By B.C. Manion
Most of them originally hail from locales up north, such as Canada, New York or Maine.
Some have settled for good in Zephyrhills, while others just live there in the winter.
They share a love for music, and that’s why they joined The Zephyr Sound, a ladies barbershop chorus that entertains around the East Pasco County community.
The women gather to practice every Monday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Zephyrhills Wesleyan Church, 38924 C Ave. They perform a couple of times each month, as well.
During a recent practice, Gloria Wagner, the group’s director, was running the chorus through songs like San Francisco Bay Blues, Let’s Get Together Again, Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis and Let there Peace on Earth.
As they blended their voices — without musical accompaniment — Wagner offered bits of encouragement and direction.
“It’s coming. It’s really, really coming,” Wagner said, smiling at the women and coaxing out sweeter sounds. “Nice pitch, nice pitch,” she added.
The basses, though few in number, had a deep rich tone.
“I have to commend our basses,” Wagner said. “You guys do a super, super job.”
The chorus director offered constructive criticism, too.
As the group sang Let there Peace on Earth, Wagner said, “Stop!” — halting the singers.
“I am hearing a lot of tinny stuff coming out. That’s not a nice sound,” the director said.
But Wagner hastened to gently add, “It’s (the criticism) not to hurt your feelings. It’s to (help you) sound better.”
The Zephyr Sound was formed on Feb. 9, 1998, with a dozen women, mostly former members of Sweet Adelines, a worldwide organization of women committed to advancing the art form of barbershop singing.
Wagner herself is a former member of Sweet Adelines, spending 31 years in the organization and singing all over the world, including Holland, France, New Zealand and Australia.
The Zephyr Sound — which categorizes itself as an informal ladies barbershop chorus — performs for audiences at RV parks, churches and community events.
The group sings in four-part harmony using only their voices. Their repertoire includes old-time songs, patriotic tunes, blues numbers, hymns and selections from musicals. Their shows last about 30 minutes and include seven to nine songs.
The chorus suggests a donation of $50 when it performs. It also charges a $10 joining fee and weekly dues of $1. At the end of each season, the nonprofit group donates whatever money it hasn’t needed for expenses to HPH Hospice Foundation and Sunrise of Pasco County.
Group members tend to be retired, and the chorus size fluctuates as members die, become ill or resign for family reasons.
At one point there were just five members. Now, there are 19.
Members come from different musical backgrounds and offer various reasons for joining.
Joann Pasquale, who lives part of the year in Ontario, said she joined three years ago merely because she wanted to sing. She hadn’t sung in a choir since high school.
The group made Pasquale feel at home.
“Everybody was very welcoming and helpful,” Pasquale said. She added, “The music is lovely. It’s interesting to hear the harmony. When you’re singing, you can hear the other parts coming in. It’s a pretty sound. I want to be part of that.”
Rhoda Frederick, who lives in Maine part of the year, loves to harmonize.
“I was a Sweet Adeline in Maine for awhile. Whenever I hear music, I hear the harmony. I just hear it. I love being able to sing it,” she said. “When you hit a chord right, you hear a fifth note.”
Sally Hoffman, now a resident of Zephyrhills, used to live in New York.
“I used to sing barbershop in New York. I missed it when I got down here,” she said, noting she’s one of the newest members of The Zephyr Sound.
Sue Shaffer, who lives in Dade City, is a new member, too.
“I’m a professional musician and have been since I was about 12 years old,” said Shaffer, also who sings and plays the cello when not with the group.
The Zephyr Sound welcomes women who enjoy singing, and doesn’t exclude those who lack lengthy experience or formal training, Shaffer said.
“You don’t have to be able to read music. You don’t have to be a professional in any way, shape or form,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer said there is one requirement, though: “You do need to be able to carry a tune.”
Carolyn Kampf, who sings bass, joined the group in January.
Kampf, who lives part of the year in Michigan, has been in Sweet Adelines for years.
“Barbershop is close harmony,” Kampf said. “I love to hear the chords ring. When you lock in, they ring.”
Jeannie Schutte is another seasonal resident who lives part of the year in Michigan. She said she had to be persuaded to give barbershop singing a try. Much to her surprise, she enjoys it.
Joan Roberts, the group’s president, said being in The Zephyr Sound gives her a chance to make a different kind of music than what she performs professionally.
She and her husband are both musicians. She plays fiddle and he plays bagpipes.
Roberts, who lives part of the year in Ohio, said singers who haven’t sung for years shouldn’t be afraid to give the chorus a try.
“I hadn’t sung in a choir since I was in a church choir in the 1970s,” Roberts said.
Merry Childs, another seasonal resident who spends part of the year in Maine, said she joined The Zephyr Sound because she felt compelled to find a place to sing in the winter.
“I need singing. It’s good for the soul. I love music. It has always been a part of my life.”
Linda Schneider, who lives part of the year in New York, loves the challenge of bringing the music to life for listeners: “You’re telling a story to the audience.”
If you want to join
To find out more about The Zephyr Sound, call (352) 588-4492 or (352) 567-1215, or drop by a Monday rehearsal, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Zephyrhills Wesleyan Church, 38924 C Ave. in Zephyrhills.
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