Teamwork, friendship and music education all come out of a singing group who pull women from all over the area to join the chords and harmonies that are native to the barbershop style of music they perform.
The women in the Heart of Illinois choir are ages 16 to 97, but girls as young as 13 are welcome, and they sing in four part harmony; bass, baritone, tenor and lead. They sing completely memorized and a cappella, meaning without accompaniment.
“We strive for high quality singing and a lot of fun,” said JoEllyn Welch, interim director.
There motto is “real harmony, real women, real fun.”
The Sweet Adeline’s International organization is a musical education association for women.
“One of the bullet points of our existence is education,” said Jinny Gunnar.
Elizabeth Powell, the youngest member of the group at 16, says she started coming to rehearsals to learn and that is what this chorus is all about according to Welch and many others within the group.
“I already knew how sing but I wanted to learn the harmonies, the a cappella, the related pitch training,” said Powell. “ That’s why I came and I stayed because I love these ladies. They are just amazing.”
For some people this is not just about the music education but about their lives and what they have always known to be in their hearts. Gunnar said she grew up in a church that sang in four part harmony a cappella and it was just in her soul. She heard them singing in Northwoods Mall back in 1980 and it made her stop in her tracks.
But this group is also a class offered at Illinois Central College for those students who want to try out this style of music and need a few extra credits in their college education. The only requirement is you have to be a girl.
This group is alive with sound and works hard to make their performances lively and they keep things light while laughing with the interim director.
These ladies have a lot on their plates this summer. They are looking for a permanent director, who will be only the third lady to take this role since the groups formation over 30 years ago. The search is ongoing and they say they have the word out in the barbershop community but they are welcoming anyone that wants to try even if they do not have a barbershop background.
“I think that someone will want to come direct us because of our level of singing,” said Gunnar.
They are doing all these things while gathering audition tapes from local ladies ages 15 to 25 looking to enter their contest, So You Think You Can Sing. The ladies interested are to send a tape, CD or DVD for the group to judge and narrow the it down to 10 girls. From their they have to sing in front of the group to be narrowed to three ladies. Those three perform at the groups show on Oct. 28 where the audience will help decide who is the winner according to Gunnar. The top three are singing for money says Gunnar, the winner will receive $800.
Page 2 of 2 - These ladies are not in the group just fro the fun though, each year the group travels to the regional competition in Springfield to compete for a place to perform on the international stage. This years contest had 13 groups entered and the winner of regional goes to the international contest.
“Four times was have gone to international contest,” said Welch. “At our recent contest we won second place overall and second place midsize chorus.”
The group tries to sing songs that are not in the barbershop genre necessarily but are arranged to be sung in that manner. Powell says they have done songs from Tangled, the major motion picture; Wicked, the musical; and Mamma Mia, the major motion picture and musical.
These ladies are no strangers to the work involved in singing and are proud members of the group. Anyone is welcome to join as long as they are willing to work and learn.
Any questions about the contest can be sent to Jinny Gunnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.