A Note From Your District Historian
Greetings friends! Nicer weather is just around the corner and things seem to be returning to normal. Barbershop songs are being sung again – rehearsals, performances, etc. have resumed and it was wonderful to hear LIVE barbershop music at Harmony College Midwest back in February.
In this issue, we look back to a man whose talent for coaching propelled numerous district and international quartets to new heights, medals, and championships. This issue also spotlights an influential district champion quartet celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and features information on one of the most popular youth in harmony groups ever to form in the district, a Central Illinois connection to a famous musical celebrating its Broadway and Hollywood anniversaries this year, as well as showcases a special 75 year-old artifact that is sure to amaze you. As always, I thank my committee members, Bob Squires, Joe Sullivan, and Jim Stahly for their contributions to this issue. I also want to give a special shout out to Scott Jensen, the son of The Impostors quartet baritone Ed Jensen, who shared a wealth of his dad’s quartet history with me for this issue, including a rare rehearsal recording of one of the group’s signature songs not previously released on any album and not heard in over fifty years. I’m happy we can share it with you now. Enjoy!
Illinois District Historian
Adapted from the QCA Archives…
His name was Lyle Pilcher. Everyone called him “Pilch” or just “Lyle” but for sure, he was THE coach. Rarely did one person have such a profound influence on barbershopping as did Lyle. That “influence” was just exactly what he imparted to the many quartets and choruses he coached throughout the Society, including so many within the Illinois District. The musical arrangements and musicality that his groups brought to the competition stage established a style that everyone soon recognized – “they must be one of Pilch’s quartets.”
The many individuals who were coached by Lyle and who attained success as either Champions or Medalists always shared their fame with him. Without his phrasing and insistence on musical excellence there would have been no medals, no awards, no recognition. Yet, in spite of their fame and recognition, Lyle was always a very private person, preferring to stay out of the limelight.
Lyle was born in Cuba, Illinois on June 29, 1913. His first love was music and upon graduation from Cuba High School, he entered the publishing field, attending both Western Illinois and Bradley Universities. Following graduation from Brown’s Business College, Lyle became a studio singer for a local station in Peoria in the late 1930s and around that same period, he joined the new Illinois Harmony Club in Canton, Illinois, whose members included the legendary barbershopper and Corn Belt Chorus director John Hanson. It wasn’t long before Lyle was singing in The Plow City Four quartet. Instead of competing, however, he decided to focus on his work in journalism.
Lyle’s newspaper publishing career took him to Sterling, Dixon, Bloomington, Taylorville, and then finally Woodstock, where he became the editor of The Daily Sentinel. In 1961, Lyle moved to Lowell, Indiana, where he founded more newspapers and spent the remainder of his life.
His legendary coaching career began a few years earlier, in 1955 at the International Contest in Miami, where he happened to be asked by the Four Tissimos to listen to the group and offer suggestions for improvement. From that moment, it was clear that Pilch “knew his stuff,” and he went on to coach legendary district and international champs, including The Four Renegades, Impostors, Auto Towners, Sundowners, Avant Garde, Gentlemen’s Agreement, Chicago News, and The Vagabonds. Lyle also coached numerous championship Sweet Adelines quartets and both men’s and women’s choruses.
Pilch was also an accomplished arranger and served on the Society’s early “Song Arrangements Committee.” This was amazing considering he could not read music and “played by ear.”
Lyle was married to Mary Woods and the couple had three children. Pilch died on July 1, 1997, however, his style of coaching and influence on barbershop music and performing will live on for decades to come. He was, and will always be, the coach of champions.
Lyle Pilcher offers suggestions to The Four Renegades during a coaching session, circa mid-1960s
Lyle Pilcher with the Sweet and Lows pictured in the Chicago Sun Times
The Impostors after winning the Illinois District contest in the fall of 1962 – From L to R – Bob Brock (Bs), Ed Jensen (Br), Joe Warren (Ld), and Harry Klepsteen (Tn)
The Impostors entertaining the crowd at one of their many performances
The Impostors on stage in Boston at the 1965 International Convention where they took their highest honors – a 3rd place medalist finish – From L to R (Jensen, Brock, Warren, Klepsteen)
This issue’s QCA Championship spotlight looks at a quartet that made quite an impression on the district – our 1962 champs, The Impostors. Representing the Skokie Valley and County Line Chapters, the group began with a friendship between two barbershoppers, Ed Jensen and Harry Klepsteen, around 1960. Jensen had sung previously with the 1948 district champs, The Chicagoans and quickly realized that he and Klepsteen’s voices blended quite well. At some point, during some informal “woodshedding”, the two were called over to sing with County Line director Joe Warren, whose reputation for a beautiful lead voice was garnering a lot of attention at the time. After singing together, Ed, Harry, and Joe felt a special magic between their voices and Ed knew of a young man from a musical family who had a fantastic ear to fill out the bass part – Bob “Bobby” Brock. They decided to form a quartet and The Impostors were born!
The group began a feverish rehearsal schedule – up to three nights a week at first! Word quickly spread in the barbershop community and the quartet soon was getting offers to appear on shows. When the group appeared at the district contest in October, 1962, they dazzled audiences, first in clown outfits and then in dapper clothes complete with top hats and canes, demonstrating their versatility in character as well as clean, distinct blending. After winning the district, the quartet decided to hire a coach to help hone their sound, because their goal was eventually to win the International Contest. It wasn’t long before the group settled on a top notch coach – yep, you guessed it – Lyle Pilcher! Lyle worked on the group’s balance and blend and it paid off. In their first International appearance in Toronto, Canada, the quartet placed 6th. Then, the following year, in San Antonio, the quartet moved up a spot into the medals, earning a 5th place finish. After continual coaching by “Pilch”, the foursome wowed audiences in Boston, where they finished at 3rd place (the same contest in which the Four Renegades took top honors). It was clear to everyone that this group was a rising star in the barbershop world.
The guys were excited for 1966 as they thought that could be their special year, but sadly, it was not to be – Bob was going away to college, so the group briefly replaced him with Jim Bond, an accomplished bass who had sung with past district champs, The Villageaires (’50), The Four Tissimos (’54), Escapades (’61) and Varieties (’63). However, the “magic” just wasn’t there without Bobby Brock. In addition, Harry found out he was being transferred out of state with his job, and the quartet decided to call it quits. Ed continued to sing with his family (“The Singing Jensens”) and went on to direct the Skokie Valley Chapter. It wasn’t long before Joe Warren found himself in a new quartet, Avant Garde (see FTV Summer 2021 Issue), which competed on the international stage from 1967-1971, but never reached as high as The Impostors.
Ed and Joe have both passed on. Bob currently lives in Washington state and Harry lives down in Florida. Their time together may have been short-lived, but their impact remains – they were one of the district’s top quartets and we honor them on this, their 60th anniversary – Cheers to our 1962 District Champions, The Impostors!
The Impostors sing “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” during the Quartet Finals at the 1963 International Convention in Toronto, Canada.
This year, we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the popular Broadway hit and the 60th anniversary of the Hollywood film, The Music Man. This iconic story features an argumentative foursome of school board members that are magically transformed into a barbershop quartet by one “Professor” Harold Hill as he attempts to con the community of River City, Iowa by creating a band of musicians. The show became a hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for over 1,300 performances! The quartet chosen for the role was none other than the famous 1950 international champs, The Buffalo Bills. But did you know that decision was made in Bloomington, Illinois?
Meredith Willson, the creator of the musical, just happened to be in Bloomington and met with Bloomington chapter member Charlie Driver and assistant director Glenn Perdue. Willson stated he was looking for a top-notch quartet to fill the role and both men suggested The Buffalo Bills or The Mid-States Four. Willson contacted The Bills and they accepted. The rest, as they say, is history!
Members of the Bloomington chapter pose outside of a local theatre for the premiere of The Music Man in 1962.
This issue’s featured artifact is indeed a rare gem. Within our archives, we have the actual bronze medal awarded to The Chordoliers at the 1947 international quartet competition held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The medal was found in an Iowa antique shop and returned to the district archives in 2008. The Chordoliers was the second Illinois District championship quartet and made up of tenor Harold Gray, lead Louis Coopmans, baritone John Gustafson, and bass Walter Chambers. The men were all members of the Rock Island Chapter.
(Click images to enlarge.)
Bloomington HS Barbershoppers
This issue highlights the Bloomington H.S. Barbershoppers, a group of young men who sang under the direction of Bloomington High School Choral Director (and the then Sound of Illinois Director) Sam Anliker in the 1970s. The group performed annually for high school concerts, community events, and was regularly featured on Sound of Illinois annual chapter shows. At their peak, the group numbered in between 40-50 high school boys. In July, 1973, the group was featured in an article that appeared in the Harmonizer magazine and even recorded an album. The next year, in 1974, the group filmed a promotional video that we are happy to include a clip of in this issue. Fun Fact – several of Sam’s students continued barbershopping into their adult lives, including past BHS Board Member Dwayne Cooper and QCA Member Bret Reinthaler (’11 – Waldorf Hair Company, ’17 South of Normal.)