Don’t bother trying to contact Mark Erikson on a Monday night.
From now until, well—forever—he’s booked.
On Monday nights, you’ll find Erikson and more than 100 other Nebraska men singing their hearts out at a Presbyterian church in Fremont. They travel in from all over. Erikson drives from Papillion, an 80-mile round trip. Other members make the trek from South Sioux City, Beatrice, and Columbus. Erikson’s work life may take him to another state, but he’ll fly in just for practice, then back. He moves mountains to make sure he’s in his spot on the riser.
“Just a solid fact of life,” he explains.
There’s always a quorum for rehearsal of the Pathfinder Chorus.
“Every Monday at practice, we put all of life’s challenges aside. It’s like a three-hour break in the week. I’m with my buddies. And we’re singing really well,” says Erikson. “I guess it’s kind of a guy thing.”
That “guy thing” is an award-winning, nationally-recognized barbershop chorus. Erikson’s modesty masks the uniqueness of this ensemble. Widely diverse, both in age and professions, the 43-year-old group first qualified to perform at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Competition in 2010. They’ve continued to qualify and place every year since, a rare feat for a group made up of non-music professionals.
Barbershop harmonizing and a cappella singing in general have enjoyed resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks to movies like Pitch Perfect and Jimmy Fallon’s “Ragtime Gals” skits.
“It really has made a difference,” says Erikson. “It’s bringing barbershop to the forefront of a new generation, introducing a music style that can fit them too. They don’t have to stop singing after high school. They can keep singing their whole lives.”
The youngest member of Pathfinder Chorus is 13, the oldest, 85, with all ages in between represented. Professions range from student to dairy farmer to military veteran. There are even a couple of pilots on stage. One flies B-52s, the other flies commercial jets. All have one thing in common: a love for music, harmony, and fellowship.
Erikson discovered his passion for barbershop singing while he was in the military, almost by accident. He was stationed at Norfolk Navy Base. An elderly lady who sat near him in church kept urging him to join the choir. So he did. Later, he downloaded a four-part men’s arrangement of “The Irish Blessing,” encouraged friends to sing with him, and never looked back. That was 11 years ago.
At 63, Erikson now serves as district president. He really wants to leave the chorus—and his community—better than he found it. He also umpires baseball. And many of the Pathfinder concerts are fundraisers. In 2014, they donated over $10,000 to the Salvation Army and Goodfellows charities.
“Mark has been crucial to the success of the group,” says retiring music director Pete “P.D.” Stibor. “Mark has the passion.”
The passion and the practice pay off—and not just at competition. On a sunny Saturday this summer, the Pathfinders performed at Burke High School. Despite beautiful weather, the auditorium was full of fans and groupies eager to spend the next 90 minutes enjoying perfect harmony. It was delivered with only voices as instruments, exploring great pop tunes, ballads, and the Beatles, complete with choreography—even “jazz hands.”
“I want to do this as long as I can,” says Erikson. “Then have the good sense to step down when the time is right. We give ourselves goose bumps on the risers. We look at each other and say…We just did that…It’s such a personal thing. Such an emotional thing to be able to share that with your friends.”