Women in harmony
Members of Saratoga Soundtrack Chorus share love of singing
By Leigh Hornbeck Published 3:31pm, Friday, February 10, 2017 Times Union
If the image of four men in straw derbies and bow ties comes to mind when you hear "barbershop quartet," you're not getting the full picture.
Barbershop singing can be done with as few as four and as many as 200 or more singers, and it is performed often and ably by women.
The Saratoga Soundtrack Chorus sings barbershop to chill-inducing effect. They routinely place within the top five at international competitions. On Valentine's Day, the members will hit the road four at a time to deliver singing telegrams. It's a fundraiser they're trying for the first time. They hope it will bring in money for travel expenses, costumes and sheet music. Customers have four songs to choose from.
The chorus was founded in 2006 by women who had been in other community choruses or church choirs, and, because there was no barbershop singing for women in Saratoga Springs, wanted a local chorus. A men's group, the Racing City Chorus, has been around since 1956.
In 2008, Saratoga Soundtrack Chorus was chartered by Sweet Adelines International, which was founded in 1945 by the wives of barbershop singers.
There are 35 members in the Saratoga chorus. It draws singers both old and young, said assistant director Jennifer Hunter. Some are retirees who stepped away from singing and now have time to devote to it again. Others are recent college graduates who performed all the way through school and didn't want to give up the camaraderie of being a member of a singing group. Some, like Hunter, wanted an outlet and love to sing.
The appeal of barbershop is the challenge of singing four distinct parts without musical accompaniment, Hunter said. When it's done well, the four parts — bass, baritone, lead and tenor — form what are called ringing chords, a fifth note that hovers in the air when the song ends. It's the chill-inducing part, and even a non-musical person can recognize it.
The chorus rehearses every Monday night at the Knights of Columbus hall on Pine Street.
Rehearsal starts with stretches and then, when the singers gather on the risers for vocal exercises, assistant director Lee Gabrilovitch has strict instructions about rib cages. They should be pressed against bra straps, forming a space for sound to resonate. Let the rib cage drop and you lose the sound, she said.
"Your palate should be lifted, your eyebrows should be lifted, you should have an inner smile," Gabrilovitch said.
This Monday, the hall was cold, but the women on the risers crackled with energy, their love for their art clear. Director Nancy Faddegon is on vacation, so the assistants took turns in front of the chorus. Hunter pulled four women from the group to run through "It Had to Be You," then asked them to do it again to work on syncing. If the words aren't sung in sync with one another, the chords won't come together, she explained.
The chorus doesn't just sing. Competitions involve costumes, choreography and spoken word. At a competition in Las Vegas in 2015, the chorus performed a 15-minute piece about Rosie the Riveter. The singers wore red and white bandanas over their hair and dressed in blue work shirts and red aprons to tell the story of Rosie in song. The chorus is preparing for the next show at The Egg in Albany in April.
Jackie Albanese of Niskayuna and Cheryl Springer of Ballston Spa, who both sing bass, said they love harmony and barbershop is the most fun outlet for singing. Performing in a quartet is their favorite, the women said, even though the stakes are higher because each singer must nail her part for the song to soar.
What is barbershop?
Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music. The arrangement is of four-part chords. The melody — the most recognizable part — is sung by the lead. The tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes and the baritone completes the chord.
Quartets from the Saratoga Soundtrack Chorus will travel the region to sing sweet songs on Valentine's Day. A singing Valentine is $75 and includes Dove chocolates, a souvenir button and card. Four songs to choose from: "It Had Be You," "Wonderful World," "So Happy Together" and "We Go Together." The singers will travel from Lake George to Rensselaer, including Albany and Schenectady, but they are flexible. To order, send an email to
[email protected] or call 878-4731.
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