"Did we turn our diphthongs together?" Bosna asked after the six basses and four leads hit a stirring chord, then moved the whole chord up one step. "Remember, we get graded on everything."

The director then led the whole group through the 1944 Les Brown hit "Sentimental Journey," one of 30 songs in its repertoire. The basses drove a silken, textured sound as the baritones maneuvered up and down, barbershop-style.

The tune swung, the singers pivoted as one at the end of each phrase, and the Big-Band Era seemed to come to life in the modest basement space.

They hadn't sung it in months. Bosna couldn't resist clapping as the last chord resounded.

It's hard to believe, in a way, that while about half the group reads music, and a few have some formal training, many came to Chesapeake Harmony with no more background than singing in the shower.

"So many people think they can't sing," said Carol Gass, the chapter's team coordinator and an original member. "But the fact is, just about everyone can sing. Who can't carry the tune for 'Happy Birthday?'"

Many women, she added, believe they're not singers because they can't match the upper-register lead parts they hear on the radio. But a surprising number are natural fits in the bass or baritone categories, including more than half the members of Chesapeake Harmony.

"We love them," Gass said.

If newcomers are willing to sing the easiest part (the melody or lead) on their first night, and just try to master a simple part or two to start with, they'll find it easier to locate their true place –—and join in the luxuriant sounds — as they go, said Gass. Like the others in the group, she usually learns new songs and masters their parts by listening to tapes while driving.

As the evening went on, moods grew looser, even as the sounds grew tighter. As the chorus made its way through comic, patriotic and romantic fare, some of Bosna's preferences became clear — "I hate that de-bop, de-bop sound," she said of one musical reading, and she repeatedly invoked the precision of one of her favorite vocalists, Julie Andrews — but the ladies were in such a good mood no one resisted the constructive criticism.

"This is a lot of fun, but it takes a lot more work than you'd think," said Platt, who finally became a member last year after her sister, longtime member Peggy Coulter of Millersville, had tried to recruit her for half a decade.

By the end, one of the newcomers, Kate Duffy of Annapolis, seemed equal parts exasperated and intrigued.

Clutching a stack of sheet music, Duffy, a veteran of choir singing, complained good-naturedly that Bosna didn't do things exactly as the music called for. But that, she conceded, was part of the fun.

"You know that distinct sound — that 'barbershop' sound — when you hear it, but it's a sound you can't write down," she said. "It seems that it's something you learn by listening and doing."

She'd be back next week, she said.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com



IF YOU GO



WHAT: "We'd Like to Teach The World to Sing," a series of open houses with the Chesapeake Harmony Chorus

WHEN: 7:30-9:30 p.m. every Wednesday in January

WHERE: Historic Baldwin Hall, 1358 Millersville Road, Millersville

ADMISSION: Free and open to anyone who'd like to attend or sing

INFORMATION: chesapeakeharmony.com or 410-263-4420

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