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Reflections on an Amazing Journey

by Christine VanHalle

Carol Sheppard, who interviewed SFJ first time members in Regional Competition, prefaced the following article by Christine as follows, "I asked our new members to send me their impressions of the competition weekend. Christine's was such a magnificent explanation of her journey to the stage and her reflections on the weekend that I am presenting it as a separate article."

I have lived in Fort Lauderdale for 10 years, and I’ve been looking for fun and interesting things to do here since I moved from the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 2007. I frequently asked people I met if they knew of a choir I could join, because I enjoyed singing with a chorus in the little town I moved from. I wasn’t a very good singer, but I really enjoyed singing with a group. 

In all that time, no choirs ever showed up! After 10 summers here, I decided to go back to the San Francisco area where I grew up, and I spent Summer 2017 in Hayward, California, about 20 minutes away from San Francisco. There were so many more classes and activities there that weren’t connected to schools and universities. I took a tap dance class offered by the Bay Area Regional Parks system, and in the class I met a woman who told me of the activities she had found that she enjoyed. She was going to attend an audition that evening for a group that sang in Hayward, and they were looking for new singers. It was Harmony Fusion, who invites new people to come and visit their chorus about once a month. They advertise in the local “What’s Happening” section of the newspaper. 

I had never heard of women singing in the barbershop style, so it came as a surprise when I showed up to the regular 3-hour Monday night meeting. They immediately greeted me and gave me a tryout to see what part I might sing, and I had a great time with them. I wanted to learn to sing harmony, so they let me be a baritone. I found it extremely difficult to remember the parts I had to sing! I went to 6 or 7 weekly sessions, and I attended their annual Christmas presentation as an audience member, but never felt secure enough to audition for membership. I had to return to Fort Lauderdale in the Fall, and I looked around then for another Sweet Adelines chorus. I found SFJ by searching on the internet. They were just putting the finishing touches on their Christmas show. I was hooked, it was so fun and entertaining and personal. This is really a great chorus. 

Singing on the stage was interesting and fun, mainly because I had been so well prepared by our director and our coaches. I think that the many chorus rehearsals I attended gave me a feeling of confidence and relaxation which helped tremendously during our performance. I pretty much went on auto-pilot. It was wonderful to sing in front of an audience, and I felt like I could hear and harmonize with the rest of the chorus better than in our normal singing space, because of the amplification and acoustics of the room. I felt more of a feeling of togetherness with the other members of our chorus on the stage than I had during rehearsals. On the day before the competition, when I attended the mic test on the stage, I was surprised by the different styles of the directors who rotated into position to direct us. I felt a different sense of who I was, and I think I probably sang differently for each different director. They each had a unique style and I could feel myself responding in a different way to each one. It was like being a car and being taken for a test drive. I enjoyed it.  

The weekend as a whole...highlights...surprises... 

For me, the highlight of the weekend was the Top Hat Club Show. I’m so glad my roommate suggested getting there on Thursday night instead of Friday, so that we could attend the show. All the acts were great and I had a great time watching. The best part, though, was the retiring quartet, “The Buzz”, who were so funny and talented and lovable. Each one stood out as a star, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them and how wonderful their performance was. I am so sad that they say they are retiring, because they were so fantastic together. It showed me what being in a quartet is all about, the creativity and perseverance and ability to be part of something bigger than yourself with 3 other people. They made it look easy, like being on stage performing was all lots of fun.  

And that’s the biggest surprise of the weekend for me, how much work it takes to make a performance look natural and effortless. It suddenly occurred to me after I was home and watching the Country Music Awards on the TV a few days later that the people who I had admired all my life for their voices and great style were actually working very hard, and had to put up with great inconveniences in order to entertain me. The heavy make-up and false eyelashes and uncomfortable shoes and glittery costumes are an everyday chore for them, and it’s not all about just singing a song and loving it. It’s about giving people what they came to see and hear. I have tons of new respect for singers now.  

Another surprise was that all the glitter and sequins over a 3 day period really became overwhelming, and although I love our chorus and the company of women, and I love dressing up and especially love sequins and glitter…. well, believe it or not, after 3 days, I couldn’t stand to see another bunch of women pour out of the elevator covered in rhinestones and sequins. I had hit my limit, and had to retreat to my room to watch television for a couple of hours.  

The best part I am saving for last, the generosity and camaraderie of our chorus members in inviting new people as well as old friends to join for dinners and get-togethers and banding together to watch the various shows and contests. I mentioned to someone in an email that I was looking for a ride to the contest, and an hour later someone else contacted me offering a ride. I think our chorus could win a prize for being the most welcoming, inclusive, interested, and high-spirited. This made my weekend even more enjoyable and memorable.

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