Sweet Harmony: Sandhills Chorus Celebrates America in Song
Take a musical journey with the 29 voices of the Sandhills Harmony Chorus when the group presents its annual show at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 21, in the Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College.
Celebrating America in song, the women of the chorus will offer selections dedicated to various locales of the country, such as New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, as well as several patriotic numbers.
Under the direction of Robert Cox, the Sandhills Harmony Chorus performs women's barbershop harmony, and is a member of the Sweet Adelines International. The local chapter was chartered in 2005, and in the ensuing years has appeared at a variety of functions in the Sandhills, including Fayetteville's Dogwood Festival, Raisin' the Roof at the Sunrise Theater, and the Knights of Columbus Holiday Music Show in Pinehurst.
The Harmony Chorus is represented at smaller functions by one of the two quartets -- Close Quarters and Southern Directions -- that provide tuneful entertainment. The group appears regularly at area nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Susan Myers, president of the Chorus, is an old hand when it comes to singing close harmony.
"I have been doing it for so long, it is a part of me," she says.
Originally from Pennsylvania, she sang with two different choruses there. She carries on a family tradition, since her husband is a barbershopper as well, and sings with the Golf Capital Chorus.
"There are about six of us who were involved in barbershop singing previously," says Myers, "although most of the members of our group have sung in church choirs or in high school or college. It is a little hard to switch to this form of singing, because it is all a capella, with no accompaniment, and you have to be able to listen to the other parts and to hold your own pitch."
Director Robert Cox agrees with that assessment.
"The tuning issues are so much more important in barbershop singing than in choir work, where the singers are accompanied by piano, organ, or even orchestra," he says. "In choirs, singers tend to overlook how their part relates to the other parts. However, in barbershop or Sweet Adelines, in order to get the desired sound, the balances must be absolutely true, and the pitches have to be exact."
Cox, who has directed the group since February, is a native of Wilson, currently living in Sanford. He graduated from East Carolina University, has been a music educator, taught school and has a background in church music.
Directing barbershop for about 15 years, he presently conducts a men's chorus in Winston-Salem, and has another 21-voice men's group based in Raleigh that sing sacred music a capella.
"The women in the Sandhills Harmony Chorus are great," Cox says. "They are so enthusiastic, and they are constantly working to achieve a better style and technique. For a group that has been together for just three years, they do remarkably well."
Rehearsing weekly for two hours, the Sandhills Harmony Chorus supplements this scheduled rehearsal time by holding a weekend retreat a couple of times each year. At these sessions, they have a coach come in and work with them on a concentrated basis. One purpose of the retreats is to prepare for regional or statewide competitions.
"Participation in competitions is important because they help you to perform at a higher level," says Myers. "While we don't hope to win anything, the judges' scoring gives us good information on the group's strengths and weaknesses."
Composed mainly of retirees, the chorus does include a number of working women among the membership. Several are teachers, one is an architect, and another is a tax accountant. A retired teacher, Mary Scott Arnold, is the group's choreographer and dance captain.
An instructor of modern dance for many years, Arnold has taken up the challenge of teaching the women of the Sandhills Harmony Chorus to meld movement into their presentations.
She tries to create choreography that looks good, but that is uncomplicated and not too taxing.
Although it may look easy, she points out that singing and dancing at the same time is not all that simple.
"And since we are a relatively small group, we don't have the luxury of a front row that can do all sorts of complicated steps, while the rest of the group can concentrate on singing," says Arnold.
With vitality and a passion for singing, these 29 women keep alive the time-honored tradition of barbershop harmony in the Sandhills, and of course they always welcome new members. Call 215-8718 or 255-1081 for information on joining this tuneful troupe.
Tickets for the show are $10 from a member -- call Joan Bruno at 949-4172 -- or can be obtained from The Country Bookshop, at the Arts Council at the Campbell House in Southern Pines, or at Heavenly Pines Jewelry in Pinehurst. They may also be purchased for $12 at the door.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.?
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