Singing their hearts out |

Singing their hearts out

Michelle Balleck

Warm tones resonate through the shadowy halls of an empty Sunset Elementary School.

The Yampa Valley Chapter of Sweet Adelines International, an all-female, four-part a cappella group, practices there for several hours each Thursday night.

Members say it’s the friendships and love of music that bring them back every week.

“The singing and the camaraderie,” said the group’s president, Ivy Davis. “One, I love to sing. Two, I’m a people person.”

The ladies seem to have fun. Exaggerated facial expressions and flashy choreography make their performances, and practices, upbeat and energetic.

“When you listen to the radio, you can tell if they’re smiling or not,” director Denise Whitney tells her choir.

That’s why she encourages her singers to have an “inside smile,” keeping their faces open and sound rich.

“We can work and get professional quality sound we’re proud of,” Debbie Dunaway said.

The group prepares year-round for competition and local performances. Dunaway has been a professional performer for 22 years, working with several bands, and she thinks this is the best she’s ever sounded.

She said she owes it to Whitney’s direction, which can be tough at times.

“She has to be,” Dunaway said. “That’s the only way to do this, to have someone crack the whip.”

Every singer has to tape themselves singing each song that will later be critiqued by their section leader. There are four sections — tenor, lead, baritone and bass.

Also, during rehearsal, Whitney will listen to each individual singer then mimic what she’s doing wrong so she can correct it.

“You don’t realize what you’re doing until someone points it out,” Dunaway said. “You park your ego at the door. You come in wanting to get better.”

Whitney said that’s what’s great about working with an all-female choir.

“Women want to be precise,” she said. “They can just be so much more demanding of themselves, too much maybe, that they stress out over it. But we try to make it fun so we can keep it light.”

Newcomer Nancy Berryhill said that’s what she’s enjoying about the group.

“They were so welcoming,” she said. “Very fun, friendly gals. They do take things seriously, but they’re such a fun group. They never make you feel bad about it.”

Dunaway, who has been in Sweet Adelines eight years, thinks that’s what the organization is all about.

“All the women in this are so positive,” she said. “They help each other be the best they can be. There’s no cutting down.”

Davis moved to Craig in 1995 and joined the group soon after.

“When I moved here, I didn’t have any family,” she said. “So this became my family.”

The group spends at least three hours every week together, so they get pretty familiar with one another.

“All of us kind of know each other inside and out,” Dunaway said.

They are preparing for regional competition in the spring, usually held in Colorado Springs. Last year, the local chapter did not have enough singers on the risers to be judged. They were only evaluated. The women hope this year they will meet the minimum requirement — 15 singers and one director — so that they can compete.

The main local show is set for Feb. 4, 2006, in the Moffat County High School auditorium with the theme, “Way Way Off Broadway.” They also have an October retreat where the ladies work with an international coach who helps them perfect their techniques.

Sweet Adelines also will perform for local events, such as candlelight vigils. They perform Christmas or Valentine’s jingles around the holidays, too. The group uses money raised from such activities to pay for their music, coaching and costumes.

Sweet Adelines has grown internationally since its beginning after World War II, when barbershop quartet music was at its height. It began in Oklahoma in 1945 and has since grown to include almost 30,000 women worldwide.

Whitney said she’s proud to have 30 years of involvement with the group, both here and in Nebraska, because of its size and reputation. No matter how long she sings, the hobby does not lose its excitement.

“You can take music, even classical, and put it to barbershop,” she said. “You’re always learning, and this is just such a great group of women to be friends with.”

For more information on Sweet Adelines, or to join, call Whitney at 824-8326.

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