Mountain Belles: Giving the gift of song
If anyone ever decides to add one more day to the traditional Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the 13 members of the Mountain Belles – Truckee’s own women’s barbershop chorus – would be the perfect gift to give during the holiday season.As it stands, the group is available to hire for parties and gatherings, but you’ll have to find a date that isn’t already part of their busy holiday schedule.The Mountain Belles were founded in February 2003 by Brandy Gerbi, whose mother sang in the world famous Sweet Adelines women’s barbershop group. Gerbi recruited women from the Truckee Community Chorus who were interested in expanding their vocal horizons to the realm of barbershop, and the group quickly became a favorite around town.But tragedy struck in April this year when Gerbi passed away after a fight with cancer, and the group was left without a director.”When she got sick, we were just set adrift,” said Mountain Belle Lynelle Tyler. “We had no structure, no director, no sense of direction. We didn’t know what was what …”Hopeful that they could still keep the group together, Mountain Belle Lynne Larson figured that the best thing to do would be to keep on singing at as many events around town as would have them.
That spree included the 2004 Truckee Follies, where the chorus was a huge hit.”I think the Follies really set the tone for what we’re going to become because it wasn’t just us singing traditional barbershop stuff,” Larson said. “We’re going to do everything – we’re going to do do-wop, comedy …”The diversity of musical styles that the Mountain Belles perform is part of the allure of joining the group, Tyler said.”We go for group consensus on the songs that we want to do,” she said. “For example, we’re doing ‘Santa Baby,’ and I don’t think that’s something that a chorus could do. But a small group of us can dress up and do shtick as it relates line-by-line to the music.”Larson agreed.”With barbershop, we have the option to take a song and do whatever we want with it. We can do silly stuff or we can make it serious,” she said. “We have an opportunity as a group to have all the expression and feeling and hand gestures or whatever. But in the chorus you don’t really have that opportunity. In chorus it’s very dogmatic, and that’s not negative, it just is.”
But while the barbershop format allows for more freedom than is typical in more traditional choral arrangements, it also means that each singer must give an almost flawless performance for the songs to sound right.”Everyone in the group can sing. They can sing independently and in a group. It’s like playing on a ball team to me – everybody has got to know their part … You can’t slide by in barbershop. You’ve got to hold your part down and know it completely,” Tyler said.Offsetting some of the difficulty in harmonizing just perfectly is the fact that most of the Mountain Belles repertoire is made up of familiar songs that are just fun to sing, according to Larson. And the enjoyment that the singers get from the music carries over to their audiences who are often surprised by how good the group sounds.And looks, said Larson, noting that the visual element of their performances is almost as important as the auditory.”I think your audience in barbershop, they expect entertainment. You’re not just going to stand there and sing to them, and expect them to listen. They want to be entertained, they want to feel like everything you do is directed at each individual,” Larson said.Truckee residents should have plenty of opportunities to be entertained by the Mountain Belles this holiday season as the group is scheduled to perform on Dec. 3 at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony downtown, Dec. 11 on the sidewalks of Commercial Row and Dec. 12 in the Truckee Community Chorus’ annual holiday concert.
As was mentioned earlier, the group is also hoping to hire themselves out for any sort of party or gathering to raise funds for desperately needed music, practice space and transportation costs.For more information on the Mountain Belles or to hire them for a private function, call 582-8749.Cutline info: Left to right: Jeanne Felix, Emily Wexler, Fran Sandwith, Cindy Smith, Blanca Lighthiser, Julie Davies, Lynelle Tyler, Lynne Larson, Pat Bennett, Annie MacNeil. Not pictured: Joyce Shorts, Claire Miller and Myrna Alcorn.
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