Not A Typical Barbershop Quartet

Making Sweet MusicLocal Barbershop Singers Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony

By Enocha Van Lierop


On Monday nights, a group of women gather in the chorus room of Bay High School in Panama City. Some have arrived from dinner with their families. Others just got off of work.

Their ages are as varied as their backgrounds, but what brings them together is music – barbershop music, to be exact. The women make up Harmony Shores, the Panama City chapter of the Sweet Adelines.

Sweet Adelines International began more than 60 years ago when the wives of barbershop-quartet members decided to start singing for themselves.

“The original purpose for which Sweet Adelines was organized in 1945 was educational: to teach and train its members in musical harmony and appreciation,” Edna Mae Anderson, founder of the international organization, has stated.

Since the organization was created, around 1,200 quartets and 600 chartered chorus chapters – more than 27,000 women in all – have sprung up across the globe in such varied locales as Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Wales and most of the 50 states in the United States.

Today, women’s barbershop-quartet groups span the Emerald Coast, from Pensacola’s Sound Chorus to Lynn Haven’s Coastal Music. And, of course, there is Panama City’s Harmony Shores, a four-part a cappella harmony group that became a chartered chapter of Sweet Adelines in 1978. The group performs everything from old standards such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to songs by the Beach Boys and even Billy Joel.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Barb Heckerson, Harmony Shores’ assistant director. “It covers the whole spectrum of music.”

In addition to performing, the Sweet Adelines worldwide organization has other goals. Its Young Women in Harmony program offers music educators a way of including the study and performance of barbershop harmony in school music programs. In addition, the Young Singers Foundation has been the official charity of Sweet Adelines International since 1992. The foundation’s purpose is to enrich the lives of young people by supporting vocal music programs and education through its grant program.


A Passion for Music

The requirements to join Sweet Adelines actually are quite simple. Women need to be 18 years of age or older and have a passion for music in order to be a part of a local group. That’s it. Even those simple rules can be stretched, though: Because Jennifer Williams, the director of Harmony Shores, was the daughter of the director of an Arizona chapter, Williams was able to join at age 16. Sweet Adelines always is willing to bend the rule a little to give mothers and daughters a chance to bond.

Reading music would seem like an obvious requirement, but here it isn’t.

“A lot of ladies say, ‘I only sing in church or I used to sing in high school,’” Williams said. “Every week is like a group voice lesson.”

There also are no solos to stress over in Harmony Shores. All singing is done as a group. Since it is all cappella, there has to be continuous singing. No one has to worry about being the spotlighted performer.

Throughout the year, Harmony Shores performs around the area at schools, churches and anywhere else they are asked to perform. Once a year, they also put on a show at the Martin Theatre in downtown Panama City. This year, the show was called “Practically Popular” and featured the group’s renditions of songs from the 1950s and ’60s. Another annual event is the Sweet Adelines International Competition.

While Harmony Shores provides women with a chance to get out of the house and explore their more creative sides, Heckerson said that “it’s something you do just for you. A lot of women don’t have any outlets, and it’s just wonderful to get out. You instantly get 20 girlfriends when you walk in the door.”

All the props and costumes for productions are made by women in the chorus. Christina Craddock, another Harmony Shores member, loves being able to help in more ways than singing.

“I help build the sets with my husband,” she said. “It allows me to be more than a military wife and mother.”

While some members may not be able to build or sew, they contribute in other ways, such as doing the makeup.
“You learn so many interesting, unusual things about the girls in the chorus,” Heckerson said. “It’s a great way to discover the creativity women have.”

For many women, Harmony Shores is not just a pastime. In certain instances, it also has become a support group. When Williams married a U.S. Air Force serviceman, she knew she would be moving. When she and her family ended up in Panama City 10 years ago, Williams was happy to discover found Harmony Shores.

“Because we are international, it doesn’t matter where you go, there is usually a chorus somewhere nearby,” Williams said. “As a military wife, it’s neat. There’s a little part that stays constant in my life.”

For those new to the area or simply for locals, Harmony Shores helps women make new friends.

“There’s a common bond in the music,” Williams said. “I probably would not know or hang out with these women if I did not have this commonality to share with them.”

Phyllis Vineyard and Joyce Evans said they enjoy the friendship Harmony Shores offers, especially during times of need.

“What really tied it up for me was when my husband was sick and when he died,” Vineyard said. The group came together to support her and keep her going.

“It’s like a support group where you can sing and dress funny,” Evans said.

As tightly knit as Harmony Shores is, it always is looking for new members. Those interested are invited to open auditions each December. Williams said she believes it is easier for women to audition then because almost everyone knows Christmas carols. The group also carols around the downtown area each year to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

“There is nothing better than taking four voices, without an accompaniment, and making them lock and ring,” Williams said.

It’s no wonder that the Sweet Adelines motto is “Harmonize the World.”