In 1945, “a small group of women who loved to sing” came together in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to form the Sweet Adelines; a group that sang an exquisite feminine variation of 4-part harmony, a cappella, and barbershop style music (https://sweetadelines.com/).
Seventy-five years later, Sweet Adelines has evolved into a worldwide chorus that rings forth with the sonorous voices of more than 30,000 singers–some of whom are based right here in Hernando County.
Spanning Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties, Suncoast Harmony Chorus is a membership organization of female singers featuring more than 15 singers from all ages and walks of life representing the west Central Florida area. Aside from public performances, the chorus features vocal quartets and offers vocal and music education at rehearsals.
“Suncoast Harmony Chorus is a welcoming sisterhood with a passion for singing, dedicated to the craft of a cappella music and spreading harmony throughout the community,” reads a chorus mission statement. “The main purpose of Suncoast Harmony Chorus is to get out and sing for our community.” (https://suncoast-harmony.com/about)
The Suncoast Harmony Chorus started out the year 2020 with plenty to sing about, winning a $100 Community Arts Grant from the Hernando County Fine Arts Council (https://www.hernandoarts.org/community-arts-grants). The mission of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council is to “encourage, promote, and support all the creative arts in Hernando.”
Since the inception of the Community Arts Grant program in 2017, the Arts Council has as of 2019 invested $10,000 in 27 projects that had served more than 38,000 people; projects undertaken by Hernando groups and nonprofit agencies to promote art and arts appreciation. And in awarding a 2020 grant to the Suncoast Harmony Chorus, the council supported a promotional campaign to raise awareness of women’s a cappella singing, focusing on performances at various Hernando venues such as community and civic organizations, women’s and youth groups, HFAC events, senior living facilities, etc.
The Sweet Adelines were looking forward to a full 2020 schedule of these shows, along with special annual shows, a number of community events, at annual competitions like the Region 9 Sweet Adelines chorus competition in Daytona Beach, and at private functions. Yet with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sweet Adelines joined a number of choruses in refraining from public performances and competitions.
Yet as a chorus whose origins are steeped in a rich American tradition, the Sweet Adelines are far from silent.
“Very soon after having our regular rehearsal venue (Salishan Gracious Retirement Living on Astaire) closed to us, our director and leadership team went to work arranging weekly virtual rehearsals using Zoom,” said Barbara Karpay, Suncoast Harmony team leader and spokesperson.
Beyond the chorus mission of promoting the love and practice of beautiful a cappella songs, the Adelines missed the friendship and camaraderie that originates naturally from the chorus experience.
“Our chorus is so much more than just singers gathering weekly to rehearse music. We missed being next to each other on the risers, sharing our lives and our laughs,” said Karpay. “We are a sisterhood of women who genuinely care about each other and needed to see each other for fun and friendship. We love being able to stay connected with Zoom when we can’t be together at our rehearsals.”
The group also found that their rehearsals were actually enhanced by the magic of Zoom technology.
“Actually singing as an ensemble requires a lot of repetition and patience,” said Karpay, “but using the “room” feature of Zoom, we were able to separate by part (lead, tenor, baritone and bass) to practice and then return to the full Zoom session to put the parts together.”
As they always have throughout their extensive history, Sweet Adelines adjusts with the times.
“As soon as it was possible, using social distancing, we were glad to give up the Zoom rehearsals and get together in person,” said Karpay. “We started out in the front yard of our director, at least six feet apart, and a few weeks ago, began singing “in person” with masks and distancing in air conditioning comfort.”
As of July 16th, the chorus resumed their Zoom rehearsals due to increased risk issues affiliated with the statewide spike in pandemic cases. And they are once again discovering the unifying possibilities of online meeting technology.
“Every Sweet Adelines Chapter belongs to a Region. Suncoast Harmony is a member of Region 9 which encompasses all choruses in Florida and a few chapters in South Carolina,” Karpay explained. “The leaders of our region have put together several Zoom sessions moderated by highly respected music faculty of Sweet Adelines International. There are two hour learning sessions held every two weeks, to which all Region 9 singers are invited to attend.”
“Additionally we receive frequent notifications from Sweet Adelines headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of other Zoom opportunities to help stay on top of our singing skills,” she said.
This spirit of resilience has carried the Suncoast chapter through three decades of harmonic history. The chorus finds its origins on October 24, 1986, as the Floridian Gulf Chorus–chartered by Sweet Adelines International with 23 members. The name was changed 20 years ago to Suncoast Harmony Chorus; today, the chapter is overseen by Karpay, Team Leader, and by leaders Claudia Farrow, Paula Stone, Janis Speck and Cheryl Redding, director.
And the group still plans to put its Arts Council grant to very good use.
“Our plan is to use the grant money for a recruitment publicity campaign to increase awareness of women’s a cappella singing,” she said. “The Hernando Fine Arts Council is striving to promote art in all genres to the county and we find it rewarding to be a part of that effort.”
And despite some challenging circumstances, the Suncoast Harmony Chorus plans to keep singing.
“Future plans for Suncoast Harmony Chorus include keeping our vocal skills at the advanced level we had attained prior to the pandemic. Weekly rehearsals will continue in whatever form allowable with the health and safety of our members as our major objective. We are rehearsing music for a show, hopefully for the Fall or Winter that will be open to the public,” said Karpay.
“Additionally we are sending a demo tape to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in hopes of performing the National Anthem at a home game this football season. We are also discussing plans to offer Singing Valentines February 14, 2021. We will be contacting the many assisted living facilities who have previously booked us to entertain their residents. Rescheduling these performances are a top priority for us. There will really never be a dull moment for the chorus as we optimistically look forward to more singing, performing and having fun.”
No matter how trying the times, one thing we all can rely on is the gift of song; one delivered in grand fashion via the Sweet Adelines.
“As you can see, we are still doing well and functioning during these trying times,” said Karpay.
“If you are a woman between the ages of 18 and 70 who is passionate about singing, we have a place just for you. No voice is too high or too low for us. We are Real Women, singing Real a cappella Harmony, having Real Fun. We would love to meet you. For further information call Cindy, 352-597-4376.”
By joining Sweet Adelines, Karpay emphasizes, members do far more than make sweet music with a vocal group. They become a part of tradition.
“Our goal is to create an awareness of women’s a cappella 4 part harmony singing in Hernando County,” said Karpay. “We feel that women in our area have very few vocal outlets outside of church choirs. Suncoast Harmony gives women an opportunity to participate in singing in this art form.”