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Harmonizing their world

Alexienne Chorus has been entertaining in the area for years

Exciting a cappella four-part harmony music, barbershop style, fills the room when the Alexienne Chorus breaks out in song. The local 18-member chorus’ repertoire includes popular music, old standards and American classics. Beautiful voices singing, the chorus always performs with choreography and showmanship.

The Alexienne Chorus is one of more than 600 worldwide chapters of the organization, and according to Paulette Johnson, local chapter secretary, “Membership in the Alexienne Chorus gives us the opportunity to express ourselves through music, to develop our individual talents as singers and to develop self-confidence as a performer.”

Sweet Adelines International, which was founded Friday, July 13, 1945 in Tulsa, Okla., is a highly respected worldwide nonprofit organization of women singers committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony, which originated in the United States.  With the motto,  “Harmonize the World,” members of Sweet Adelines International  extend over five continents and offer opportunities in this musical art form through education, competition and performance.

DiAnn Ness and Connie Berghuis are credited with getting the Alexienne Chorus started with their first meeting taking place in the home of DiAnn in Alexandria. Phyllis Norton is the only original (charter member) in today’s current chorus. There are also five long-term members who have been in the chorus for 20 years or more.

The local chapter includes ladies from Alexandria, Barrett, Brandon, Carlos, Elbow Lake, Evansville, Glenwood, Herman, Hoffman, Parkers Prairie, Starbuck and Wadena.

Sharon Kempf has been the director of the Alexienne Chorus since 1994.  Pam Baker serves as assistant director. Along with secretary Paulette Johnson, other officers include Julia Gulbrandson, president/publicity coordinator; Mary Rolf, vice-president; and Shirley Sampson, treasurer. The chorus performs at company parties, conventions, private parties, regional chorus events, health care facilities, churches and county fairs.

Membership in the International Sweet Adelines provides regional training and competition. Explained Kempf, “Training opportunities for directors are provided at least twice a year. Coaches are provided from the regional level at no cost to our local group.”

At regional conventions and competitions the local members can watch other choruses and quartets, and participate themselves. The region includes choruses from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Canada.

Competition is tough, and the local chorus rehearses passionately. All songs for performance and competition are memorized, a requirement set by the international guidelines. They develop their own choreography.  Further guidelines determine special arrangements of today’s ballads, classic songs, popular show tunes and mainstream music. Members say that singing the powerfully balanced sounds of barbershop harmony provides a rich, rewarding experience. The local chorus will compete at the Minneapolis Convention Center in 2015.

Director Sharon Kempf explained, “There are certain songs that every Sweet Adeline chapter must know.”  She continued,

“There are four sections in the chorus: lead, tenor, baritone and bass. Members must be over 16 years of age and the number of women in each section depends on individual voices.” The Alexienne Chorus also includes a barbershop quartet. Members of the quartet are Joan Huseth, Kathy Fynboh, Pam Baker and Diane Pray.

Women are required to audition for the Alexienne Chorus. Auditions are held in quartet groups in front of the music director and a music committee consisting of chorus members. “We encourage anyone who loves to sing, and we try to make auditions as painless as possible,” smiled veteran member Phyllis Norton. Educational opportunities are also available for young women, she said. The Young Women in Harmony program offers music educators a means of including the study and performance of barbershop harmony in school music programs. The aim is to provide materials, training and performance opportunities for young women and to foster appreciation for the American musical art form of barbershop harmony. Various regions or choruses within Sweet Adelines organize festivals and school presentations each year. Free educator kits are provided to music educators.

In addition to competition, the Alexienne Chorus loves to perform for the “love of singing, a favorite hobby.” Paulette Johnson added.  “When regional groups gather to sing, there are two songs that are often sung,“  explained Pam Baker, The Star Spangled Banner and Oh, Canada. International songs that every member knows are Harmonize the World, How We Sang Today, and Thank You Dear Lord for Music.

Several members chimed in when asked about memorable performances… “remember when we got snowed in at Fargo…stranded for two days…remember when we sang at the county fair during the stock car races…remember Mystic Lake…remember when we sang at 13 different churches on one Sunday morning?”  The chorus sings year round and only takes two weeks off over Christmas.

Clearly the Alexienne Chorus does more than perform and compete. “Most of all we have fun, we develop close friends, we care about each other, we meet new friends, and we never quit learning,” said Paulette Johnson. Members reflected as they told of one particular competition, “The hardest competition was right after one of our members had been in a car accident. We were competing in Rochester ,and she happened to be in St. Mary’s Hospital, right across the street. We sang our hearts out; we were performing for her.”

The public will have an opportunity to see and hear the Alexienne Chorus in action on June 22 at 3 p.m. at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria. The group will perform Showtime! a collection of old songs from movie  and Broadway shows mixed with newer songs from musicals. A percentage of the proceeds from this show will go to support the Douglas County Food Shelf. For ticket information, contact Mary Rolf at 320-766-3902.

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