Summit women’s barbershop group ‘rings the chord’
From its humble beginnings in 2004 when new members relied on learning tapes from Sweet Adelines International to today’s practiced four-part harmonizers, the local women’s barbershop group, Mountain Majesty Chorus (MMC), has made great strides to become what founder Corinne Del Mar Bair described as “lovely women with well-tuned voices … devoted to creating the highest quality of four-part barbershop harmony.” “Back in 2004 members struggled to learn their parts,” explained Theo Barron, the former elementary and secondary school music teacher who, in addition to directing choirs and a grand total of 43 children’s musicals over the years, is currently standing in as the group’s interim director. “Now they seem to learn their parts faster, I think because of listening to the harmonies and knowing where the harmonies are headed,” she said.
Barbershop music is sung a cappella and consists of the lead (melody), tenor (the high part, similar but not the same as soprano), baritone (approximately the same range as the lead, sometimes sung below and sometimes above) and bass – not to be confused with alto, “bass singers should have a rich, mellow voice and be able to sing the E flat below middle C easily,” explains Sweet Adelines International (www.sweetadelineintl.org). “The intervals are close and the weaving of the four tones produces a fifth tone that’s not sung but heard just through the dynamics of the music when everyone’s on pitch; it’s called ringing the chord,” said Bair, who in addition to MMC has sung with church groups and the Summit Choral Society for two decades. She was also the only woman in the now dissolved barbershop group, Heart of the Rockies. “(Ringing the chord) is just the most astonishing thing; it sends shivers down our spines when it happens,” Bair said, adding, “When we nail something we all just cheer.” “More people are comfortable singing lead because it is melody, and melody is something that carries us,” added Bair, who has sung more than one part for the chorus, often to substitute for group members who’ve come and gone over the years. On the barbershop style in general, she explained: “It’s more of a straight tone (on pitch) as opposed to a vibrato, where there’s kind of a tremolo in the voice. We don’t want that because vibrato is switching pitches. The director will say, ‘Corinne you just started singing melody.’ It takes really listening and tuning not to get carried away into the other part.”
In addition to singing without accompaniment, the chorus sings without written music, explained Dianne Jackson, who served as the group’s director for the last six years before stepping down recently. The Westminster Choir College graduate and former director of English Handbells once toured widely with her choir back East, playing the White House for four consecutive years in addition to performances at the Kennedy Center and the chapel at Duke University. She had never sung or directed a barbershop chorus before joining MMC, and then needed to learn all four parts in order to direct it. “Nothing is hard to learn if it is something you want to achieve and have the desire to learn,” she said. “We memorize all of our music,” Jackson added, saying that the group “has made tremendous progress in both their ability to read musical scales and notes as well as being able to stretch their voice so that they can sing a wider range of notes.”Lauding Jackson for her influence on the group, Bair said: “She is responsible for so much of our musical education and for attaining the enhanced vocal quality we’ve been able to achieve over the years, always ‘raising the bar’ by challenging us to try more and more difficult harmonies.””In our very first concert we had to repeat one of our numbers for an encore,” reflected Barron, who sings baritone for MMC in addition to playing clarinet with the Summit Concert Band. “Now we have a very large repertoire of music.” Barron brings barbershop experience to the group, having sung with the Rheinland-Pfalz Chorus of Sweet Adelines International while living in Germany during her 33 years abroad teaching for Department of Defense Dependent Schools. “I also sang with the Timbre Tones barbershop quartet in Summit County until the passing of our dear bass, Nancy Ring,” she said. Mountain Majesty Chorus became a nonprofit organization in 2006, so part of its contribution to the community takes the form of an annual scholarship to a Summit High School graduate in honor of Ring, who sang with MMC in addition to Timbre Tones.
“Mountain Majesty Chorus has become a very close-knit family of friends. We not only sing together, we laugh a lot, and we are there for each other,” said Barron, who hopes to see the group grow in size – enough to meet the required 15 regular members to become an official chapter of Sweet Adelines International, the women’s barbershop organization of more than 500 choruses and 1,200 quartets spanning five continents. With membership comes training opportunities, collaboration with other choruses and the chance to “become the singing sensation of Summit County!” Barron said. And it’s not just for “old ladies,” Bair said in the hopes of addressing a popular misconception; “We’re all different ages.” The group recently performed at Starbucks in Dillon and is currently gearing up for its holiday repertoire. Past performances include the Frisco BBQ Challenge, Fourth of July, Founders Day and Christmas at the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, to name a few. “We encourage anyone who is interested to come and sit in on a rehearsal,” added Jackson, including women who might not yet know how to read music. MMC seeks two traits from prospective members, according to Jackson. First, “if someone makes a commitment to join us, they must attend rehearsals in order to benefit from this art of music,” she said. Second, “you must be able to laugh at others – and, more importantly, laugh at yourself.” To check out Mountain Majesty Chorus, visit their rehearsals on Tuesdays from 7-9 p.m. at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church.
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