Twenty-four women stand on risers, eyes closed, listening.“We are focusing on the first note of the ballad, ‘He Was There’… Visualize yourself as a star who’s a top Broadway performer…. you will be so proud of your perfect performance.”
Peggy DiSunno is setting the table for success, mentally speaking. The women on the risers comprise the Long Island Sound Chorus, a Hampton Bays-based chapter of Sweet Adelines International, and they are preparing for a regional competition on Saturday, April 9, in Albany.
Decked out in matching outfits—from their black velvet and pink-trimmed tunics to their sparkly silver drop earrings—the women range in age from their 30s to their 80s. Some have professional singing backgrounds. Others were just passionate shower singers before showing up on the doorstep of the Long Island Sound Chorus. What they all have in common is a love for the four-part harmony that defines the Sweet Adelines style.
Ms. DiSunno, the chapter’s director, has been a Sweet Adeline since being introduced to the group by her high school music teacher. She explained that the intricacy of the musical form is a large part of its appeal. “It’s just such a unique style. It’s all a capella, meaning there’s no accompaniment. We don’t hold any music. We have to memorize our parts.
“The trick is that there are four parts, and you have to fit your part in perfectly,” she continued. “When each note is exact and everybody is perfectly matched, you get a fifth note called an overtone, and it’s just an amazing sound.”
“What makes the music is that the chords lock and ring,” said lead vocalist Colleen Marron, a member for 25 years. “The overtone makes it sound like you have musical accompaniment.”
To achieve that perfection, the group practices together for three hours every week, and members practice on their own to master their individual roles. The four parts include lead, bass, tenor and baritone. Knowing how to read music isn’t a necessity, as members learn their parts by listening to CDs that have each track of the song broken out individually.
After last Wednesday’s dress rehearsal at the Hampton Bays United Methodist Church’s Anderson-Warner Hall, several members talked about what drew them to the group, and what keeps them coming back. Lead vocalist Thea DiSunno, a sister-in-law of the director, said, “Peggy went to her first meeting 42 years ago. She called me the next day and said, ‘You have to come with me next time.’ I did, and I loved it, and I’ve been coming ever since.”
“It’s the harmonies that make this so interesting,” added baritone Linda Beyer. “When everybody hits their vowels just right, it’s like a fifth note that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
But even more than the music, members relish the social aspect of Sweet Adelines. “I love the singing, but more than the singing is the friendship,” said lead vocalist Linda Beck. “These women are my sisters.” Asked if she’s nervous about the upcoming competition, Ms. Beck waves the question off. “Not nervous—excited!”
That sentiment is echoed across the group, and comes both from confidence in their abilities and a sense of cross-group support that seems integral to the Sweet Adelines organization. Last week’s dress rehearsal was enthusiastically attended by members of the Holbrook-based Heart of Long Island Chorus. That chapter’s director, Leona Schwartz, said Ms. DiSunno and several of her members had attended a rehearsal in Holbrook last week.
Both groups will be competing with choruses from across Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York. “It’s like a sport,” explained Ms. Marron, the group’s marketing director. “You compete at the regional level, then on a national level.” Winners at the regional level from all over the world go to the international competition, which will be held this year in Las Vegas in October.
The Long Island Sound Chorus has yet to reach the international competition, but a quartet made up of its members has competed, hearkening back to the barbershop quartets that inspired the organization’s birth in 1945. “The men were having so much fun singing in barbershop quartets; I think women wanted to get in on the fun,” Ms. Marron said.
More than 23,000 women belong to Sweet Adelines choral groups in 15 countries. On the East End, the Sweet Adelines perform at hospitals, churches, veteran’s homes, nursing homes, libraries and larger venues such as Guild Hall. One annual favorite is their performance at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor at Christmastime. “We go wherever anyone wants us to go,” Ms. DiSunno said, with many shows performed gratis, or to raise funds for charitable causes.
The Long Island Sound Chorus is always looking for new talent, and guests are welcome to attend Wednesday night rehearsals at Anderson-Warner Hall, their home since relocating from Riverhead in September 2015.
“When a guest comes, I ask them to sing a little song,” Ms. DiSunno said. “If they’re going to be successful, I can tell from that.”
For more information about the Long Island Sound Chorus chapter of Sweet Adelines International, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit longislandsoundchorus.org.
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