Geography grad makes sweet music, lands sweet job
It was Cory Hunt’s week.
In the first week of July, the recent University graduate won two international championships with his quartet, OC Times, and with his chorus, Masters of Harmony, in the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 70th Annual International Contest in Nashville, Tenn. He also landed his dream job with an environmental consulting firm in Lake Tahoe.
It was the best possible start to his life after college.
But given the 23-year-old’s ambition, intelligence, and talent, it was not entirely inconceivable.
A rush of emotion when victory announced at contest
Hunt, a bass singer, stood backstage with the other three members of the California-based quartet OC Times at the Sommet Center on Sat., July 5, the final evening of the competition. The quartets waited as the announcer called out the names of the groups placing in fifth, fourth and third place. Finally, only OC Times and another group Crossroads, from St. Louis, remained. The announcer named Crossroads as the silver place silver medalists and Hunt immediately recognized he and the other OC Times members had won first place.
“They announced second place and it was just a rush of emotion,” Hunt, said. “When 10,000 people are all screaming and standing and applauding, it’s a pretty cool thing. You can feel a wave of energy and it’s electric, really.”
This wasn’t the first win for Hunt and OC Times that week. The members of OC Times also sang in the Masters of Harmony, a chorus of 140 men ranging in age from 14 to 80. The Masters of Harmony won the gold medal in the chorus section of the competition earlier that week. Only twice before in the competition’s history had the same singers taken first place in both the chorus and the quartet sections in one week.
“You’re the best in the world and people don’t really get an opportunity to be the best in the world at something,” Hunt said. “To be able to say that is a huge honor. It’s humbling.”
The International Competition began on Wednesday, July 2, and lasted until Saturday, July 5. The competition was split up into different categories, including quartets and choruses. The 50 competing quartets were further broken down through a series of quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals throughout the week. The 29 groups competing for the chorus category sang in two separate rounds on July 4.
Each quartet or chorus was evaluated by a total of 15 trained judges in three different categories: singing, music and presentation.
The Masters of Harmony won the gold medal in the chorus category for the seventh time in a row while the young members of OC Times had slowly been climbing the ladder. They won second place in the competition last year and third place the year before that.
“We’ve been working hard and we kind of did it our own way,” Hunt said.
The frequent flier approach to singing
OC Times has been gaining attention from barbershop critics and enthusiasts. They’ve taken a different approach to their repertoire of songs. Most barbershop groups sing songs from the turn of the century to the 1940s. OC Times sing songs from more contemporary artists, such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beach Boys.
“It’s brought a lot of young people,” Hunt said. “We’ve been able to be a part of exposing a whole new generation of people to barbershop.”
While not competing, OC Times sings two or three shows a month throughout the nation and in other countries, such as Russia, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Mexico and England.
“We’re all platinum members on American Airlines,” Hunt said with a smile. “It makes for long weekends but it’s a lot of fun.”
Hunt has been singing in OC Times and the Masters of Harmony for four years. Though OC Times are no longer allowed to compete in the competition after winning the gold medal, Hunt plans on singing with them for years to come.
As for Hunt’s future in singing, he doesn’t want to make a career out of it. Hunt is also interested in audio production and engineering but hopes to keep his musical interests a hobby.
“People come to a concert and they get a chance to check out for a little bit and forget about their troubles,” Hunt said. “It’s a unique opportunity to be able to share that with people and entertain and make them laugh, smile, or cry. That’s all I really want out of it. I don’t need fortune or fame.”
Hunt was first exposed to barbershop at the age of six. A family friend, after hearing him sing in church, suggested to Hunt’s family to pursue his singing. Hunt became an official member of the Reno Silver Dollar Chorus by the time he was seven, singing at different events in Reno like the National Championship Air Races in Stead.
“I grew up in their ranks and started singing in quartets when I was 12 and kind of went from there,” Hunt said. “I grew up kind of fast in that aspect, but they always treated me like I was an adult so I learned to interact with people.”
An interest in politics and cultural geography
Hunt’s childhood career of singing eventually led to his interest in politics.
“That’s how I got my first job, when I sang with a barbershop singer who worked at the Nevada Legislature,” Hunt said.
Hunt worked at the legislature while in high school and his interest in politics, policy and geography became a career goal. He graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science and geography.
“I really liked policy and finding out how to affect change and go about that,” Hunt said. “Then I fell into cultural geography and really loved that it enabled me to study any number of issues and topics with such a unique perspective.”
Hunt took advantage of opportunities for mentorship and internships while at the University. He has worked with Leah Wilds, director of graduate studies in political science. He also sought a mentorship with Robert Dickens, director of governmental relations. Hunt took Dickens’ political science course in the fall. Dickens took notice of his attentiveness and his interest.
“It was clear that he was paying attention and he was engaged,” Dickens said. “He wasn’t at all shy about participating and answering questions. He remained that way throughout that semester.”
Hunt often stayed after class to talk to Dickens about politics. The two would talk about Hunt’s singing and his plans for the future. When Hunt mentioned to Dickens that he was looking for part time research work, it was Dickens who suggested Hunt seek out Wilds’ mentorship.
“In my experience, there are a few students who stand out,” Dickens said. “There are only a few who avail themselves of the opportunity to let themselves be known and Cory is one of those.”
With a helpful mentor and experience in environmental policy, Hunt found the listing for Environmental Incentives in South Lake Tahoe the day after graduation and applied immediately.
“I sat down and found it and I said, ‘This is the job for me,’ ” Hunt said.
He credits his teachers and mentors at the University for preparing him for the work world, but also for encouraging him to pursue his singing career.
“I truly could not have achieved all of my dreams and goals without the support, understanding, encouragement and training from my teachers at UNR,” he said.
Hunt’s responsibilities as research associate include data and policy analysis, project management and other tasks related to environmental development and restoration. Hunt said he will be working on ventures concerning water quality projects, ecosystem restoration and other projects for clients such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
After a series of grueling interviews, a writing project, and a presentation, Hunt received a job offer from Environmental Incentives a day before winning two gold medals in the Barbershop Harmony Society International Contest.
“I was already having a great week singing then I got this offer, “Hunt said. “It was pretty much the best week I could have had. I don’t know what could have been better.”