story: Claudia Mosby photo: Kara Stewart
REDDING'S NORTHERN GATEWAY CHORUS
On a Tuesday evening, a dedicated and passionate group of women gather in the gym at a Redding church for their weekly practice. As they warm up, moving and stretching across the basketball court, a wave of enthusiasm spreads. Some of the regulars are absent, away at an international competition in Seattle. But even without them, this team can still perform.
Redding’s Northern Gateway Chorus, one of more than 600 choruses across five continents, is part of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide organization of women singers committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony through education and performance.
Longtime member Joyce Creller, who has been with the chorus since she moved to Redding in 1969, says, “I’ve been singing all my life—I sang in church, I sang in school, I sang wherever I could. My mom was involved in the foreign legion and I sang onstage for thousands of veterans before I was old enough to get nervous.”
For awhile, when stage fright did set in, she stopped singing. Later, when she found a Sweet Adelines chapter in her hometown, she says, “I was so shy that I almost didn’t go, but my husband encouraged me. It’s been a wonderful personal growth experience.”
The chorus has about 25 members ranging in age from their early 40s through their 70s. Director Donna Moore says that whether they are professionals, retirees, homemakers or moms just looking for a night out, the women in the chorus are brought together by their love for singing and harmony. She emphasizes that regardless of age, training or background, all are welcome.
Because the focus is on training by ear, the ability to read music isn’t a requirement (only the ability to carry a tune). Moore adds, “What’s neat about the barbershop (style of singing) is it has a place for women of all voices and vocal ranges.”
Some of the women who join the chorus also join one of the quartets, which are self-selected. Those who join say they like stretching their vocal abilities by having to sing their own part.
One of the chorus’ most popular annual events is its Singing Valentines, which Moore says started about 10 years ago as an experiment. The event now spans two days from morning to night, with multiple quartets performing anywhere Cupid aims his arrow—local businesses, schools, club meetings, private residences and retirement communities. Surprised Valentines are serenaded with two songs and receive a small gift (which in past years has included a personalized greeting card, chocolates or a balloon).
Moore says that over the years, they’ve serenaded Valentines in some unusual circumstances, including a veterinarian who was in the middle of surgery. They’ve interrupted office meetings and even a bingo game. “The players listened politely, but were more interested in Bingo than song,” Moore says.
Creller and Moore agree that perhaps the most humorous occasion was singing for a woman who was temporarily stuck in the crawl space underneath her house while fixing some wires. By the time they finished singing, Moore says she had freed herself, emerging caked in mud to the amusement of everyone.
In spite of the surprise element and sometimes initial embarrassment, Moore says the majority of recipients are gracious. “Even the strong guys will get a little misty-eyed. You can tell it touches them and they really appreciate it,” she says.
The chorus and its quartets perform by request for special occasions like family gatherings, birthday parties or club meetings, and also maintains an annual calendar of its performances in the community.
Northern Gateway Chorus (530) 246-SING www.northerngatewaychorus.com