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Friendships all in tune

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

What started as kind of a lark - four friends having some fun singing a few songs for other friends - has grown into something much bigger.

The Morris Kiwanis Quartet is being booked to sing semi-regular gigs, and Charlie Glasrud, Chuck Grussing, Ken Hodgson, Jim Thoreen and accompanist Linda Hodgson recently released a 14-song CD.

But what hasn't changed is that the quartet still are friends having fun singing songs.

"It was a chance to have fun doing this kind of thing," Glasrud said. "And then to have people like it, that's amazingly lucky."

The group all are members of Kiwanis, and the idea of forming a quarter came about in 2005 when former University of Minnesota, Morris administrator Fritz Schwaller suggested they get together to sing a few patriotic songs for a Flag Day program at the Morris National Guard Armory.

Schwaller soon left Morris for another job, and that was about the time Grussing joined the group. The song list consisted mainly of old standards and barbershop staples, and they added some cowboy songs for an appearance in the variety show, "Sons of the Pioneers."

As the performance list grew, the group branched out into the doo whop genre of songs, several of which are on the CD.

"Charlie (Glasrud) is really good at singing those songs, so through the noble leadership of our baritone-tenor, we got into more modern music," Ken Hodgson said.

"I thought we should bring the act into the '50s," Glasrud joked. "For the younger folks in the audience."

It's more than a love for similar musical styles that makes the quartet click. All are witty personalities who banter well on stage and fans have appreciated it. Well, almost all of them have appreciated it. During one performance, the group could feel that their schtick wasn't going over well.

"Right in the middle of (some joking around), an elderly woman called out, 'Could you just sing another song,' " Hodgson said with a laugh.

Thoreen has a knack for belting out the oldies but goodies in a built-for-the-stage voice. Grussing is adept at altering the lyrics of songs to fit the occasion. During University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks' visit to the Common Cup coffee house in Morris last year, the quartet changed the lyrics of "Cool Water" to play off the theme of "hot coffee," paying homage to Bruininks and his affinity for the beverage. They did the same for retiring UMM Chancellor Sam Schuman, and others, too.

People continually complimented the group, and after the quartet performed for a Prairie Pioneer Days audience, people kept asking if the group would record, Linda Hodgson said.

Ken Hodgson has the equipment and know-how to make professional recordings. He's produced CDs for musicians with local ties, such as Jon Power, Greg Sperr and UMM and Morris Area bands and choirs. Putting the Kiwanis Quartet on disc seemed like a natural.

"I don't know how much we'd be doing this if people didn't encourage us," Glasrud said. "People like it."

But with it comes the rock-star lifestyle.

"And the groupies, geez!" Glasrud said.

The recording process in June and July proved a bit humbling, however.

"Doing the CD was the most time-consuming," Ken Hodgson said. "The benefits are that you can hear it and say, 'That's not very good, we'd better try that again.' CDs are brutally honest."

That's also where Linda Hodgson's contributions play a key role in the group's success. Not only is she an accomplished accompanist but she has the ability to critique the group's sound as the only non-singing member.

"We call this a quartet but it's really more than that," Glasrud said. "Linda is a vital member of our group. She's a wonderful accompanist, and she's able to tell us what we're doing right and wrong."

"I think we all enjoy and appreciate one another and have fun being together," Linda said.

As part of a service organization, the quartet can't sell the CD, but is making it available at Sarlette's Music, Willie's Super Valu and the UMM music office for a suggested donation. They're realistic about its potential, Glasrud said.

"We expect it will shoot right up to the top of the charts."