Rehearsal is in the basement of the First United Methodist Church downtown. Music echoes up the stairway. Delores Gallegos, night janitor/security guard, shakes her head in mock sorrow as I hurry by. "They get carried away every Monday night," she says. In a large room with risers on one side and 15 tall, soft acoustic panels on the other, some 60 women ages 18 to 80-plus are dancing and singing the macarena.
"Oh, this is just the warm-up," giggles Ruth Flint, a member of the Colorado Springs Velvet Hills Chorus. The Velvet Hills Chorus is the Colorado Springs chapter of Sweet Adelines International, an educational singing organization with more than 30,000 members worldwide, dedicated to promoting the American craft of four-part barbershop harmony through women's fellowship, education and performance.
"If you can sing 'Happy Birthday,' you can sing in the chorus," says Becky Martini, a three-generation member whose mother sang in a champion quartet and whose daughter is also part of Velvet Hills. "Every voice is important, because the mix makes the unit."
The mix in barbershop blends four voice ranges -- tenor, lead, bass, and baritone -- in harmony, sung a cappella (without instruments). The result is astounding: smooth, vibrant and warm. The voices hum like harmonicas with the clarity of a single cornet.
These women are preparing for the upcoming competition of Sweet Adelines Region 8, for which every registered quartet and chorus from seven states has prepared two songs, a ballad and an "up-tune." The quartet ballad "When I Leave the World Behind" and the choral "I Will Love Again" (written for Velvet Hills by Colorado Springs' Vicki Uhr) flow like old-time spirituals, while the snappy tempo of "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" has a decidedly comic air. Each quartet is grouped around one microphone, just as they will perform this weekend at the Pikes Peak Center. The women make the most of their limited space by synchronizing their hand, body and facial movements in a subtle choreography that fits the mood of each song.
Then the whole chorus performs. Laughter, applause and critiques follow each rendition of the songs "New Attitude" and "This Joint is Jumpin'." In unison, the divergent chorus members sing, dance and act energetically. Winning three regional first-place medals and achieving the rank of seventh place in the world competition in recent years has raised Velvet Hills' standards, it seems.
Master Director Kathy Carmody has sparkly blue eyes, two-tone short silver hair, and crackling energy all around her. She invigorates her chorus members, some of whom battle serious health conditions or out-of-state commutes to gather weekly to sing. Kathy has directed choruses and quartets for more than 25 years; she served as president of Sweet Adelines from 1997 to 2000, and her energy is contagious. When she moves, the singing women on the risers move with her like reeds swaying in a changing current.
Carmody and the chorus invite anyone interested to join them any Monday night for rehearsal at First Methodist. And don't miss the competition this weekend, to cheer our ladies on.
-- J.N. Nail
Sweet Adelines Regional Competitions
Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Friday, March 26, 4 p.m.: Quartets Saturday, March 27, 1 p.m.: Choruses Tickets $11.50
Saturday, March 27, 8 p.m.: Show of Champions Tickets $16.50
Call the Pikes Peak Center box office at 520-7469 or visit www.pikespeakcenter.org (student and senior discounts available)