On the world stage

In 2010, Scott Veenhuis started singing lead in a “just for fun” a cappella group – Kordal Kombat – after an impromptu audition.

“I just happened to be walking by one evening when Adam (Helgeson) flagged me down and asked if I wanted to sing in Kordal Kombat, and if I recall correctly, my exact response was ‘yeah, alright,'” Veenhuis said.

Little did Veenhuis, a Murray County Central High School graduate from Slayton, Helgeson and the other members of the group – Ben Israelson and Mark Halverstadt – know that they would be in an international barbershop competition three years later.

Kordal Kombat, a barbershop quartet, competed at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 75th International Convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada earlier this month in the Harmony Foundation’s International Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest.

The group was founded by Helgeson in 2009 at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and he and Halverstadt are original members. Veenhuis said he wasn’t all that involved in music when he was in high school until his junior year when he decided to audition for an a cappella group. He also sang lead in that group, which consisted of five boys and five girls.

“It was then that I discovered my love for singing,” he said.

Barbershop music is so incredibly unique, Veenhuis said, and you haven’t truly experienced the power of your voice until you combine it with the power of others to create perfect harmony. Helgeson sings baritone, Halverstadt sings tenor and Israelson is the bass part of the quartet.

“To me, singing barbershop isn’t about just singing a song but reaching the true nirvana of storytelling and actually living the story you are telling,” he said. “Singing lead isn’t at all as simple as many people may think. Our part may seem the easiest to learn because 99 percent of the time we sing the melody, but it is also our responsibility to lead the rest of the quartet, creating musical expression and carrying through phrases.”

Kordal Kombat qualified for the international competition at districts in Minot, N.D. in April. Veenhuis said that was the group’s first ever appearance on the competition stage. In the weeks leading up to Minot, the group worked for many hours with Todd Mattison, the director of the West Central Connection Chorus in Willmar.

“When we went to Minot, it was for the sole purpose of being scored and to find out where we were as a barbershop quartet,” Veenhuis said. “To our surprise, it turned out that we were actually much better than we ever thought. We were aware of improvements we had been making, and Todd was very encouraging in our coaching sessions, but qualifying for internationals was not something that I was at all expecting. When it was announced that we had qualified, we were absolutely blown away.

“We didn’t know what to do right away, so we ran up on stage and jumped around and high-fived and hugged each other. We had done it.”

Then came the preparation for Toronto.

“After we settled down a bit, Todd told us it was very important that we all take this very seriously, and so we developed a rehearsal schedule, which we stuck very, very close to in the following weeks,” Veenhuis said. “We rehearsed for several hours at a time, on average, one night a week from the time of the Minot competition until we departed for Toronto.”

The group competed in Toronto with both of the songs it qualified for in Minot – “Auld Lang Syne” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

“Selecting these songs was both out of a quick scramble, as well as ignorance,” Veenhuis said. “‘Auld Lang Syne,’ as we found out down the road, is actually considered quite difficult by most members of the Barbershop Harmony Society, and we had chosen it simply because we liked the way Platinum (the 2000 International champions) had performed it. ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ was chosen because it was a repertoire song from the West Central Connection Chorus, and we already knew how to sing it pretty well.”

Competing on the international stage is unlike anything he’s ever experienced, Veenhuis said.

“That stage isn’t any bigger than any other stage, but once you’re out there, you can see thousands of people, and it was just exhilarating,” Veenhuis said.

Kordal Kombat went into Toronto’s competition seeded 19th, with a 71.7 percent average, and it finished 16th, with a 72.3 percent average.

“We had hoped for a top 10 finish, but we were still