Written by: CSD Director of Marketing, Michael Pommier
Photos by: John Pair, Simply Better Photography
In what many believe to be a first for the Central States District, there will be six quartets representing the district in the International Quartet Contest in Charlotte, N.C. in July 2022. Even more exciting is that two of the six quartets will be making their first trip to the international stage.
Fleet Street will be making their fourth trip to the international contest and hope to build on their success from previous years. So far, Fleet Street’s best finish has been 26th, however, they are hopeful to see an improvement.
“Our highest placement was 26th overall in Orlando, however, the scores have only gotten better each year,” Fleet Street tenor Matt Suellentrop said. “This past district contest was definitely our highest-scoring contest ever. We’re hoping to carry that momentum into the summer.”
With lead Aaron Zart living in Nebraska, Suellentrop becoming a new father, bass Eeyan Richardson having children of his own, and all members having full-time jobs, their preparation for the international contest has to be meticulous.
“It takes careful planning to make sure we have time to take care of our families, keep our jobs, and rehearse with the quartet, in that order,” Suellentrop said.
While COVID put a halt to many things around the world, Fleet Street decided to record and release an album. Suellentrop said that throughout the recording process the quartet got to put together a lot of new music and work with some really talented arrangers.
“This really helped us find an identity as a quartet and get outside of the box,” Suellentrop said. “Not to mention, we got constant coaching from the man that made the album happen, Drew Wheaton.”
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Making its seventh trip to the big stage, BoomTown looks to continue its ascent in the rankings. In 2018, BoomTown finished 21st and was able to perform as the mic testers for the international semi-finals. In 2019, they cracked the top 20, finishing 19th.
“2017 and 2018 were really eye-opening years for us,” lead Caleb Fouse said. “We put in a ton of really focused work those two years, and to have that kind of success in those contests was very validating. I think it showed us what we’re truly capable of and gave us a new goal to strive for.”
Since their last time on the international stage, BoomTown has had to make some adjustments to its preparations. In addition to the challenges that were presented with the emergence of COVID, tenor Zane Sutton packed up and moved to North Carolina.
“The guys were extremely supportive, and we all agreed that BoomTown was something that we wouldn’t give up on,” Sutton said.
Bass, Shaun Whisler said that BoomTown’s preparation for this year’s international contest is going to take a lot of communication. They will be continuing to rely on individual work and maximizing the time they have together.
“When we figure out [when Zane can fly in] we will build our rehearsal schedule, coaching and also schedule some fundraising/sendoff shows during those times,” Whisler said.
BoomTown has already had some discussion of the songs they will be performing on stage in Charlotte and is working on fine-tuning its delivery.
“We’re really drilling down into the messages we deliver in our songs,” baritone Aaron Walker said. “Every word matters, so that’s kind of where we’re at as we communicate and prepare for this year’s International competition.”
BoomTown has been together for nearly 10 years and won the CSD District Championship in 2014. Through the years, the guys of BoomTown have been excited to represent the district and each other.
“We really can’t thank the people of the CSD enough for their support,” Whisler said. “This coming August, we have been together 10 years. We’ve seen 6 kids born, multiple job switches, new homes being built, multiple moves, and one marriage. We have become a family through all of it. We consider the CSD audiences to be family as well.
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Making their 6th trip to the international stage, Harmonium looks to come back with a new bass and a new perspective.
Over the last year, Harmonium has faced adversity beyond the challenges of COVID. Tenor, Micah Jeppesen suffered a sudden heart attack in July 2021 which made quite an impact on him and the quartet.
“Having a heart attack hit me right out of the blue was, to say the least, a moment in my life that will forever change my life,” Jeppesen said. “The way these three gentlemen rallied and encouraged me through my rehabilitation and recovery…well…they are my brothers forever. I love them even more completely now than before.”
While making their final preparations for the district contest Harmonium participated in some youth outreach activities in the Kansas City, Kan. area which proved to be more eventful than intended. They were scheduled to visit five schools on March 4, however, as they arrived at Olathe East High School (their third stop for the day) a student opened fire and injured multiple victims.
“When the school shooting happened, we were at each other’s sides every step of the way,” bass Marshall Crowl said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to go through that with anything else.”
Crowl joined Harmonium in August 2019, but because of the COVID pandemic, the 2022 CSD Spring Convention was the first time he got to compete with Harmonium. It was not his first appearance on a CSD stage with the quartet, however, he first publicly performed with the quartet in front of a CSD audience at the 2019 CSD Fall Convention.
“It is such a great feeling knowing that I have qualified for my first international because it’s me finally getting a chance to go down the path and have the journey my dad got to have,” Crowl said. “The fact that I get to start it with the guys in Harmonium is the most comforting and exciting thing I can imagine.”
While Crowl will be making his first trip to the international contest, he will be doing it with two of the most experienced quartetters in the district. Jeppesen will be making his 21st trip to the international contest (1998-2007 with 12th Street Rag, 2010 with Thrillride, 2011 and 2012 with Voices Unlimited, and 2015-2019 and 2022 with Harmonium). As impressive as that sounds, Lead, Mark Fortino has now qualified for 27 consecutive BHS International Quartet Contests (tied for BHS record) with five separate quartets (12th Street Rag, High Definition, Premium Blend, Voices Unlimited, and Harmonium).
“It's mind-numbing for me to even think of that many qualifications with 5 different quartets,” Fortino said.
Jeppesen added, “some would say that between Mark and I, we should receive the “WHEN ARE YOU EVER GOING TO TAKE A HINT AND QUIT” Award. But why quit something that you love so much, with people you love doing it with, as long as you can still be competitive and qualify to go? What’s the alternative? Let’s not even think about that!”
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If your quartet’s plan is to qualify for the international contest on its first try, then talk to the guys in Tapestry … that’s exactly what they did.
All kidding aside, a lot of work was put into preparing for their first trip to a CSD contest. Baritone Jonathan Fortino said they’ve spent most of their time and energy on finding the quartet’s sound and identity, as well as making each individual voice as efficient as possible.
“We've made some great strides in this direction, but there is still more work to be done and we will likely be continuing this journey through Internationals and beyond,” Fortino said.
Being one of the six quartets to qualify out of the district, Tapestry is grateful for the opportunity to represent the CSD.
“We're excited to represent the Central States District and very glad we were able to bring four Iowa guys together to create some excitement about barbershop in Iowa,” Lead Austin Siefers said.
Fortino and tenor Jeff Arians came very close to qualifying for the international contest with their previous quartet, Minor Details. They are both grateful to have made it over the hump.
“Minor Details was close to qualifying for the big boy contest multiple times,” Arians said. “It definitely feels like a weight off my shoulders to finally get over the hump in the big boy contest. I can now say that I'm the first barbershopper from my family [Arians is a third-generation barbershopper] to qualify for the International quartet contest. It's simply an amazing feeling.”
“Qualifying for internationals has been a personal goal of mine for a long time,” Fortino added. “One of Tapestry's goals, when we started, was to qualify for an Internationals, and to be able to achieve that on our first try after only singing together for nine months is very gratifying.”
While they’ve achieved their goal of making it to the international contest, the guys of Tapestry have much more they want to accomplish together.
“Making Internationals was definitely a goal of our quartet, but we have more that we want to accomplish,” Arians said. “We are going to continue to find the foundation of our sound and begin the transition to artistic singing. It's going to be a fun journey to make with this group.”
Fortino will be joined in Charlotte by his uncle Mark Fortino (lead of Harmonium) and cousin Anthony Fortino (lead of MidTown).
Just like with Tapestry, Union Station has qualified for the international contest in its first attempt. However, Union Station competed in the 2019 CSD Fall contest and finished 2nd behind Spitfire.
While Union Station is making its first trip to the international contest, it is not without international competition experience. Bass Reed Plattee and lead Sam Dollins have been on the big stage in the past with 2017 CSD Champs, Vintage Stock. Also, tenor Chad Whiting competed in a college quartet, Boulevard. Jeff Wolff, baritone, is making his first (and long-awaited) trip to the international stage.
"For me, it was a culmination of 11 years of barbershop singing and I am very excited to finally get to sing on the big stage," Wolff said. "I have been close a couple of times but never got to hear the great news during the call-off until this weekend. I know the other guys are equally excited and ready to hunker down and work hard for the next few months."
According to Wolff, Union Station will be rehearsing weekly and focusing on finding their two best songs. Additionally, there will be work on some new music to add to its repertoire. Wolff said that they will be putting special emphasis on getting performance coaching.
"A lot of the feedback we got from judges during evals was that our relatively decent singing scores need to be complemented by a more authentic presentation of the music," Wolff said. "Finding the messages behind the lyrics of the songs are going to be what we focus on during the next few months."
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In their first appearance on the contest stage since being crowned the CSD Champs in 2019, Spitfire qualified to make their second trip to the international stage.
According to Lead Chris Pingel, returning to the stage after the layoff from COVID was a good experience.
“It felt great,” Pingel said. “The four of us have been getting together a lot over the last two years, singing tags and songs. It felt good to perform for an audience.”
As with any quartet, there are some challenges along the way. Tenor Austin Veteto said that preparations for the international contest will look a little different. Veteto and his wife are expecting their second child in June leaving Veteto unavailable for the international contest. Spitfire will perform with Veteto’s father (Jeff Veteto), who is no stranger to the international stage.
“It's going to be interesting,” Pingel said. “[Jeff Veteto] lives a few hours away, so we'll be prepping with Austin a lot and Jeff when he's in town.”
Follow Spitfire online: Facebook: www.facebook.com/spitfirequartet
These six quartets will be joined in Charlotte by five choruses (Ambassadors of Harmony, Central Standard, The Recruits, SmorgasChorus, and Pathfinder Chorus) as well as three quartets in the Varsity NextGen Quartet Contest (Switch It Up, Sound Factory, and Kansas City Barber Q).