Arts & Culture

A cappella choruses compete in Cedar Rapids this weekend

Sweet Adelines convention brings harmonies to Paramount

Among the Midwest Sweet Adelines competition choruses is the River Benders from St. Louis, the 2017 Region 5 championship chorus. The ensemble will sing “God Bless America” at the June 2 Cardinals vs. Cubs baseball game in St. Louis. (Twila Duvall photo)
Among the Midwest Sweet Adelines competition choruses is the River Benders from St. Louis, the 2017 Region 5 championship chorus. The ensemble will sing “God Bless America” at the June 2 Cardinals vs. Cubs baseball game in St. Louis. (Twila Duvall photo)
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Move over, Beyonce. About 650 Sweet Adelines vocalists are coming to Cedar Rapids to put a ring on it.

That’s the signature sound for women’s four-part a cappella harmonies sung barbershop style. It will be ringing throughout downtown Cedar Rapids this weekend during the Spirit of the Midwest Region 5 convention and competition.

“You have to hit all the notes in all the parts of the chord exactly perfectly in blend. And if you match them, then you’ll have it,” said Lynda Black-Smith of Cedar Rapids, event marketing coordinator. “It’ll give you an overtone that is just gorgeous. You keep it going, and then it just rings and rings and rings. ... You stretch it out and it just rings to the ceiling.”

The convention begins Thursday and continues through Saturday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Center. Activities include instructional clinics, competition practices and warmups, a shopping boutique, a regional meeting, and lots of socializing and networking. Competitions will be held at the Paramount Theatre on Friday and Saturday, and it all returns to Cedar Rapids in 2020.

Special guest this year is ClassRing, the newly crowned 2019 Sweet Adelines international quartet champion, featuring four women in their 20s from Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. In addition to filling the air with their award-winning tones, they also will mentor the 50 students participating in the convention’s Young Women in Harmony chorus.

The public is invited to the Paramount to hear the quartet competition from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, as well the chorus competition from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. The latter features a guest performance by the Young Women in Harmony, followed by the Show of Champions. Tickets will be available at the Paramount Ticket Office on event days.

Competing groups from Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska will be scored on such factors as musicality, showmanship, resonance, expression and choreography.

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New this year is an open invitation for vocal music teachers to attend any or all of the events free of charge, to see not only the veterans in action, but also the teens and young adults.

“We’re trying to create an awareness that it’s not a chorus for ages 50 and older,” Black-Smith said. “This kind of music is wonderful for young people to sing. That’s why we’re so happy ClassRing is here. They’re young and vibrant.”

Concert halls and rehearsal rooms can’t contain all the music, musicians and enthusiasm during a convention, so don’t be surprised when it spills outside the walls.

“Everybody’s singing all over the place,” Black-Smith said, noting that impromptu quartets typically break out in hallways and other places when old friends from around the region see each other and burst into songs they all know.

“You might hear some singing in the streets,” she added. “Or almost always, if we’re heading into a restaurant for lunch or breakfast, you may accidentally hear some belting out of four-part harmony. ...

“If you’re downtown — especially on Friday or Saturday evening — you’ll probably hear something coming from somewhere. We don’t keep quiet very often.”

It gets into their blood. Black-Smith, now 71, found that out 12 years ago. Her husband, Ray Smith, has been in the men’s Harmony Hawks barbershop group even longer.

“Somebody brought me to chorus on a newbie night, and I never left,” she said. She was hooked on the sound made by the blending of parts known as tenor, lead, baritone and bass, rather than soprano and alto.

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“When I stepped inside, I didn’t want to get out of the chorus at all,” she said. “The sound around me — it was just like walls of sound. I felt it instantly, being in it. And then I listened out and thought, ‘I want to do this.’”

So now she’s part of the area’s umbrella group, Metro Mix Chorus, which has about 50 members in their 20s and up from across Eastern Iowa. She also sings with the organization’s smaller Cedar Sounds chorus, which has about 25 members, and the smaller yet Extension Chords ensemble, which takes turns singing at naturalization ceremonies for new U.S. citizens. “That’s my favorite,” she said.

Above all, she loves the family feel and the health boost she gets from being in the group.

“I know that if I go to chorus, I will feel way better at the end of two hours of rehearsal than I did coming down in the car,” she said. “It is absolutely amazing. Plus, you become a family. We call ourselves Sweet Adeline Sisters, and that’s not an exaggeration. Everybody supports everybody. We laugh as much as we can and we have a good time. And when we feel that music together, wow! It changes your breathing, literally. Singing has health benefits ... because we’re always working on our instruments.”

If you go

• What: Sweet Adelines International Region 5 Convention and Competition

• Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Quartet competition: 4 to 8 p.m. Friday

• Chorus competition: noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, featuring Young Women in Harmony

• Show of Champions: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday

• All-event pass: $80 adults; $35 ages 13 to 25; free ages 12 and under; free for vocal music teachers and Young Women in Harmony participants

• Single-events: Friday Quartet Contest, $35; Saturday $45, includes Show of Champions; $10 students and Young Women in Harmony parents, per event

• Tickets: Paramount Box Office, day of event

• Livestream: facebook.com/sairegion5

• Information: sairegion5.org

• Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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