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Sweet Adelines members enjoy sounds of sisterhood

Deborah Peterson • Jun 22, 2019 at 4:30 PM

When you think of barbershop-style music, a group of four men usually comes to mind. But it’s a whole different tune when you hear the voices of the talented women in the Hills Are Alive! Sweet Adelines barbershop-style women’s chorus. The chorus currently consists of 17 women of all ages from all across the Tri-Cities region and beyond.

Chorus Director Dondra Warden joined the Adelines 35 years ago after a friend invited her to a practice. “Of course, you get hooked right away,” she said. “I really love music and a cappella is a lot of fun!” The group promotes a wide variety of barbershop-style music such as gospel, patriotic, pop, modern, jazz and 50s. Performances include costumes and choreography, which chorus members such as Martha Murray especially enjoy.

“This chorus gives you the ability to bring out your inner diva or dancer,” she said. “It’s so fun to dress up and perform!” The group rehearses weekly and performs at local businesses, churches, assisted-living facilities and private parties.

Founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1945, Sweet Adelines is an international organization connecting women around the world in one sisterhood. It is not only dedicated to preserving the unique sound of a cappella barbershop harmony, but also provides competitive scholarships and education grants for young women.

Aside from all that, though, it’s just plain fun.

“Once you get in it, unless you move away, you just stay in it because it’s so much fun,” said Martha. Adelines is for all women, she explained, regardless of their station in life.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re married or single, whether you work or stay at home or are retired; when you’re there, you’re enjoying the camaraderie and singing together,” she said. “It’s a sisterhood of singers and a support network.”

Members come from all across the area including Marion, Abingdon, Hiltons and Bristol, Virginia; as well as Jonesborough, Elizabethton, Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, Tennessee.

While the ages of chorus members currently range from 26 to 91, Dondra stressed that age doesn’t matter. “Age makes absolutely no difference when we’re together. We’re all singers together; a sisterhood,” she said.

Leunah ‘Doodle’ Tipton of Elizabethton has been a member of the chorus since 1978. “I do enjoy singing and going to the practices. It’s a challenge and keeps you on your toes,” she said. Aside from the singing, she especially enjoys the friendships she has made. “Over the years we have become well-acquainted, and we are very dear friends now. We’ve become like a close family,” Doodle said.

The Adelines sing a cappella and memorize all of the music.

“We never hold a piece of music,” said Dondra, adding that anyone can learn to memorize music. “Our 91-year-old member can memorize as quickly as anyone. Anyone can do this,” she said. Voices range from high soprano to bass. “There is a range of voice for everyone,” Dondra said.

The ability to read music is not a requirement to join the chorus. Members are provided with a learning CD with their specific parts. “You don’t have to read music, you just have to be able to carry a tune,” Dondra explained.

Rehearsals are held every Tuesday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bristol, Virginia. They also practice periodically with their male counterparts, the Appalachian Express Chorus, and hope to perform together in the near future.

According to Dondra, there is something special about hearing a group of women join voices.

“The most special thing to me is putting the music together and singing it as a group,” she said. “If you get all four parts locked in, it makes notes above and below the chords, causing a ring. It’s an awesome thing.”

Joining voices, being in harmony, and forging lifelong friendships makes the Adelines a special type of sisterhood.

The Adelines will host a special Guest Night on Tuesday, June 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Redeemer Lutheran Church at 672 Island Road in Bristol, Virginia. Anyone interested in joining the Hills Are Alive! Sweet Adelines is encouraged to come to the event.

“We’re going to teach guests a little song and dance, have a little fun with costuming and give them a little taste of what we do,” explained Dondra.

Refreshments will be served. The event is for women ages 18 and up; those under 18 are welcome with a chaperone. For more information about the event or the chorus, contact Dondra at [email protected] or Martha at (423) 677-6333.

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