Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Many Sweet returns

Staff Reporter | April 19, 2023 1:00 AM

It’s been more than 35 years since the first time Sally Wallace heard an all women’s barbershop quartet, but she still tells the women in her chorus about how the harmony moved her.

“It’s enriched my life and the life of my entire family,” she said.

When she saw the four singers in a casino in the 1970s, she had to know who the women were and how to be a part of what they did.

They were members of the nonprofit Sweet Adelines, a quartet and chorus organization for women, now with nearly 500 choruses in 30 regions worldwide.

Now Wallace is facing her 50th anniversary as a Sweet Adeline, and her 37th anniversary as founder of the local chapter, the Coeur d’Alene Chorus, and in that time she’s watched the organization change lives.

“I remember a young woman who said she would never ever sing in a quartet by herself and she’s singing in quartets now,” Wallace said. “I remember a young woman who started to realize she could do things she didn’t think she could do. She applied for a job that was over and above what she was doing, and she got it.”

And Wallace has been instrumental in many of those changes, as a leader in the Sweet Adelines for decades.

“The reason I joined in the first place is because I love to sing,” Wallace said. “From then until now, the changing role of women has been huge.”

After hearing her first all-women barbershop quartet, Wallace joined the Silver Valley Chapter of Sweet Adelines, where she lived in 1973.

She spent 10 years as chapter director until her husband was transferred to Coeur d’Alene in 1985. Because Coeur d’Alene did not have a Sweet Adelines chapter, Wallace created one.

“What I wanted it to be was a high-quality performing group in the community, that supported community events, and I wanted to give shows,” she said.

She found a church willing to donate space, invited the wives of the Lake City Harmonizers, and wrote The Press an article inviting people in the community to join. About 30 women came to the first Monday meeting, and about 12 returned the next week, but between 35 to 40 women have attended the Monday night rehearsals since. Coeur d’Alene became an official chapter in 1986, and this year they’re formally celebrating their 35th anniversary, a little bit late.

“Obviously COVID shut down singing for over two years,” said Cherie Letts, marketing director for the region. “Who knew that a bunch of seasoned singers would be embarking on one of the most dangerous acts of all?”

Letts has been a member of Sweet Adelines since she underwent a series of surgeries. She joined the group to heal, and regain her confidence. She grew up in a musical family, but because she’s been mostly deaf since second grade, she had to learn to sing differently, and it’s a huge challenge for her.

“Music was the glue that held our family together, and I’ve always loved the challenge,” Letts said. “For me, I feel it, the ground vibrates.”

Letts said the organization saved her life. Multiple back-to-back surgeries had dropped her on the ground and Sweet Adelines lifted her back up.

“It is a sisterhood I’ve experienced that is unlike anything anywhere else. And if you were talking to anybody else in Sweet Adelines in any other chorus they’d probably tell you the same thing," Letts said.

Wallace has fostered a connection for the singers in the Coeur d’Alene Chapter, but she also focused on building that connection with audiences.

“If we’ve touched their hearts, that’s my goal,” Letts said. “My personal goal for every performance is for the audience to have three emotions, a teardrop, a chill and a smile.”

The Sweet Adelines have two major concerts a year, with other smaller performances throughout the year. The annual regional competition for the five Northwest states will be May 18-21 at the First Interstate Center of the Arts in Spokane. More than 20 choruses will meet to connect and sing and compete to qualify for nationals.

“Oh gosh, I'm looking forward to the competition in Spokane,” Wallace said. “It’ll be the first time that the Northwest area has been together since COVID-19.”

The competition will be a huge reunion for singers who haven’t seen competitors, and good friends, in years.

“The energy behind this is really unmeasured,” Letts said. “It’s just going to be a love fest.”

The regional competition is preceded by a Friends and Family Concert that will be at 2 p.m., May 7, at Post Falls High School. Tickets will be available at the door for $10. The concert will be a kind of dress rehearsal to prepare for the regionals.

The Coeur d’Alene Chapter of Sweet Adelines also performs annually as the Victorian Singers for The Coeur d’Alene Resort. They sing free concerts as Caroling of the Belles during Christmas, to give back to the community. The ladies coordinate canned food drives and, since 1989, they’ve gone to the state fairs as Sweep Adelines, where they volunteer cleaning up trash and debris.

Local women join Sweet Adelines to be a part of a community, Letts said. They also get extensive resources within the organization for improving their singing skills, or any other kind of skills like business management, budgeting, marketing and others.

Sweet Adelines requires monthly and annual dues in exchange for education and an opportunity to participate in competitions.

“There’s always an educational component to every sweet Adelines competition,” Letts said.

Members can use the competitions to understand their technique and improve every year.

“We want all of us to be the best that we can be,” Letts said. “What we hope is that every chorus will go and come back better the following year. We cheer everybody on.”

As a founder and director, Wallace has had opportunities to travel to teach with her family, and has taken advantage of videos, seminars, conferences or other training resources within Sweet Adelines. And she also helped to create some.

In 1994, Wallace was elected to the International Board of Directors for six years. During that time, she advocated for representation for smaller choruses to have their own classification in competitions and she edited the manual for putting on shows and competitions.

“I never thought in a million years that they would elect someone from Northern Idaho,” she said. “I was able to bring the perspective of more rural choruses to the board. I can't hardly begin to tell the things I learned there. It was a big ol’ learning curve that I was happy to climb.”

As a small-town girl in 1986, Wallace led the first Coeur d'Alene Chorus show, “On our way," to a sold out crowd at what was the brand new Coeur d’Alene Resort. Now, the chorus is celebrating its 35th performance with a new director, Janelle Peck. The title, “On with the Show," is both celebrating the chorus' roots, and looking into the bright future ahead of the chapter.

“My vision is basically the same,” Wallace said. “To continue to be a high-quality performing group and recognized in the community. The chorus is the heart and out of the chorus comes the quartet.”


Photo courtesy of Sally Wallace

Sally Wallace Founded the Coeur d'Alene Chorus, a chapter of Sweet Adeline, over 35 years ago. She joined sweet Adelines 50 years ago, and has seen the chorus change lives, including hers.