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This isn’t your Aunt Bertha’s choir.
For their most recent performance, the ladies of the Carolina Harmony Chorus wore blue and purple dresses festooned with sparkles and flashy jewelry.
They portrayed a family of princess sisters who discovered that Prince Charming had been lying to them. Midway through the 15-minute skit, they took off part of their costumes to reveal rock star outfits, complete with choke collars, as the princesses pursued their dreams of becoming a rock band.
To learn more
For more information about the group and its performance schedule, go to carolinaharmony.org.
Sound a little outlandish? Welcome to the world of competitive barbershop chorus.
With a zany plot line, bold showmanship and, of course, precision four-part harmonies, the women in this Raleigh-based group earned first place among small choruses at an international competition held this month in Denver.
Fun mixed with a dose of whimsy might be the best way to describe this style of a cappella music, says Susie Smith, a Raleigh resident and director of the 35-member group.
“You want to entertain the audience and give them a twist, so they’re not just sitting there listening to a concert of four songs,” Smith said. “It’s more fun for us as singers, and it’s more fun for the audience to see what’s happening.”
Not just for men
Fueled by the hit TV show “Glee” and a long list of prime-time singing competitions, barbershop harmony is enjoying a resurgence among women of all ages and skill levels.
The style originated in Chicago in the 1920s as a men’s activity, but women picked up the routine during World War II while their husbands were deployed overseas.
The genre uses 11 chords, including some that sound unexpected – sort of like when you hit two notes on the piano that don’t quite go together. The singing does not sound harmonic until the chord resolves itself, delivering a satisfying payoff to the listener.
The chorus holds weekly rehearsals at the Masonic Temple between Wade and Glenwood avenues. Many members sang in their high school and college choirs or performed in the church.
None had ever performed songs like “Heartache Tonight” by The Eagles or “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey.
Kay Cormier, 59, joined after she and her husband moved to a golf course community in Pinehurst a few years ago. She makes the 90-minute drive to Raleigh for weekly rehearsals.
“I really missed the singing,” she said.
‘Precise musical art’
With no background music to cover up any mistakes, the singers must hit every chord at the same time. A panel of judges gives scores based on sound, music, expression and showmanship.
“Everything has to be tuned right and balanced correctly,” said Smith, the director. “They say it’s the most precise musical art form outside of opera.”
Fresh off their big win in Denver, the women are preparing for a series of holiday shows before another round of regional competitions in the spring. Among its regular gigs, the chorus sings each year for participants in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure. It has also performed at the Raleigh Christmas Tree Lighting, Artsplosure and the Historic Oakwood Christmas tour. When invited, the chorus and smaller quartets sing at the airport, malls, hospitals, retirement homes and churches.
For these women, the camaraderie is just as important as the music.
Rebecca Saines was looking for a social outlet that would get her out of the house and provide an avenue to meet new people. After trying several a cappella groups, the 26-year-old Raleigh teacher dropped by a rehearsal session of the Carolina Harmony Chorus.
Almost immediately, she was hooked.
“It’s an incredible bond of sisterhood,” Saines said.
“It has changed my life in a very positive way. I cannot describe to you how much I look up to these women.”