ADELINES' SWEET HARMONY Elkridge Chorus puts barbershop spin on classics

Members of the Elkridge Chorus, Sweet Adelines stood on risers and focused on their music director, who conveyed the interpretation and tempo he wanted them to put into a 1940s swing song, "Java Jive."

"I love coffee . . . I love tea . . . I love the Java jive and it loves the women sang -- young and old, homemakers, professionals, retirees, mothers and daughters, all hitting the notes just right.


Once a week the women, who come from six different counties, meet at Hilltop Elementary School in Ferndale and stand for three hours practicing songs for the sake of a shared love: barbershop-style singing.

Sweet Adelines range in age from 18 to 80.


"You can get high on it," said Lois Carey, a one-year member of the Elkridge Chorus, Sweet Adelines, who lives in North Baltimore County near Hereford. "It's very addictive."

"Barbershop is one of the few American art forms," said Pat Sigmon, a member of the chorus since it was founded in Howard County in 1969. "Jazz is also one. And American folk dancing music is another."

As the Elkridge Chorus' membership kept burgeoning, the women standing on the risers got closer and closer to the ceiling of their rehearsal space at a Howard County church hall.

Eventually the chorus, which has more than 100 members now, vacated that spot, and moved to Anne Arundel County to rehearse at Hilltop.

The popularity of songs with sentimental lyrics and simple melodies between the 1860s and 1920s is responsible for the growth of the barbershop tradition, according to a pamphlet published by Sweet Adelines Inc. International.

Barbershop-style harmony requires four voice parts: lead, tenor, baritone and bass. What helps distinguish it from other styles is the melody, which is sung by the lead below the tenor harmony.

In 1945, the wives of an all-male barbershop chorus, tired of listening to their husbands sing, formed their own club, Sweet Adelines Inc., in Tulsa, Okla.

Today, the international organization has chapters stretching from the Netherlands to New Zealand -- more than 750, with more than 30,000 members.


Dreama Polyanski, who lives in Prince George's County, used to believe that barbershop singing was staid and old-fashioned. But that belief was shattered when she finally let Ms. Sigmon, her friend since high school, talk her into attending an Elkridge Chorus rehearsal.

Mrs. Polyanski, who has been with the group two years, said she was surprised to learn "they don't just sing the songs you always remember, like 'Down By The Old Mill Stream.' "

The group, which has sung the national anthem at Orioles games, sings everything from jazz ("That Cat is High"), to country and western ("On The Road Again") to Broadway show tunes ("Jesus Christ Superstar" medley) barbershop-style.

In April, the chorus won a regional contest in Altoona, Pa., against other Sweet Adelines chapters.

The win qualifies the Elkridge Chorus to represent the greater Baltimore-Washington area next year in an international competition in Reno, Nev.

Which means rehearsals could get a little heated. The group's director since January, Michael Gellert, who sang chorus for 15 years with the Baltimore Opera Company, said the "riser rehearsals become more intense as contests approach."