By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photo by David Yamamoto/Ventura County Star

Conejo Valley men's chorus gets together in harmony

October 30, 2014

NEWBURY PARK, Calif. - The Conejo Valley Harmony Oaks Chorus will sing patriotic, Dixie and other music barbershop-style during upcoming performances at Newbury Park High School and the Camarillo Public Library.

The show, titled “Americana,” will feature a lineup of songs including “America the Beautiful,” “Sam the Accordion Man” and “Over the Rainbow.”

“It’s a cappella — there is no accompaniment,” said chorus director Larry Nixon, 66, of Woodland Hills.

“The melody is in the second tenor and because of that, the chord structures create overtones and there are all sorts of expanded sounds,” Nixon said. “It’s the way it’s structured — solid, simple harmonies that men can hear and produce.”

The chorus, chartered in 1967, is unique for its community-mindedness, Nixon said.

“For many years, we did a high school benefit show with Dick Van Dyke,” Nixon said of the effort that raised money for local youth music programs. “We had other choruses that could raise good money, but not as much as this tiny chorus. Certainly, Dick Van Dyke was a great part of that.”

Tickets to the show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Newbury Park High are $15 for adults and $10 for students, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the school’s theater arts program. Admission will be free for the second performance at 2 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Camarillo Public Library.

The 25-member chorus is made up of men ranging from 22 to 96 years old from areas including Santa Paula, Camarillo and Simi Valley.

Rehearsals take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the choir room at Newbury Park High School.

“We are always seeking new members,” said Tim Bruneau, of Port Hueneme, who joined four years ago. “We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in the Conejo Valley, but we are sometimes.”

A distinguishing characteristic is the style of the chorus, Bruneau said.

“It’s not like any chorus where you have an accompaniment; the sound is purely the voices and how they interact with each other,” Bruneau said.

There’s no age limit to membership, he added, or need for experience.

“There’s been people who couldn’t sing a note and found that they could,” Bruneau said.

Toby Groves, of Camarillo, the group’s oldest member at 92, said he joined in 1990 because “I just like to sing.”

His wife is a member of the Sweet Adelines, a group of women who perform barbershop harmony.

“In fact, she’s the one who got me into barbershop,” he said.

Groves added the most important thing he wants people to know about the Conejo Valley Harmony Oaks Chorus: “How well we sing. We’re very good.”

Juan Bowen, 64, of Somis, agreed.

“We work hard to create beautiful music,” he said.

Gary Wetzel, a member for 17 years, said making music in the spirit of camaraderie is unique for men.

“Men don’t cry and guys that are willing to come and sing get their release, and that makes them a balanced bunch of guys,” said Wetzel, 72, of Newbury Park. “I lost my wife five years ago, and they came to the gravesite and sang. They’re just a wonderful group of guys.”

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