Something special happens when a group of people sing together in harmony. Just ask Mel McMichael, an 89-year-old Buderim man who has been a barbershop singer most of his life.
“Singing makes you healthy,” he says. “It’s very good in terms of lung expansion and it’s very good for your attitude. You can’t help but be positive when you’re singing good songs and enjoying it. When you’re entertaining people who are enjoying it as well, all of that makes it a happy life.”
Buderim residents may recognise Mr McMichael from his regular performances with the Sunshine Coast Barbershop Chorus, which he co-founded in 1990. Each year, the chorus entertains the crowds at Buderim’s Australia Day festivities.
“This is something the chorus has been doing since 1990,” he says. “Every year we sing Australian songs and when they raise the Australian flag, we sing Advance Australia Fair. People know we sing in front of the old post office and we always see a large crowd gathering.”
Born in the US, Mr McMichael has been singing since early childhood, starting out as a boy soprano at the age of eight, with encouragement from his mother. He joined choirs throughout his school and university years, but when he discovered barbershop singing, he found his true calling.
“Barbershop is a very different kind of harmony,” he says. “It’s very close chords and very close harmonies. It’s very satisfying; you’re hooked and you can’t go back to any other type of music.”
Mr McMichael served in the US Marine Corps from 1948 to 1952 during the Korean War and as a result of severe wounds, spent six months in a military hospital.
After discharge, he studied economics, completing a PhD in business and economics at the University of Texas, before his career brought him to Australia. He was the Foundation Dean of Business at the New South Wales Institute of Technology and developed Australia’s first Bachelor of Business.
Throughout his high-pressure career, the relaxation and camaraderie barbershop singing provided was invaluable.
He moved to Buderim with his family in 1990 and found a fellow barbershopper, Mike Ivess. The two formed a quartet, Tropical Blend.
“In the four years we sang together we did 135 performances,” says Mr Michael. “In a barbershop quartet you really get to know the other fellows closely.”
Not wanting to disappoint the men who auditioned but didn’t make it into the quartet, they formed the Sunshine Statesmen Barbershop Chorus, which last year achieved its highest ever score at the National Barbershop Convention in Adelaide.
During the championships, Mr McMichael was awarded the prestigious BHA gold medal for his lifetime of dedication to barbershop singing. He has started barbershop choruses around the world and has won more than 40 medals.
Mr McMichael would like to encourage anyone interested in singing harmonies in a group to come to his group’s annual learning sessions. The voice coaching program runs for five weeks and all are welcome.
The Sunshine Coast Statesmen’s voice coaching program begins with an introductory night on February 8 at 7.30 at the Uniting Church Hall in Buderim. Contact Graham Nicholson on 0401 261 840.