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Ripon, Manteca teens make beautiful music
Jessica Munoz, Eryka Rubio, Courtney Nolasco, Isabelle Mendez and Bianco Arao known as The Quintet serenade the crowd. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

When William Hollingsworth gets together with his friends, they do the same things normal high school kids do.

They hang out. They talk about music. They talk about the new blond girl that just moved into the open seat in the third row of their biology class.

But they also do something that few groups of high school kids in the valley have made their hobby. They practice their skills as a barbershop quartet.

Ladies and gentlemen – meet The Tone Turners.

Hollingsworth, the group’s bass from Ripon High, gets together at least twice a month with fellow Ripon High member and baritone Willie Owens, Manteca High tenor Alex Van and Manteca High lead Dakota Donaldson. For six months the four have been rehearsing together in an attempt to hone their skills and rekindle the fire for a style of music no longer practiced on street corners or at public gatherings.

No, you’re not going to find these boys wearing boater hats, bowties or arm garters. But collectively, when the pitch pipe comes out and they’re hitting all the notes, the sound they produce is mesmerizing – as they demonstrated to their schoolmates Monday night at Manteca High School’s “Concert in the Quad.”

And even though Owens says that he thought the musical style was dead long ago, Donaldson says he feels right at home when trading off with his song mates – the give-and-take that those in music learn from one another after working together for a prolonged period.

“I think performing this style of music is fitting actually,” he said. “It’s something that’s upbeat, and it’s something that’s caring and carefree at the same time. I really enjoy it and that makes doing this a lot of fun.”

Fun, however, comes after hard work. With four members that span three grades across two different cities, meshing schedules can be somewhat of a difficult task – leading the average time between close rehearsals to run about three weeks.

Monday night marked only the third time that the group has performed in public, and the first since they took second place in a barbershop quartet contest back in February.

But while performing with musical instruments requires the ability to read sheet music and learn how to play something that can never be fully mastered, singers like Donaldson say that just a keen ear is required to do the legwork prior to putting it altogether with the three others.

“For me it’s easier to perform something that’s easy for me to hear,” he said. “This type of music is very straight forward. There isn’t a whole lot that you’re going to find hidden under the surface. If there is, that’s why we practice.”

Getting it down pat, however, isn’t a walk in the park.

While individual members might have pipes of their own that can carry a tune, it’s the harmony of the foursome that lends the barbershop quartet its true magic. Getting everybody on the same page, with the right tone, at the right time, Hollingsworth said, is what every group aspires to.

Once everybody is on the same page, however, everything just sort of flows.

“I think the frustrating thing is not having all four parts together,” he said. “Something as simple as the tone or just the shape of the mouth at the wrong time can throw everything off.

“But when you lock it in, you lock it in. And everything from that point forward is just great.”

The Tone Turners were put together by a local barbershop quartet enthusiast and performer – Marc Jantzen – that started visiting Manteca and Ripon High schools five years ago to start introducing the art form to interested students.

With a pair from each school, Jantzen – who represents the Golden Valley Chorus chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society – provides students with music, backing tracks and instruction in the name of preserving the heritage of the musical style he loves.

Though the Youth in Harmony program, Jantzen has been able to introduce as many as 45 students throughout the local schools that follow up though some sort of vocal education.

“Between the three locations, which includes Merced as well, we’ve been able to get many students involved and I’m happy about that,” he said. “This is something that we do at no cost to the school districts because we want to allow the students to learn. I enjoy doing this.”