Baltimore County

Harmony in Harford

A local chorus is gaining international recognition.

The Upper Chesapeake Chorus of Sweet Adelines is made up of women from Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties and won the 2011 Region 19 competition inOcean City.

They competed against 23 choruses, according to the Sweet Adelines website, from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia. All were members of a larger organization, Sweet Adelines International.

Their 48-person chorus is considered a mid-size one, member and marketing coordinator Alice Bingel said, and this year they not only won first place in the mid-size category, but overall first place as well.

"This year we beat the big guys," she said.

With a score of 643, the chorus also qualified to go on to the international competition, being held in Denver in 2012.

They are already headed to an international competition this year as well, for their high scores in last year's regional competition. Last year, the group won first place in the mid-size category but not in overall.

Last year was also their first placing above 600, with a score of 619. That score qualified them to attend this year's international competition in Houston in October. They had won the competition in the past, Bingel said, but had never scored enough to qualify internationally.

"We've never been a contender like we are now," she said.

They also placed fourth in the world after the regional competition last year.

"We beat everyone," she said. "It's very, very exciting."

Bingel joined in 1995, but said the group has been around for 30 years, originally starting as a small one with around 10 members.

They have one charter member, Beth Rupert, who still sings with the group.

They perform barbershop music, which Bingel said is a cappella, that is to say vocal only or without instrumental accompaniment. There are four parts involved, lead, tenor, bass and baritone. The lead sings the melody, the tenor sings the high part, bass sings the low part and baritone sings everything in between, she said.

If all four parts sing properly, she added, listeners will hear a fifth tone, which is the overtone and is what makes it barbershop.

"It's a challenge," Bingel said.

The group also sings a variety of styles, including Broadway music, patriotic and some gospel music. This is all part of the "entertainment package" Bingel said they need while performing at Houston this October.

"You have to have this performance package ready," she said, "to perform for the audience."

The group certainly spends a good deal of time preparing for competitions, as well as local events. Every Monday, for three hours, they practice, Bingel said, while standing the whole time.

They also have Sweet Adeline coaches come in periodically to help the group with "showmanship" and choreography. There are two retreats a year as well.

This isn't all for competing against other groups but rather, the chorus is competing against themselves to beat their scores from previous years.

"All we're concentrating on is beating our own score," Bingel said.

The group also performs in local events, with the help of director Rick Taylor, who has been with the organization for three years. This summer, the Sweet Adelines are taking part in the Bel Air Summer Concert Series and performing on July 31 at 7 p.m. in Shamrock Park.

They also plan to continue going back to regional competitions, but probably not to compete. After a team has won a few times, Bingel said, they go back solely for evaluations, not to win.

"[You] just go to be a part of the organization," she said, "but someone else has to have a chance to win."

The Upper Chesapeake Chorus is open to new members, too. For potential singers, Bingel said, they ask them to come to two to three practices to listen and watch and also make sure they can handle the requirements before auditioning.

"The invitation is always open to have people come and just join us," she said.

For more information on the chorus, go to

Sportsmanship and camaraderie is found throughout this group in particular. One of the best things about joining, Bingel said, is that she immediately gained 50 "new girlfriends."

The Upper Chesapeake Chorus offers a sisterhood of sorts, she said, and she also loves it because it offers her something just for herself and not as a mother or sister.

"It's a role that I have that's non other," she said.

Being with the group also keeps her young, Bingel said, and is a "very good thing" for any woman. Those interested in joining don't necessarily have to know every style of music or even how to read music, she added, they just need to have an ear for music.

So far, the group is made up of a variety of people from all different backgrounds. Ages range from the 20s to the 70s, she said, and careers from attorneys to nurses to stay-at-home mothers.

What unites them, she said, was their combined love for barbershop music.

"We've got each others back," she added, "and I think that's a good thing."

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