Members of a Surrey-based choir will sing their way to St. Louis this fall.
Close to 10,000 female singers will be in attendance at the big event, including 60-plus members of Westcoast Harmony.
“We fill the place, and we take over the city, really,” explained Anne Downton, choir director. “It’s really cool because there are choruses that come in from Sweden, Japan — all over the place.
“The cool thing is, you end up with friends from around the world. So when you go to these events, it feels like the biggest family reunion ever, and everyone is so passionate about music and barbershop, what they do, and everybody cheers for each other as well. It’s not cut-throat. If someone does something wrong, that’s OK. People genuinely want to see others succeed there.”
The chorus earned its trip to the international gathering after winning a regional competition in 2017.
“That gave us 18 months to prepare,” noted Downton. “The way it works is, when we compete regionally, locally, and you win, you have to sit out a year, so we didn’t compete at all this past spring (when the event was held at Chandos Pattison Auditorium in Surrey), we were just there running, volunteering, helping out.”
Westcoast Harmony rehearses at Parkland Baptist Church, located at the corner of 96th Avenue and 160th Street in Surrey, every Wednesday evening.
The barbershop-style singing group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 with a big concert at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre.
On Oct. 4, they’ll sing in the smaller Shannon Hall, at Cloverdale Fairgrounds, in a preview concert of the performance they’ll give in St. Louis the following week. The dress-rehearsal “sneak peek” show will also feature some quartets set to compete at the international convention.
In 2013, Westcoast was named the best mid-sized chorus of its kind in the world.
“While we remain mid-sized, we have chosen to compete with choruses twice our size,” said Joyce Gram, the choir’s communications co-ordinator.
Gram got involved “kind of late in life” only a few years ago, she said.
“I’m one of the people who hadn’t sung since high school — almost 50 years,” she added. “So pretty much everything I’ve learned about singing has come from Anne and other coaches, and I’ve worked my butt off and now I sing in a quartet as well.”
Alisa Bailey, the organization’s team co-ordinator, signed up seven years ago.
“I was singing in high school, too, and once my kids got a bit older, they started taking music lessons, including singing lessons, and I was at recitals with little kids and I thought I should go find some grownups to hang out with,” Bailey said with a laugh.
Her sister suggested Sweet Adelines, and Bailey went researching the organization and found a flashmob Westcoast had posted on their website.
“I thought, these look like fun people, and so I came out and was instantly absorbed by them,” she recalled. “Everyone here is fantastic. The thing I love most about it, what keeps me staying, is everyone cares about each other, and we know about each other’s lives and support each other and make sure that we’re all good, in our non-singing lives, and we also prop each other up to help us getting better at singing, too.”
Downton has been with Westcoast for 18 years.
“Since I was 13 years old,” she explained. “My mom is in the chorus, and that’s how I got involved. I came out to the rehearsals with her. I always say that the chorus raised me, and they really did. I mean, I’ve been involved now for more than half of my life, which is crazy to think.”
The current group includes singers ranging from twin teens to a woman in her 80s, she said.
Prospective members are welcome to attend a rehearsal to learn more. “We welcome new members of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels,” says a post at westcoastsings.com.
“People look at us and think, oh gosh, I have to absolutely be a pro singer to be able to do this, but we’re all average, none are professional,” Downton noted. “We’re all amateurs, really, and some didn’t sing a note until they first walked in here, and lots of others grew up singing in choirs and maybe doing music theatre. But they’ve all found a home here.”