You may have never hung out at the Multnomah Athletic Club. But anyone can enjoy The MAC Balladeers, who have been singing in public dating back to 1941, when a few members got together on the banks of the Willamette in the middle of a fishing trip.
Per their website, the Balladeers “claim to be” the oldest continuously active, noncollegiate tenor-bass choir west of the Mississippi—“tenor-bass” has replaced “men’s chorus” as the term of art. They are essentially a community service organization, with an annual public spring concert supplemented by appearances at assisted living centers, veterans shelters, Pioneer Square naturalization ceremonies and St. Mary’s Home for Boys.
They’re also a community themselves.
“They’re really trying to spread goodwill,” says choir director Scott Tuomi, who is also the chair of Pacific University’s music department. “The guys that are in there just want to sing together. They just want to be together.”
The choir’s 35 members range in age from their 30s to 90s and have included both father-son and grandfather-grandson pairs. Anyone can join, regardless of singing ability. There are even a few non-MAC members—including accompanist Paul Nelsen, who’s still trying to come up in the club’s lottery.
While the repertoire leans heavily on showtunes and jazz standards, they’ve been on the TikTok cutting edge with “The Skye Boat Song” and have also performed Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Humble” and, of course, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” During the pandemic, the Balladeers took to—where else?—Zoom and YouTube, and in May, they produced a tribute to Damian Lillard, set to the tune of “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific.
“We were trying to do something positive for the community,” says Tuomi. “I think Portland’s had a difficult year, but we could all be really happy and enthusiastic about Lillard.”
Hopefully, they won’t have to redo it for Ben Simmons.