On July 8, one of St. Louis' biggest a cappella groups took the stage at the Barbershop Harmony Society's 2016 International Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
Clad in black and blue suits, gold ties and bursting with energy, the Ambassadors of Harmony danced in unison and sang their way into the hearts of Bridgestone Arena's audience of 6,000 — and, more importantly, the hearts of the judges. With their renditions of a "Top of the World" medley and "Something Good"from The Sound of Music, this barbershop group of 133 men beat out 28 other choruses to take home the gold.
It comes as no surprise that they came out on top. Sure, the Ambassadors of Harmony boast a powerhouse group of voices, but the most exciting aspect of those voices has to be the diverse group of people they represent. The act includes men of all ages, races and professions. Teens as young as fourteen stand side-by-side with men as old as 90, many of whom have been singing longer than many of us have been alive. The chorus includes students, teachers, fathers, sons and more, all coming together on one stage to change lives through music.
"One of the things we pride ourselves in is that we are diversified in every way," says co-director Jonny Moroni, a man who has been involved with the group for nearly two decades. "We have men from completely different social, economic and racial backgrounds. What's unique about our situation is that, when we come together, none of those things matter."
The music that these men create is best described as magical — a title not granted lightly. It takes a lot more than good singing to be so awe-inspiring. It is the emotion and passion behind each performance that moves them from great to truly fantastic.
"Some may say that this is just a hobby, but it's much more to us," Moroni says. As the camera pans over each man during July 8's competition, the passion each one feels for his craft is tangible, even through a screen. Smiles light up all 133 faces, indicators not only of the pride in being a part of something so amazing, but also of the fun that they have when they come together on that stage.
"Nothing we do is designed to underwhelm," says vice president of public relations David Revelle. "Our entire goal is to change lives through music."
And that goal of changing lives is pursued on and off the stage. For years the Ambassadors of Harmony have been working with their communities to ensure that the arts are able to thrive. Most recently, their focus has also been on something they are now able to pride themselves on: diversity.
"In the past few years we've reached out to engage more people from different backgrounds than your average barbershopper," says Revelle. "As the time has passed the diversity has really grown. That's something we hope continues."
Such growth makes the group all the more inspiring. In a time where racial divisions are tense, these men are breaking barriers through music. While they have made some progress, they plan to work even further in the future — performances with various ethnically diverse groups and much more are in the works, as well as a continued mission to diversify further.
Another focus of the group is youth. The Ambassadors of Harmony host Acappellooza, two separate camps in the summer and fall, to get middle and high school students more involved with the arts. The summer session is a four-night sleepaway camp that will be held next week at University of Missouri-St. Louis, culminating in a free concert that will take place on July 22 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
With these initiatives and their powerful performances in mind, it's not hard to see that the Ambassadors of Harmony really are changing the world, one small step at a time. Music is a unifying thing and these men are using that quality to make a difference in their communities — and to every person that witnesses their performances.
"We focus on barbershop, but also on the arts in general," says Moroni. "We want to emphasize the importance of the arts and make sure they continue to thrive in schools and communities."
The Ambassadors of Harmony will be taking the month of July off with the exception of one free performance at the conclusion of Acappellooza on Friday, July 22 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. They will pick back up with weekly rehearsals every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall in Blanchette Park in St. Charles. All rehearsals are open to the public.