Sweet Adelines

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This email has be sung aloud in 4-part harmony, so everyone please take the pitch now.

One of my greatest delights while living here in the States has been my participation in the Star City Chorus, which is the Lafayette chapter of the Sweet Adelines. Each Monday night has been filled with music, harmony and lots of hugging with this wonderful group of women.

Since Christmas, our focus has been on the regional contest to be held in Covington, Kentucky (which is just across the river from and really could be a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio). Every week, we have practised our singing and rehearsed our choreography in preparation for this big event. Our two contest songs were “Red, Red Robin” and “My Mother’s Eyes”. The former should be well known to you but the latter is less familiar. It is a very sentimental ballad (perfect for Sweet Adeline-style singing).

Last Monday night was dress rehearsal, and I was thankful that I had been a teenager in the sixties and so had excellent hair-teasing skills. I was after the “big hair” look and with the help of mousse, hair spray and some serious backcombing was able to stretch my otherwise modest mane. However a skill I was sadly lacking was false eyelash installation. I asked my friend Joyce for advice. She is a veteran of some thirty plus years of Sweet Adelines and she told me how lucky I was that we no longer had to wear hair extensions and/or wigs as well. A few hairs for my upper lid seemed less daunting after that.

Joyce told me to put on a thin line of adhesive and when it started to dry and become tacky, to attach the eyelash to my eyelid. I carefully and obediently drew a thin line of adhesive across my upper eyelid. Joyce looked at me and shouted in horror and disbelief: “Not on your eye, on the lash!!” Oops! By this time, all eyes were on me, and my eyelids were partly stuck together as I tried to wipe the glue off. This had the undesired effect of making both upper and lower lids sticky and I thought we might have to change the choreography to have me permanently winking through the songs. Luckily my tears of laughter helped protect my eye and I kept wiping away excess glue until I knew I could once more keep my eye open. I secretly worried that my eye might now be glued in the open position and that I would have to wear a patch to sleep that night, but I thought I’d cross that bridge when I got to it. The eyelashes were to be the finishing touches to a copious amount of face and eye makeup, so my wiping and rubbing and blending of mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, foundation, powder, tears, and glue made for a rather blotchy look. I looked as though I had been badly beaten about the head, and I think there were some there who wanted to do just that. I was just pleased we’d had the dress rehearsal.

There were six of us who were going to contest for the first time and the group presented each of us with a care pack basket containing wine cooler, chocolates, Tic-Tacs and a re-usable camera.

Friday finally arrived and I had packed and prepared in accordance with the 20-page set of instructions and information about the impending event provided by one of the Chorus members. Joyce arrived in her van to collect me and two others and we headed off. It was about a three-hour drive and we stopped for lunch along the way. We arrived at our accommodation at the Cincinnati Marriott in time to unpack our gear and head across the covered way to the adjoining Northern Kentucky Convention Centre where the quartets’ competition was already underway. We heard the final seven performing groups and waited for the presentation of awards. The quartets are comprised of the best singers from the various choruses and the quality of their performances was really top class. It was a most enjoyable afternoon. After all prizes were awarded, the whole audience joined in singing “How We Sang Today”. As we all joined hands and sang in four part harmony, I had goosebumps.

Most of the guests in that hotel (and many others) were Sweet Adeline members, and music could be heard at every turn, as groups were getting together to practise for their upcoming performances. We went to dinner in the hotel bistro and sat next to the group “Risky Business” who are the current champion quartet. They happily obliged when someone at a nearby table asked them to sing Happy Birthday for their friend. They then sang two songs for a man at another table. We were more than delighted to enjoy the free concert. We then returned to our room to make sure we were rested for our big day on Saturday. The women from our quartet rang me from their room to sing to me to wish me well in my first performance. Goosebumps again. I painted my fingernails fire engine red to get a head start on the next day’s transformation.

Saturday morning saw us all up bright and chirpy, and excited and nervous about what lay ahead. We brewed coffee and had breakfast of cinnamon rolls, fruit and bagels which we had brought along to share. Our 6 minute performance was scheduled for 1.45pm, but our whole day was regimented and planned to include time for rehearsal, make-up and hair, dressing, and meeting with our hostess to be taken across in our “pattern” and thence to the performance stage. I learned that once we were in the “pattern”, we would be directed by contest organisers and were to do exactly as instructed by them.

I worked magic with my hair once more, piled on heaps of makeup, and under the watchful eye of Joyce managed to get the false eyelashes on correctly. Our costumes were black knit tops with diagonal stripes of glittery lurex, black chiffon skirts, black stockings and black shoes with a strap. Tres chic! I was very nervous and needed all the hugs and encouragement my fellow chorus members were offering. My front row position meant any mistakes would be hard to hide. I rehearsed over and over in my head.
We finally were in the “pattern” and were guided through the bowels of the Convention Centre, up the service elevator, into the holding room and at last onto the stage. We sang and danced our hearts out and were satisfied with our performance. We were fourth to perform out of about twenty choruses, so we were then able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day’s singing. I was delighted with the show. Some of the larger choruses have over one hundred members and every note and every choreographed action were perfect. I couldn’t believe I was actually part of such an amazing event and such an amazing group of women. Four judges scrutinise performances for sound, music, expression, and presentation, so costuming is a very big deal. I doubt there was a can of hair spray, a false eyelash, a lurex thread or sequin left in America after this weekend. “Over the top” hardly does justice to some of the elaborate ensembles.

At the end of the day, awards were announced and we again joined to sing “How We Sang Today”. We weren’t expecting to win any of the major awards but were hoping to score reasonably well. A half an hour after the contest, evaluation sheets were available to chorus directors and we all gathered in her room to hear the verdict. Unfortunately the judges weren’t as impressed with our performance as we were, and we were disappointed with our overall score. Post mortems started straight away and tomorrow night we will get to view the tape and make our own judgments. Disconsolate groups of Star City choristers headed out to dinner and the “After Glow” celebrations. Despite our disappointment we enjoyed the ongoing musical feast as winners revelled in encore performances.

An early morning start from Kentucky saw us arrive home about lunch time. What a weekend! I doubt I’ll experience anything like it again.

Love and harmony to all