In Perfect Harmony

“By Sandra Zunino

It was just over a year ago, when Claudia Horney and Suzie Rishard decided to form a female barbershop chorus on the Eastern Shore. Both loved singing barbershop and had been traveling over the Bay Bridge once a week to participate with a group over there.

Suzie has been singing this style since 1995 and Claudia has sung barbershop for more than 42 years. “There was no women’s barbershop in this area,” says Suzie, “so we put an ad in the paper and the response was tremendous.”

Thus began Harmony on the Bay. Now 16 members strong, the singing group is seeking official recognition as a Sweet Adelines chorus. Sweet Adelines International is one of the world’s largest singing organizations for women. A non-profit organization, they are committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony.

When you think of barbershop quartet, most often you think of male voices. In 1945; however, Edna Mae Anderson of Tulsa, Oklahoma brought a few women together in her home to sing four-part harmony. From that moment on, barbershop quartet was open to women’s voices through Sweet Adelines.

Singing a cappella — without accompaniment by musical instruments, voices carry show tunes, bebop and gospel with the melody broken into four parts. The first tenor harmonized above the lead. The bass serves as the foundation and the baritone completes the sound. A barbershop chorus is a chorus singing a cappella music in the barbershop style.

Since only four members had ever sung barbershop before, most of the Harmony on the Bay members had to learn the art form. Members were given CDs to learn their musical parts. “It can be challenging, but it also fun,” says Suzie. “The singers don’t have to know how to read music.”

Members committing to regularly scheduled rehearsals is critical as all harmony singers must practice together. Once the group reached 15 members, they were eligible to apply for official Sweet Adelines status. “We are so thrilled to have 16 members,” says Suzie.

The next step is to have a Sweet Adelines regional official come listen the group and decide if they are good enough to pass their standards.

“Once official,” explains Suzie, “we can sing as Sweet Adelines anywhere.” Already the group has had singing engagements for local charity events. They are scheduled to perform at Chesapeake College at the Todd Performing Arts Center, Theatre on October 18 with the Pride of the Bay Chorus – Barbershop Comes to Broadway.

“That is the night we will really get exposure to the area,” says Suzie.

Another hurdle was finding a music director. Music teacher, Shanon Ehrisman travels from her residence in Salisbury to fill that role. A self-proclaimed “barbershop junkie,” Shanon also sings with a group in Baltimore and commutes for practices there.

“We are still new and termed a perspective chorus, but we are growing,”” says Suzie. The group can have up to 30 members before becoming a medium-size category chorus.

Harmony on the Bay meets at Cross Roads Community Center, 120 Banjo Lane in Centreville every Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m. For information about membership, call Claudia, membership chair at 410-924-0013.