Story by Dick Hildebrand
Photography by Lilley Photography
The Sweet Adelines have been around for many years, proving that women can produce four-part barbershop harmony just as good as the guys. The music is strictly a capppella – no instruments – just a pitch pipe. And they sound good!
The Heart of Essex Chorus is part of region 2 of Sweet Adelines International. There are 21 choruses in the region which covers most of southwestern Ontario up to Owen Sound and the state of Michigan. The group makes regular appearances at retirement homes, nursing homes, festivals and other special occasions. This past October, for instance, the chorus stood on the entrance stairs to the Caboto Club and welcomed guests to the Do Good Divas annual gala with song. The singers, who have also been featured at the Applefest and Pumpkinfest, aim for at least one appearance a month.
In order to remain in the organization, choruses are required to participate in an annual competition. This year, a total 17 choruses gave it their all at the Ford Center for Performing Arts in Dearborn. And, as in past years, the Essex group did itself proud by winning second place in the small chorus division, of which there were 13 other competing choruses. Participation in the competition is mandatory and if any chorus fails to show up for more than 2 years, its international charters will be terminated. Winners don't receive prize money, but are awarded a medal or a special ribbon, along with the all-important bragging rights that they outsang their peers!
The Sweet Adelines first came together in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1947 with the aim of women singing in four-part harmony and furthering barbershop music. Today there are at least 24,000 members throughout the world.
There are 30 singers in the Heart of Essex chorus which was organized in the late 1980s. Members come from all walks of life, there’s a fairly large age range with the oldest singer in the group at 86 and still going strong. “You should see the energy in her,” says Linda Jadischke, a 25-year veteran and spokesperson for the chorus, “and we’re very active – we aren’t like a church choir – we smile, we move, we’ve got choreography and we have a lot of fun. Nobody among us is a soloist. We’re all ordinary people trying to sing together and just have fun.” Members all aim for the best vocal production and receive regular professional coaching. The music repertoire is vast and covers pretty much everything from the 20s to today.... “they’re modern songs,” explains Linda, “and certainly not classical. For instance, we do Abba songs, we cover the Drifters’ Under the Boardwalk and do a lot of stuff from the 50s, 60s and 70s.” Membership requirements are quite liberal…. “anyone who can carry a tune is welcome to join,” says Linda. Members pay dues to cover their participation in both the local chapter and the international organization.
The Heart of Essex chorus gathers every Wednesday evening at St. Mary’s Hall in Oldcastle for rehearsals and is directed and coached by Lois Kelly of Chatham, a 36 year veteran devotes all her time to our chorus.
The chorus relies on donations, special events and regular bingos throughout the year to cover expenses and costumes. The big fundraiser takes place at the Caboto Club on the last Sunday of November. It’s a pre-holiday extravaganza and features a collection of songs, including the best in Christmas Music. Often there are special guests – like an Elvis impersonator…Vendors are on hand giving guests an opportunity for some early Christmas shopping, there are gift baskets and plenty of door prizes. Tickets are sold in advance and, not surprisingly, the show is generally well attended. Everything you need to know including a regularly updated Heart of Essex schedule, along with ticket prices and special events can be found by logging onto www.heartofessex.com.
Linda Jadischke says she’d like the chorus to grow and would definitely welcome more members. “People feel they can’t sing,” she says, “but that’s just not true. If you can sing Happy Birthday, you can sing our songs as well.”