TAMPA — Singing has always been an integral part of Mable Riley's life.
As a teenager, the Riverview resident performed in her high school's chorus and for years she's lifted up her tenor voice in her church's choir.
About five years ago, she decided she wanted to take her love of singing to a global level. She auditioned for and was accepted into the sisterhood of the Toast of Tampa Show Chorus.
From among a field of more than 500 all-female international Sweet Adelines choruses branded by their four-part a cappella barbershop-style harmony, Toast of Tampa placed third.
While Riley considers it a huge honor to be affiliated with the highly celebrated chorus, she'll be the first one to tell you it's also an enormous commitment that requires lots of homework, as well as the weekly three-hour rehearsals at TPepin's Hospitality Centre in Tampa.
"I practice every day for a least one hour," she said, noting that she regularly records herself and plays it back in an effort to master every piece of music in the group's repertoire. "I think it's my love for the art and wanting to strive for excellence."
Karen Koslow of New Tampa, who was recently welcomed as a new Toast of Tampa lead singer, can also attest to the hard work involved. She practices two to three hours a day to perfect the notes, the words and breathing techniques, as well as all the choreographed movements performed by the chorus.
"I want it all to be perfect every time," she said.
And with good reason, according to Beth Curts, who, in addition to singing with the group, serves as the chorus' marketing and media liaison.
"We've been in third place twice and we don't want to be there again," she said. "Our goal is to do better."
To that end, the Toast of Tampa is preparing for its annual Standing Room Only performance on Nov. 5 at the University of South Florida School of Music Concert Hall, 3755 W Holly Drive.
Two shows, one at 3 p.m. and the other at 7 p.m., will be under the direction of Toast of Tampa director Tony DeRosa — the 2013 Sweet Adelines International Director of the Year — and will feature the Signature! barbershop quartet, which holds the distinction of being named fourth in the world among male quartets by the Barbershop Harmony Society.
Tickets — $40 for patron seats and $25 for regular seats — may be purchased by emailing Ellen Peck at [email protected] or by calling (813) 294-3226. In addition, checks made payable to the Toast of Tampa may be mailed to 2504 Larkin Drive, Sun City Center, FL 33573.
The event is considered a precursor performance toward the Toast of Tampa's return to the international stage in 2017, when the Sweet Adelines competition will be held in Las Vegas.
"I'm looking forward to another successful show where we will showcase two of the songs we will sing in Las Vegas," DeRosa said. "Standing Room Only 2016 is the start to our exciting journey toward the 2017 international convention."
For baritone section leader Jamee Billings, being part of the Toast of Tampa chorus has become a family tradition. She joined four years ago, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, mother and aunt.
"This is my passion and this is what I love to do," the Tampa resident said. "It's a dream of mine to see us achieve higher and higher goals."
New member Sarah Castor, 30, of Ruskin also comes from a barbershop-singing background. Her father sang with the Ambassadors of Harmony.
Although she has been part of other choruses, Toast of Tampa is the first that includes integrating choreography into its vocal performances.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," Castor said. "I'm singing with my heroes, and it's a dream come true."
Visit www.toastoftampa.org for more information.