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San Angelo Lifestyles

Singing from the Heart

written by: becca nelson sankey photos by: ken grimm

      Barbershop singers used to conjure images of middle-aged men dressed in matching striped coats and straw hats, clustered around a lamppost singing a cappella. Today’s vocal harmonizers, specifically the San Angelo Texas Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, couldn’t be further from that antiquated archetype. The chapter’s performing group, the Twin Mountain Tonesmen, is comprised of 43 men ranging in age from 15 to 78. They are TV meteorologists, doctors, mechanics, business owners, accountants, retirees, military service members and even young students, and their concerts bring in 1,000 audience members with backgrounds just as diverse as the performers themselves.


The Twin Mountain Tonesmen next year will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and Director Mark Clark’s ties to the group go back to the 1970s. “The local chapter of the barbershop harmony society started in 1955 and lasted about five years under the organization of the late Bryan Mahon, who owned Mahon Menswear in San Angelo,” Clark said. The group rebooted in 1971 and fizzled out again after three years. “This chapter started again when my family moved here from Abilene in 1976,” Clark said. “My dad, Bruce Clark, was the director in Abilene and we moved here, he got a job offer, and he started (Twin Mountain Tonesmen) again with Bryan Mahon and Jim Rasor and some other guys. We worked on it and got it going and chartered with the national society on Sept. 30, 1979.”

Bruce Clark had the energy, experience and passion to revive the Tonesmen, Clark said of his father. “We had the right guys in the right place at the right time, and he directed from 1976 until 1990, at which point the guys elected me to be the new director. I’ve been doing it ever since,”
he said.

Clark joined the group when he was 11 years old, and credits it with helping shape him into the person he is today. “We only accept men of good character; that’s one of our national society bylaws and one we follow closely,” he explained. “We have a good group of guys, Christian family men, and they’re good mentors for our younger members. I was  appreciative later in life for my dad getting me involved when I was 11 because I had a group of mentors to look up to (in addition to my parents). It helped mature me and teach me about family values at an age where I was so impressionable.”

The Tonesmen accept as members men from all backgrounds who share a love of singing and fellowship. “The fact is that we do have guys from all walks of life, and we hope encourages other guys to join," Clark said. “It doesn’t matter what your job or background is. They’re here because they like to sing, and that’s what we care about.” The group is particularly interested in adding younger members to bring more energy to the chorus. “We have six members under 26 and two members from Central High School’s chorus,” Clark said.


Barbershop music is four-part harmony, Clark explained. “There’s a melody part, and we call that the lead,” he said. “And above the lead is the tenor. Just below the lead or melody is the baritone, and the bottom part is the bass. The lead has the melody 95 percent of the time, but every once in a while, to make it interesting, they’ll give the bass the melody. It’s one part melody and three parts harmony. The great thing about it is the chords are arranged in a way that when everything clicks, you get a ringing sound, and that’s what people like when they hear acappella or barbershop.”

From jazz and pop to gospel, country and western and patriotic, the Tonesmen cover almost every genre. “We did one show that was all The Beatles,” Clark said. “We did another that was all Beach Boys. Barbershop is a type of music that can be adapted to just about any genre except maybe rap. It’s more of a style that if there’s a melody line we can put chords with, there’s a good chance we can make an arrangement to sing that song.”

The Tonesmen rehearse together every Monday and offer concerts in May and December. For the May show, “We have sets and use scripts, and it’s kind of a vaudeville style,” Clark said. “We always bring in a top international quartet to be our guest artist. They’re just highly talented and well coached and trained and put on a good show.” Since 1980, the Tonesmen have donated a portion of their proceeds from their spring concert to West Texas Rehabilitation Center. “We’re one of very few nonprofits that turn around and donate money to another nonprofit, and it’s always been West Texas Rehab,” Clark said. “My dad was a patient two or three times and did his rehab there, and some of our other members have used them, so we believe in their mission.”

The Tonesmen attend the nonprofit’s annual telethon in January to present them with their check, which is usually about $1,800. “We’re honored to be able to do that, and we promote that 
at the show, so people know part of the money goes for a good cause,” Clark said. The chorus’ Christmas concerts are free and held at First United Methodist Church in Downtown San Angelo. “We’ll do one on Saturday evening and the next Sunday afternoon,” Clark said. “They just last an hour. We discovered many years ago it was hard to go somewhere at Christmas and just listen to your favorite songs. We try to sing everybody’s favorite religious hymns and their favorite Christmas songs, like ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’ and that’s been a big hit.”


The San Angelo Chamber of Commerce also enlists the Tonesmen for conventions or events that come to town needing entertainment. “We have a couple of quartets, just one guy from each section,” Clark said. “They have their own repertoire and name, and they’ll sing for people’s anniversaries and birthdays. My quartet has sung three times each at the Texas Rangers games.” The Tonesmen also break into quartets to provide customers singing valentines during Valentine’s Day. “We take orders, and it’s very organized; every quartet has a list of people to hit, and they have roses and cards,” Clark said. “We do close to 100 singing Valentine’s each year. As some of the guys say, we just love embarrassing people in public by singing a valentine. Ninety-five percent are to ladies or girls. They’ll have a smile on their face, and the others around enjoy it and clap. It’s a fun event.”

Having provided nearly four decades of entertainment to San Angeloans, the Tonesmen have amassed a loyal following. “It’s a very diverse group,” Clark said. “We have high school and college students, a lot of whom are music people or music majors; people from the (Air Force) base who like that type of music; we have a middle-aged crowd who may know someone in the group, and once they come to a concert they’re very impressed. We have seniors. The whole crowd has a good time because we don’t just stand on the stage and sing. We like to entertain by making fun of ourselves or whatever it takes to get the audience to laugh and enjoy the show.”

The fun the group has on stage and the compliments their concerts elicit are part of why Clark is a part of it. The friendships he’s forged are another bonus. “We’re like a family - and not just the guys, but all the family members of the guys, their wives or their kids,” he said. Clark encouraged those who are interested in joining the Twin Mountain Tonesmen to stop by rehearsals on Monday nights at 7:30 at First United Methodist Church. “Come a little early so we can get you a guest book and a name badge and welcome you properly and find what section you want to sing,” he said. “That way you can actually see how much fun it is.”


For more information about the Twin Mountain Tonesmen, call 325-947-TONE, or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. †

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Digital Issue Spring 2020