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Women unite their voices in Suncoast Harmony Chorus

HUDSON — They love singing barbershop for the pureness of it — an intertwining of voices sans frills. Just a blow of the pitch pipe at rehearsal and they're off, warming into four-part harmony with a moving rendition of What a Wonderful World before launching into peppier tunes such as Kicking It Up a Notch and Sweet Georgia Brown.

There's some fun choreography but no piano to back them up. No showboating either. When it comes to being a part of the Suncoast Harmony Chorus, it's all about the blend.

"I think that's what I like the most about it," said chorus director Amy Riddle. "As long as you have a pitch pipe in your hand and four parts you can sing any time, anywhere. In barbershop, the music is created to show the nuances of the music. It's more like telling a story than just singing words."

The Suncoast Harmony Chorus has been doing that for some time now, since about 1984 when a member of Sweet Adeline named Dolores Garcia moved here from Ohio and decided the area was in need of some women's barbershop. Now the Suncoast Harmony Chorus serves as Florida's west central chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide singing organization made up of nearly 30,000 women.

Singers come from all walks of life, ranging in age from a 46-year-old Riddle to 93-year-old Jane Martin, who makes the weekly trek to rehearsals in Hudson from her Palm Harbor home.

"Some have competed in other choruses throughout the United States. For some, it's their first time being a part of a chorus," Riddle said. "Some have a lot of musical experience; some just love to sing."

Suncoast Harmony performs throughout the year at paid and volunteer performances at nursing homes, churches, civic organizations and community centers. Then there's the annual show, typically held just before competition for Sweet Adelines International.

"We've done pretty well," Riddle said, noting that during her tenure the chorus went to competition 15 times, earning four awards as "most improved chorus" and placing second and third in the "small chorus" category.

"Amy has been a fantastic director — very patient," said chorus member Dolores Bray, of Brooksville. "She's been just top notch and it takes someone like that to bring a winning team on."

While the chorus will not be competing this year, locals will have a chance to catch the barbershop singers and what will be Riddle's last appearance at the annual concert, "A Passion to Sing!" held Sunday afternoon at the Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey.

After 17 years, Riddle, whose day job is being an assistant principal at Land O'Lakes High School, has decided to step down as the chorus director.

Riddle, who previously taught chorus at Gulf Middle and Gulf High schools, said her focus needs to be on her family, especially now that her oldest daughter is poised to start high school.

"You have to prioritize, and being an assistant principal in a high school I know how important it is to be in touch with your kids," she said. "And for the chorus to do well and continue to grow, they need a director who needs more than my life allows at this time. It's hard when I think of the friendships that I have made. It's been such a huge part of my life for so long. What I've learned and the support I have been given has been life changing. It's a great group of ladies."

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