Victory Would Be Sweet For Singers

November 01, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

There's only one thing on Mary Grace Lordico's mind when she's on stage singing "Sweet Georgia Brown."

"I think sex," the 59-year-old Catonsville resident said. "I need to have a picture in my head to perform. I think, wait'll you see me, boy, am I sexy!" she added.

Ms. Lordico is one of about 130 members of the Elkridge Sweet Adelines chorus, a local chapter of an international organization dedicated to preserving barbershop-style singing.

The Elkridge group, which practices in Hilltop Elementary School in Ferndale, will take its room-filling harmonizing to Reno, Nev., this week to compete in the international championship against 26 choruses.

Friday night, they will dress in strapless white satin tube dresses with see-through, glitter-striped tops while they perform two traditional barbershop-style songs, "Forgive Me" and "After You've Gone."

But these ladies don't just stand on risers and blend their lead, tenor, baritone and bass voices to the heavens. They wave their hands, stomp their feet, smile and frown, blow kisses to the audience, and kick up their heels to bring character to the songs, and relate the tunes to the audience with more than just the words they sing.

"We've got to sell the bejesus out of it," said Ms. Lordico.

If they place among the top five Friday, they will compete in the finals Saturday night, performing two more barbershop songs, "Old Kentucky Home" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," along with "A Tisket, A Tasket" and a piece from "Porgy and Bess."

This year's competition will be stiff. At least 12 of the choruses competing have made it to the finals in this competition before, and five of those have been international champions.

Elkridge has been the regional champion every other year since 1986. Once a chorus wins a regional or international championship, they are ineligible to compete the next year. The victories qualify them to compete in the next international competition, 18 months later.

On the international level, they have consistently finished in the top 10, but the international championship victory has always eluded them. They have never made the final cut.

"We feel we've got everything to win and nothing to lose," said Blanche Johnson, co-chairwoman of the publicity committee. "We're really hot to make the top five."

To bolster themselves, the ladies have rewritten lyrics to Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" and sing "Reno, Reno! Elkridge is a winner in the town of Reno!"

Any awards they bring back this time will be a feather in the cap of their new director, Michael Gellert, who joined the chorus as an interim director in January 1993.

Members say his background, which includes 14 years singing with the Baltimore Opera Company and a few years with the Sons of Severn, a brother organization to the Sweet Adelines, has brought more technical excellence to the group.

"I think he knows how to get a richer, fuller sound from the group," said Ms. Lordico.

But Mr. Gellert said he was handed an excellent chorus. "The women work much, much harder," Mr. Gellert said. "They're much more willing to go the extra step to achieve excellence. Sometimes it's hard to remember that this is a hobby."

He added that with the caliber of choruses Elkridge will be competing against, winning will be "a particular challenge," but the type of music Elkridge will be singing may give them an edge.

"The music I chose has more artistry. I believe it's a little more operatic," said Mr. Gellert, citing the "Porgy and Bess" piece. "With my background in theater, I've got a little more understanding of what it is to act on stage, what it is to live a song," he added.

But in the end, Mr. Gellert said, it's all in the performance. "You have to transcend the music, it has to be more than perfect. The judges have to forget their category [that they're judging] and just enjoy the music," Mr. Gellert said. "If the magic happens, we might be in there."

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