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In harmony — Kitsap female barbershop chorus is all about teaching

Members of an all-female barbershop chorus, Kitsap Pines Chorus, rehearse Tuesday evening in Bremerton. - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Members of an all-female barbershop chorus, Kitsap Pines Chorus, rehearse Tuesday evening in Bremerton.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Michelle Kirkpatrick has been singing all her life but before she joined a Bremerton women’s barbershop chorus about 17 years ago, she only did it when she was in the shower or driving alone.

“I loved singing but I was never comfortable doing it,” said 46-year-old Kirkpatrick.

Seeing an ad for free vocal lessons from Kitsap Pines Chorus, she decided to give singing more of a chance. And the comfortable atmosphere of the female barbershop chorus got her hooked.

Kitsap Pines Chorus rehearses year-round once a week at First Baptist Church in Bremerton and performs locally and competes in a regional spring competition. The chorus is part of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide organization of female barbershop singers. There are about 18 women’s barbershop choruses in the state.

The Kitsap group currently has about 17 members from around the county and will be performing at the Kingston Farmers Market in September.

With last year’s death of their director, Naomi Gross, who was with the program for about 25 years, the female chorus is looking at rebuilding and just doing what they love to do together — singing.

“If you can carry a tune, you can sing with us,” current director Tammi Thompson said Tuesday.

Barbershop chorus singing involves a four-part harmony that is sung a cappella — without instruments. The difference between typical church choirs or other singing troupes is that in barbershop chorus the middle ranges sing the melody whereas typically in the other choirs, the sopranos sing the melody. The women of Kitsap Pines Chorus range in age from 41 to 80 and are open to new members. Based on an educational system, Thompson said the chorus is about teaching women the basics to singing and helping them improve. She teaches them vocal skills including breathing, harmonizing and voice placement.

For Sue Alexander of Silverdale, she joined the chorus because she needed “another outlet” after she retired from her job as a physical therapist at Harrison Medical Center last year. The 67-year-old said she has been part of other choral groups ever since grade school and she enjoys the camaraderie that comes from Kitsap Pines Chorus.

“It’s smaller and friendly. Everyone cares about each other,” said Alexander, comparing it to a Seattle choir she was once in that had about 120 members where she was “just a number.”

When she was younger, Alexander said she sang alto, but now she sings bass. However, it doesn’t matter which note she is hitting, or not hitting.

“Music is something that touches my soul. I just surround myself with music,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said the feeling of having a receptive audience while performing is what she enjoys about singing.

“That adrenaline is my drug kick,” Kirkpatrick said.

Barbershop singing typically involves songs from the 1920s and 1930s and contemporary songs for barbershop can be loose. In the past, the group has also sung Beach Boys songs and show tunes.

Kirkpatrick is currently working toward getting her certificate in directing. She has completed the written portions of the exam and now is preparing the chorus in singing a song in which she will demonstrate her directing skills in front of a regional administrator in about a month.

For others, it is just about doing what they love with a group of supporting friends.  “At my age, it adds something every Tuesday,” Jennie Meek, 70, said. The Poulsbo resident joined the group about 16 years ago when she heard them perform at Liberty Shores.

Darlene Sutton, 65, who is a retired military civil service member, said that being part of the barbershop chorus is not only something that anyone can do, but can be a fit for active military members or military wives.

“You can sing anywhere you’re transferred to. They all teach the same thing all over the world,” Sutton said.

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