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Pure harmony

The Toast of Tampa Show Chorus, named the best in the state last year, will head to an international competition later this year.

By EVE LEBERSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

CARROLLWOOD -- The love of singing brings these women together year after year.

Many come straight from a full-day's work to stand on the risers for three, sometimes four hours each Tuesday night. Some cross several counties in rush-hour traffic.

All to be part of Florida's finest women's barbershop chorus.

Their hard work has paid off. The a cappella team was named the state champions in April 2002. And later this year, the 125 women who make up the Toast of Tampa Show Chorus are going for the gold again. This time, they will compete at an international competition in Phoenix that will pit them against 35 of the best Sweet Adeline barbershop choruses across the globe.

"This is a major deal," said Michele Vickers, 43, who has been with the chorus since 1990. "It's as close to the Olympics as we ever get. It's the top honor you can get."

Women as young as 14 make up this nonprofit group of students, doctors, teachers, accountants, retirees, business professionals, physical therapists and homemakers. Together, the four-part chorus produces the distinct harmonies of barbershop style, singing the parts of lead, tenor, baritone and bass.

"You think of the four old guys in the Music Man," said South Tampa resident Tina Rhodes, 34, who manages the chorus. "It's nothing like that."

Instead expect sequenced costumes, choreographed performances and harmonized ballads. And not just the traditional, turn-of-the-century patriotic folk tunes you expect from barbershop-style music. It's pop tunes and swing, too, without any instrumental accompaniment.

"Usually people that see and hear us for the first time are very pleasantly surprised," said Vickers, who lives in Riverview.

"We wear costumes," said Joy Shaw of Carrollwood, who has been with the chorus since 1988. "We have our hair styled. And we don't just stand up there. We move!"

Audiences seem to agree. Shaw says the group's annual Standing Room Only show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center last November was nearly sold out.

All the money raised from their concerts, membership dues and hired-out quartet appearances, "goes back to the chorus for music, concerts and costumes," said event coordinator Linda Groner. The only paid employee is their director, Joe Connelly, a three-time men's quartet gold medalist and nationwide choral coach.

Now, with eight months to go until the international competition, the chorus is looking for new voices to join their group.

"We just want to improve ourselves and help us grow into a better chorus than we already are," said Shaw. "The more people you have in your chorus, the bigger the sound gets."

Vickers says the group is looking for 30 to 40 new singers. You don't even have to know how to read music, she said. Anyone who can carry a tune is encouraged to audition.

Group rehearsals and auditions are held on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the India Cultural Center, 5511 Lynn Road. Call 963-7464.

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