Bob was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie and is retired following a 30-year career as a Brewmaster. He is married to Anne-Marie and they have one son, Nathan, born in 1991. Nathan is also a member of the Northland Chorus and a 3rd-generation barbershopper as his grandfather, John Hands, was also a member of the Northland Chorus in the 60's. One of Bob's great joys has been singing in the Solid Ground quartet with Nathan.
This level of involvement and commitment illustrates the passion he has for the hobby, and shapes the approach he brings to each rehearsal. Since he had had no formal musical training before that first visit, all of the musical knowledge he employs as director has been learned "on the job." So he is sensitive to the different levels of musical abilities of chorus members, yet knows that tremendous progress is possible. He misses no opportunity to seize "teaching moments" as they arise naturally in rehearsals.
"Perfection IsThe Goal, Excellence Will Be Tolerated"
That's Bob's motto, spoken often during rehearsals. That mindset serves us well as we prepare to sing publicly - whether we're waiting for the curtain to rise on our annual show, or entering the venue at one of the dozen or more other performances we give each year. As a retired teacher, I appreciate how he frequently shows the audience via his commentary on our broad repertoire that barbershop singing represents a style, not an era.
What's it like singing for this director?
His energy is legendary; capturing it apparently requires a fast shutter speed! There's never any difficulty knowing what he wants! We may not sing as softly as he would like at a given point in a song, but that's not because his signals were ambiguous. Even the audiences, who mostly see only his backside, realize the feeling he's putting into each song, as he tries to pull the best from us. Once, after a performance, an elderly gent came up to Bob and said: "You sure can suck the music outta them boys!" Indeed, he can!
Because of his emphasis on quality singing, he must be frustrated sometimes as we struggle, for example, with notes or timing, but if he is, it rarely shows. He is not stingy with compliments when they are warranted. Praise is often "dished out" in the form of his mimicking throwing fish to trained seals. This evolved from a suggestion by chorus member Bryan Schmidt into an annual tradition he instituted in 2010: the Tunawards. Members are recognized for various achievements, including attendance - and the prize is a can of tuna, carefully thrown to the winner. Bob sets a fine example with regard to attendance, having not missed a single performance or rehearsal since becoming director.
Cultivating a Positive Learning Environment
He comes to each chapter meeting with a clear plan in mind for his part of the evening. There is room for enjoyable give and take---he's a quick-witted master of repartee---but he usually manages to get a bunch of independent men working together on the task at hand and having fun doing so. If we have a guest for the evening, he makes sure that the man has been given a Guestbook containing the music, and has located a song before we begin singing. No singer, not even a guest, nor indeed the chorus is ever put in a position to fail. His rehearsals strive for continuous improvement in an environment that is up-beat, energetic and supportive, working hard at the music without it seeming like work.
On Bob's initiative, the Northland Chorus was nominated and ultimately selected to receive the city of Sault Ste. Marie's Medal of Merit in 2010. He then contacted the editor of The Harmonizer, our Society's international publication, and convinced him that there was an inspiring story to be told regarding our service in song given for more than 50 years. It turned out to be the Harmonizer's Cover Story for the May/June 2011 issue. He is most proud that his arrangement of "Mansions Of The Lord", a hymn to fallen soldiers, has been requested by more than 75 other chapters and Chorus Directors across the Society. These thrilling events illustrate our good fortune to have such great leadership in our midst.
This biography written Feb. 15, 2014 by:
Northland Chorus Member since 1988