The sheer power of the voice unadorned by music made Anna Kendrick’s soulful rendition of You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone from the movie Pitch Perfect such a hit with teenage girls that the song was catapulted up radio play lists.
That same appreciation for the strength and beauty of a cappella singing brings 35 Central Alberta women to a Red Deer church hall every week. Dedicated singers travel from as far as Ferintosh and Carstairs to rehearse with the Hearts of Harmony barbershop group and fill the Davenport Church of Christ with four-part harmonies most Monday nights.
Everything from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to gospel songs, Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up to the Judy Garland standard You Made Me Love You is on the local group’s playlist.
But these days the singers are also rehearsing some seasonal selections for their Remembering Christmas concert on Saturday, Nov. 30, with a guest performance by Calgary’s Alberta Gold Chorus at Red Deer’s Living Stones Church.
Don’t count on it being a stuffy affair: Lyrics to the novelty song Twelve Days After Christmas involve french hens getting turned into chicken soup, and are accompanied by neck wringing hand gestures from the Hearts of Harmony members.
“I’ve been singing all my life, but I’ve learned more in nine months singing with this group than in all those years of singing before,” said Sandy MacGregor, of Ferintosh, one of the group’s enthusiastic members.
Part of that instruction has centred on showmanship — lifting your face into a smile, shaping your vowels properly, standing straight with the right body language.
“We learn to breathe better and hang on to our phrases so they are finished, not cut off,” said Ev Robertson, who at 82 is the group’s oldest member.
She’s also the mother of Hearts of Harmony’s music director, Sheryl Brook of Stettler, but is the first to admit that Brook did not learn everything she knows from her.
“She’s taken a lot more courses and (does) coaching all over the province.”
Brook, former director of choruses in Wainwright and Calgary, has been a member for 34 years of the Sweet Adelines, a worldwide organization of women singers committed to advancing barbershop harmony through education and performances.
The Hearts of Harmony has been a Sweet Adelines charter member for the past 11 years, although the Red Deer-based chorus has been around since 1998.
Brook recalled “falling in love” with four-part harmonies as a young woman of 20. “It was a special sound just made by voices.”
After joining her first chorus, she was also smitten with “the enthusiastic, inquisitive people it attracts. … Groups have always been welcoming and supportive, Brook added.
Perhaps more young women have been turned on to a cappella singing because of the popularity of Kendrick’s performance in Pitch Perfect.
But Brook believes those who are exposed to the “special,” all-vocal sound of four-part harmonies often get hooked.
“The beauty of our concerts is you can bring anybody — from children to elders and everybody in between — and a lot of our biggest fans are under four!”
Paula Wilde, one of the group’s longest-serving members, recalled being very busy with other pursuits, but finally caving to a friend’s pressure to join the group in 2002 because “who can turn down harmony? I can’t. I’ll be here until they kick me out, or I go deaf.”
With a wide vocal range, Wilde started out singing lead, but by necessity switched to the contralto part because of a shortage of lower-register singers.
Brook described four-part harmony singing as having the melody line within the middle registers — with lower altos providing harmony and higher sopranos providing the “sparkle” on top.
“If you think church singing is too high for you, then you could sing our lead (part),” she said.
Sarah Grass is one of the group’s newest members, having passed a short audition three weeks ago.
Before moving here with her Alberta boyfriend last summer, the 25-year-old former New Brunswick resident said she went online to make sure there was an a cappella chorus in Central Alberta that she could join to make the transition easier.
“I sang with the Elm City Echoes back home,” she explained.
“I’ve always liked singing, but it’s harder to sing on your own than with a wonderful group of women,” added Grass, who’s still finding her confidence singing lead, but finds other group members very welcoming.
“All the songs are so catchy and it’s really relaxing. It’s only my third week here (and) already it feels like home.”
Tickets for the 2 p.m. Remembering Christmas concert are $15 ($5 for children from five to 12 years) by calling Judy at 403-342-7842 or Darlene at 403-227-5448.
For more information about the group, call Sheryl at 403-742-4218.