Passionate Women Pushing Barbershop A Cappella to New Popularity
By: Kristen Penfield
Blown away. That is what you will be when you listen to The Spirit of Syracuse chorus. Noticeable to-a-glance, this group of women from all walks of life, belt out tunes and show no mercy; they clearly love what they are doing – their avant-garde sound proves it.
Who is this fabulous group of women? They are The Spirit of Syracuse Chorus. A 4-part a cappella, barbershop harmony group consisting of 72 plus diverse women. They are Region 15 (of 35) of Sweet Adelines International, and every single member is dedicated to empowering each other through singing, fervor and modernization. They are in their 60th year, compete regionally and internationally their NY/NJ Region consists of almost 900 members, 20 choruses and dozens of quartets. Sweet Adelines International, consists of 600 choruses worldwide, including Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, to name only a few.
Of course, this dynamic organization requires innovative and spirited leadership and Sweet Adelines International is governed by the best and brightest women leaders from around the world who excels in musicality and leadership. The Spirit of Syracuse has the honor of leadership by powerhouse Master Director, Kay Crawford, a title well earned by leading The Spirit of Syracuse to extremely high scores. Competing regionally and internationally, The Spirit of Syracuse has received as high as 15th in the country, out of 600 total. The scores speak for themselves.
I sat down with Amy Manley, Team Leader for The Spirit of Syracuse, before their practice. Manley, an Emmy award-winning TV Producer and now Communications Manager for Syracuse University, was quite hesitant to join, back in 2001. “I was not a good singer. I was persuaded to attend a practice by my aunt and several other women in the group,” said Manley. “I decided to give it a try. It was intimidating at first. The women, however, were incredibly kind, generous and wanted me to succeed. I stood on the risers, sang with the group and instantly felt a physical reaction. It’s extremely moving. A magical feeling overcomes all of us on the risers, and our bond is incredibly strong. Fifteen years later, I feel it even more so,” Manley noted.
“I would not be the person I am today if not for this group of women. They have empowered me and taught me to be courageous,” Manley boasted. “It is an escape for us. We step out of our average lives, give it our all in performing and become superheros,” she said proudly. “Watching people jump to their feet after our performance is truly incredible,” she added.
Manley added, “All of us meet once-a-week, and we are all so different. We are doctors, mothers, federal agents, journalists, business owners, cashiers and more. Our backgrounds may differ, but our desires are the same – we all want to sing, keep learning and get better. We are under amazing leadership, and we also learn from experts, helping with musical style and performance practice.” Manley noted that nobody walks into their group an excellent singer – they all learn and grow together. “If you can hum, you can sing, and you don’t have to know how to read music,” encouraged Manley. They are always welcoming new members. They have an open-door policy.
What’s more, Manley noted how close the women become. They all experience the empowerment of performing, and that brings them together. They all have become the best of friends. They share in hard work, love of the craft and a really excellent music team.
Manley told me that they even have a youth group for younger women and girls locally called Scarlet Youth Chorus/Young Women in Harmony. They focus on young women in CNY, aged 12-25 to develop their singing technique and to experience 4-part a cappella harmony in the barbershop style, competing with other groups. Manley said, “They are led by Kathy Zubal-Strang and in their first debut at the International Youth Barbershop Chorus Festival in San Antonio, TX, the young group of 32 girls earned ‘superior’ rating and took top honors!”
Manley said, “We also host Lakeside A Cappella Harmony Camp in the summer for male and female singers under the age of 23. It’s a weekend of a cappella singing and performing under the direction of some of the best in the business! It’s right on the lake at Cazenovia College and young singers from all over the country come – last summer we had over 100 young singers stay with us!”
Barbershop singing is not what we think it is. We may envision four older men or ladies with top hats. But The Spirit of Syracuse sings Queen, The Beatles, Toto – to name a few, in barbershop harmony style. Manley told me, “Today’s Barbershop is really progressive. We are bringing in the next generation and relating to it. Barbershop is all about ringing the chords. It is a distinctive four-part vocal arrangement consisting of lead (singing the melody), bass (lowest note in harmony), baritone (above and below the lead and tenor (highest note). It is a huge win to have barbershop recognized around the world.”
Manley noted that The Spirt of Syracuse usually has a couple of big performances a year along with themed performances throughout the community. They recorded their first ever holiday CD last September that was nominated for a Sammy (Syracuse Area Music) award! These fabulous women are unstoppable!
The Spirit of Syracuse invites you to join their group of women who share in the fun of singing and performing a variety of a cappella music in 4-part barbershop harmony. You can join them any Tuesday evening and discover the magic of their group. Sweet Adelines International, is a highly respected women’s singing organization that competes worldwide. Awaken your passion for singing and become part of something truly incredible. The love between these women was noticed and felt. They are “Real Women,” having “Real Fun,” singing ‘Real Harmony”!
Anyone is welcome to visit a rehearsal on any Tuesday evening from 7pm – 10pm at St.Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 325 Warning Road, Syracuse 13224. If you have a young lady interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information! Certainly call at 315.944.5385 and follow them on facebook or visit them online at www.spiritofsyracuse.com to find out more about this dynamic group of women!
We urge you to join these women for their annual send-off performance to their regional competition. They are headed for Las Vegas in October!
Family. Friends. Community – come see them!