At just 24 years old, Greg Hilliard Jr., stepped up to become the director of Tallahassee’s award-winning barbershop chorus, The Capitol Chordsmen. During each Thursday night rehearsal he worked to perfect the group’s vocal techniquesand skills. Synchronously overwhelmed and upbeat, Hilliard stood before many members who were part of a generational legacy of Chordsmen, and many more who were several decades his senior. Nearly five years later, Hilliard looks back on those first few months when he wasn’t sure if he was making any progress and felt an enormous sense of responsibility to the group’s membership.
“I remember my first couple of weeks when I’d walk out feeling so defeated,” recalls Hilliard. “I’d never directed a barbershop chorus before, but I kept working at it. Now, having the successes that we’ve had, I’m looking forward to the next 50 years of the Capital Chordsmen and what’s next.”
For their ninth annual Holiday Harmony show, which has expanded to two nights at the Tallahassee Senior Center, the Chordsmen will give a family-friendly medley performance with the first half devoted to sacred music and telling the traditional story of Christmas. In the latter half, they will spoof 1983’s “A Christmas Story,” with Hilliard playing the main character who is warned he will “blow his larynx out” if he wants to sing with the quartet.
While in high school, Hilliard was exposed to barbershop for the first time his senior year when a fellow classmate invited him to join a quartet as a baritone. It was in this same year that Hilliard joined the Miami Chorus under the direction of Gene Cokeroft — a barbershop legend and gold medal winner with the Sun Tones quartet. Cokeroft was Hilliard’s first coach and choral director in barbershop, and dedicated his life to making sure Miami maintained its reputation as a mecca for barbershop with youth singers.
When Hilliard first took over the chorus, he shifted the focus from more recreational teachings to breaking down the basics of music theory, bringing forward the technical aspects of Hilliard’s background and training at the New World School of the Arts high school in Miami.
With 45 registered members, Hilliard has been proud to see the numbers continue to grow. Membership is also skewing younger, thanks in part to the Carraway-Anton Music Scholarship created in memory of the chorus’ most dedicated members, which gives FSU, FAMU, and TCC students the chance to sing and carry on the barbershop tradition.
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