Holiday greetings delivered in harmony


A Christmas card just wouldn't do for Diane Bartel's office mates.

She wanted her holiday greeting delivered in style -- by four fellow members of the barbershop-singing Elkridge Chorus of the International Sweet Adelines.

For a few moments Friday, Bartel's co-workers put aside their phone headsets, stepped away from their cubicles and surrounded the quartet in an office aisle as they sang three holiday favorites, "Winter Wonderland," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Jingle Bell Rock."

Soon, many in the Health Care Strategies' office in Columbia's Town Center were tapping their feet, swaying and smiling.

"Barbershop singing is an original American genre, like jazz," said Ellicott City resident Nancy Gaither, a chorus member of four years. Bartel has been a member for two years.

Gaither, the quartet's tenor, readied her partners with a pitch pipe to make sure they were in harmony.

The serenade put workers in the holiday spirit.

"It's very Christmassy. It gives me that warm feeling," said Melissa Waters, one of the company's counselors. "I just don't know that many people who barbershop-sing. It sounds beautiful."

The quartet's musical greeting was part of a fund-raiser for the 115-member, all-female chorus -- a local chapter of an international organization dedicated to preserving barbershop-style singing -- which was founded in Elkridge in 1969.

As women continued to join, the chorus outgrew its practice site at St. Augustine's Church in the 5900 block of Old Washington Blvd. after three years. The group moved to Savage Mill, then to Ferndale in Anne Arundel County. Now it practices on the Prince George's County side of Laurel.

"Our roots are in Howard County," Gaither said. A dozen members still make Howard County their home.

For the second year, chorus members from around Maryland and surrounding states divided into quartets to deliver season's greetings to offices, senior centers and homes for $40 a visit.

The money will be used to buy copyrighted music and costumes, and to pay their director and the voice coach from Texas who visits a few times a year to prepare the chorus for its major performances and competitions. The local group placed first in the 1995 regional competition, which drew about 25 choruses from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. That earned it a berth in last year's international tournament, where it placed eighth. According to rules that forbid consecutive winners, the singers had to sit out this year's regional competition. But they are preparing for the 1997 contest in May ** by keeping in practice through events such as Friday's.

Judy Simon, a 13-year member, said she enjoys singing the lead part with the group so much that she traveled from her job in Woodlawn during her lunch break to deliver the serenade.

Members said they perform, not just sing.

That was evident Friday as they accompanied their carol singing with gestures and smiles.

"We look at the people we're singing to," said Judy Vandever of Pasadena. A chorus member for 17 years, she was the baritone Friday. "We emote and try to portray what the words are."

The quartet's singing didn't end when the singers left the office. They climbed into Gaither's car in the parking lot and made two cellular phone calls to Ohio and California to deliver long-distance musical holiday greetings.

"It sounds like we're singing in the shower," said Severn resident Gerda Ryan, who has the bass part and who has been a chorus member for 20 years.

"We sing our hearts out," Gaither said.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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