in the 1960s. Managing a paint and wallpaper business, Jerry liked to sing "but I never had the time." Finally, at the urging of a customer, himself a barbershopper, Orloff checked out a barbershop group in San Francisco and got hooked.
By the late 1970s, having gone through a difficult divorce and devoted his energies to raising his four sons, Jerry found himself totally immersed in barbershop singing.
Meanwhile Kim, who had grown up in a singing family, had found time in her hectic schedule as a computer systems analyst to join a Santa Cruz chapter of Sweet Adelines, the women’s group for barbershop singing.
Singing brought the two together in 1981 when they met at a Northern California women’s barbershop convention in San Jose. "I was in charge of finding ushers (and) Jerry’s quartet volunteered," said Kim.
Hitting the right note as a couple, they married in 1983. Wanting to perform together — but nearly all barbershop quartet singing featured either all-male or all-female ensembles — they formed the Mixed Metafour barbershop quartet with another couple.
"Being the first mixed quartet in the area and the first to become known nationally and internationally, people began asking us for advice," recalled Kim.
In 1995, with two other mixed quartets that had formed in the Santa Cruz/San Jose area, they formed the Mixed Harmony Barbershop Quartet Association. MHBQA now includes more than 350 members and about 70 performing units in 11 countries.
Ed Pio, the manager of a Watsonville band, had formed a travel agency that organized band and bicycle tours to China. Chinese officials saw a videotape of a barbershop chorus that Jerry and Kim had trained to sing "Home On the Range" and asked Pio if he could bring some singers to teach barbershop harmonies to their seniors, students and musicians.
Pio told the Orloffs he would finance flights to China and pay for rehearsals. The Orloffs, in turn, recruited a couple from Texas, Brian and Holly Beck, to lead the teaching staff.
Over the past four years, senior citizens in Shijiazhaung and students in Xi’an and Beijing have learned barbershop harmony. The Orloffs have developed men’s and women’s barbershop quartets, and with Pio’s help have raised funds to bring the quartets to Portland, Ore., for an international convention.
"They took the convention by storm," said Kim. The woman’s quartet went onto a Sweet Adelines convention in Greenville, N.C., and won fourth place, singing in English with little trace of an accent.
"What they sang was ‘Chinatown, My Chinatown,’ " said Kim. "It destroyed the audience."
Find out more about barbershop singing at the MHBQA Web site: www.mixedbarbershop.com.
Contact Al Zagofsky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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