Tone Deaf

    Chickens can't fly, but if this brood of a cappella singers can raise the funds, it'll be flying to the Cook Islands in March 2014 for a cultural exchange of songs and comedy.

    The feather-clad quartet Tone Deaf has been performing for kids in the Ashland School District for the past 15 years and has made countless other appearances at fundraisers, community events and schools all over Southern Oregon.

    "Singing in chicken suits shows kids this can be fun. You don't have to be there singing Mozart. You can be silly if you want," says Michael Biggs, a tenor.

    The fowl act is also part of a larger flock, the Salem SenatAires, which took 12th place in an international competition held in January in Canada.

    Tone Deaf includes Biggs, Al Robins, a baritone, Tom Walker, lead singer, and Doug Borngasser, a bass. Together the men cluck it up as they parody familiar songs with precision harmony and plenty of shtick thrown in for good measure.

    Recently Robins' wife and group manager, Janet, contacted the Ministry of Education for the Cook Islands about having Tone Deaf sing to all the schools on the islands, about 29 total.

    "I don't know how they are going to get everyone together," says Al Robins, "but most of the schools are on the main island, Rarotonga."

    The biggest challenge for the group is the airfare.

    "It's near Tahiti. It's next to nowhere, and it's relatively expensive per flight," says Biggs.

    The quartet has set up a crowdfunding account at and plans to do some fundraising during its annual holiday show in Ashland.

    "So many schools are losing their music programs so they are really trying to bring music in. We do that with the Harmonizers," says Biggs, referring to Tone Deaf's membership with the Rogue Valley Harmonizers.

    "We're part of the larger Barbershop Harmony Association, and they are just a great organization promoting a cappella singing to kids all over the world," says Robins.

    It's possible that the Barbershop Harmony Association will match the amount the singers raise on their own.

    "We really want kids to say, 'that's really fun,' " Robins says. "You don't have to be the absolute best singer in the world if you can keep pitch and sing with other people. So that's what we're doing in the Cook Islands, we're going to bring barbershop harmony there. They have a rich tradition of a cappella singing in the Cook Islands. Most of it's sacred but it's really beautiful. So they are going to teach us some stuff, and we'll teach them some barbershop."

    To add to the cultural exchange, Borngasser plans to bring his 11- and 13-year-old children with him and try to get them to go to school in the Cook Islands for at least one day.

    "Neither one of them seem very excited about going to school in a new place," he says.

    For the Tidings Cafe, the quartet performed "Come Fry With Me," a parody of the Frank Sinatra tune.

    Why chicken suits?

    "The chickens were random," says Walker. "Mike was at a garage sale."

    "There they were, they had this light glowing upon them," says Biggs. "I quickly called Al and says, 'Oh, my God! We have to change everything, I just found it!' "

    The band is trying to book as many gigs as possible to raise money for the trip, even though that means performing in hot chicken suits in the middle of summer.

    "One of the comments we get is that we're like live-action Muppets," says Biggs.

    "No shame. If you have pride and ego, find another quartet," adds Robins.

    The poultry posse will perform for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at the festival courtyard in Ashland.

    Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at

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