Sweet Adelines bring sweet harmony of female barbershop singing to Hobart
A barbershop chorus seems an unlikely place to find a 10-year-old belting her heart out.
But for Chelsea Bennett and her mum Sharon, it is something special that has brought them from their home on the Gold Coast to Hobart to compete against other barbershop choruses from around Australia in the National Sweet Adelines Convention and Contest.
“I love singing the melody, and I love just being with all the other people and how supportive they are,” Chelsea said.
She admitted to some nerves, but said once she was on stage, it was different.
“It makes me feel comfortable, because it’s with someone else who is in my family and that I love, so it makes it a really nice experience,” she said.
Sharon Bennett says she and her daughter usually just sing in the car. (ABC News: Cate Grant)
Sharon Bennett said they are newcomers to the style, only joining the Vocalesence chorus 10 weeks ago.
“It’s a very nerve-wracking experience because I’m not usually a person to put myself out there, but to do it and share it with Chelsea just means the world to me — we both love singing, you should hear us in the car,” she said.
“It was something that we could do together, because my daughter loves to sing, and I always did when I was a kid, and somehow stopped, so it was to follow our passion to get into it, so we decided to do it together.”
The love of the harmony drew more than 900 women to Hobart for this weekend’s national convention and regional contest.
10 -year-old Chelsea Bennett loves singing in a barbershop chorus with her mum. (ABC News: Cate Grant)
This is the 29th time the competition has been held in Australia, and is one of the biggest turnouts for years, with 23 quartets and 23 choruses competing in four-part harmony.
While many people associate barbershop singing with men in top hats, the Sweet Adelines has been promoting the style for female singers since 1945 when Edna Mae Anderson from Tulsa, in the United States, decided women should share in the “fun-filled harmony”.
Some of the songs featuring in the competition originate from male barber shop quartets of early last century and contain lyrics considered un-PC today.
The Gene Austin song, Ya Gotta Know How to Love, contains the lines:
“You’ve got to know when they want to be kissed,
And how to insist when they resist.”
But Ms Bennett isn’t too concerned about the message it’s sending her daughter.
“It’s no worse than anything she’d hear on the radio these days, and our chorus does choose more appropriate songs,” she said.
Endorphins flow after energising performance
The judges are looking for “a performance that transcends technique”, said Lindsey Dyer, the Sweet Adelines’ education and team coordinator.
“When I go on the stage, it’s the excitement of the opportunity to reach the audience, and to have them in the palm of your hand, and to know that they are there, and to get to that level is unbelievable,” she said.
“I’ve got goosebumps now — your goosebumps go up and and you finish singing and there’s dead silence and you think ‘got you!’, and for me to actually get to that point, that’s my passion.”
But for the medical theatre manager with a staff of 150 people, it is also about the release at rehearsal.
Lindsey Dyer says the feeling of having an audience in the palm of her hand gives her goosebumps. (ABC News: Cate Grant)
“I have an extremely busy job outside of singing, I walk into rehearsal, I’m tired … and I sing and I walk out two-and-a-half hours later on an absolute cloud, energised, my endorphins have been released and it makes a change,” Ms Dyer said.
“There’s such diversity, and acceptance within the organisation, and it doesn’t matter who you are outside, you leave your shit at the door and you come in and sing.”
There are health benefits too
“We’re ordinary women, doing extraordinary things,” is how Kate Hawkins sees the Sweet Adelines.
Anna-Marie Shew and Kate Hawkins say the competition is just as important as the friendships it brings. (ABC News: Cate Grant)
She and Anna-Marie Shew have become firm friends through the organisation, despite being in competing choruses.
“It’s such a sense of connectedness,” Ms Shew said.
And the health benefits of singing together are a bonus.
“We actually presented a paper at the World Congress of Public Health last year, the health benefits of singing are really significant,” she said.
“But in our association, I don’t know what it is, we are all women, we’re all different ages, but there is such a sense of connectedness and friendship.”
While connectedness is important, the competition is serious, with the opportunity to compete against the best in the world.
“We have competition every year and then the winners get to represent Australia in the USA, this year for quartets its St Louis, and next year its New Orleans,” Ms Dyer said.