Sound of the Heartland: Holiday program to raise funds for safe house

?Tomorrow?s another day
I hope and pray we?ll be together
Tomorrow, this today, will be a yesterday that?s gone forever
So take my hand, my friend, I want to say
I?m glad we laughed, I?m glad we loved, I?m glad we sang
Oh! How we sang today!?
? Excerpt from ?How We Sang Today? with words by Vickie J. Uhr

Christmastime can bring out the best in people, whether it?s Scrooge realizing life is good, George Bailey in a 1946 movie becoming happy and grateful for all the love in his life or Americans donating money to places that help others, such as the Salvation Army or the Harvey County Safe House.
Sound of the Heartland Chorus is one of those organizations reaching out to help others this holiday season, because at 4 p.m. Dec. 8, the group is having a Christmas program at Salem United Methodist Church, 115 Old Main St. in Newton, to benefit the local safe house. Admission is by donation.
It?s one group of women helping others who are in dangerous and desperate situations, assisting in giving them a safe place to stay, away from an abuser.
?It?s another women?s organization that?s providing important services for women in our area,? chorus president and Newton resident Rachel Newell said. ?Our organizations align in some ways in offering opportunities to grow and change and stretch their wings a little bit. ? We just felt like we balance each other, and we?re very happy to be working with them this year.?
At the concert location, the safe house board will have a display educating the public about the needs of the organization, Newell said. During the program, Sound of the Heartland, which is based in Newton, will perform sacred and secular music, most of which will be holiday tunes. The group sings in barbershop a cappella style.
Safe house executive director Jan Jones is pleased about the event.
?We are so excited that the Sound of the Heartland ensemble actively supports necessary family services, such as ours, in Harvey County through projects such as this,? Jones said. ?The safe house appreciates all of their time and efforts to make this a very meaningful event.?
Because it?s helping the safe house, Sound of the Heartland spreads harmony in more ways than one.
?Our mission is to spread harmony, create an opportunity for personal growth, to teach and train woman in the art of barbershop harmony in particular and good singing in general,? Sound of the Heartland Chorus master director LaDonna Cheatham of McPherson said.
The Harvey County Safe House has been around for 22 years and provides 24-hour-a-day services to sexual abuse and domestic violence victims.
?In the last 12 months, the safe house provided face-to-face, unduplicated services to over 921 victims and their children,? Jones said. ?Services provided are crisis line, crisis intervention, shelter services, court and medical advocacy, and outreach advocacy.?

Beginnings

Sound of the Heartland Chorus, which is part of the Sweet Adelines organization, formed in 1971 in Valley Center. In 2004, the group changed its name and moved to Newton. Some of the group?s members reside in Newton, but more travel from other towns to rehearse in Newton. Newton was chosen for its central location.
?Sound of the Heartland Chorus is not so much a chorus as an ensemble,? Newell said. ?With 17 members, the ensemble is clearly one of the smaller choruses performing in the area, but big, full sound sometimes comes in small packages. It?s an ensemble that delights in blazing trails, a group that has aspirations to be innovative in the Sweet Adelines organization and appealing to those outside of it.?
In addition to Cheatham and Newell, other members include Nancy Brennan of Wichita, Jan Mumford of Hesston, Dava Ray of McPherson, Sue Moore of Wichita, Mary Jane Waltner of Hesston, Michelle Horn-Schmidt of McPherson, Rose Lahman of Pretty Prairie, Vickie Miller of Hutchinson, Jeanne Just of Americus, Cathy Stenz of Wichita, and Linda Schroeder, Terry Scott, Lori Harris and Marlis Nickel, all of Newton.
The group recently spent August and September rehearsing and performing in the McPherson community.

Working hard

The group?s hard work has paid off. Under the direction of Cheatham, Sound of the Heartland in 2010 brought home the Region 7 Competition championship award for small chorus, the Ruby Pike Award and the Audience Appreciation Award. They?ve also been named Region 7 champs and were in competition at the international level.
Group members seem to have great respect and appreciation for their director.
?Cheatham is one of Sweet Adelines? veteran directors and widely appreciated for the expertise and encouragement she shares with singers across the region,? Newell said.
During a rehearsal in October at a Newton church, Cheatham patiently and joyfully directed the group, going over fine points with them, as she smiled a lot.
?All the 16th notes ? they need to be clearer,? she told the singers at one point. ?? You?ve got to make your brain slow down to sing those accurately.?

Rehearsal time

At rehearsals, the women work on vocal production, which is working to produce sound with the appropriate amount of air and inflection, and developing stamina to sing through phrasing, Newell said. This also includes where to place sound so it resonates the best in your head and how to sing with people who are singing in that space for the optimal wall of sound.
Singers also learn music theory at rehearsals, such as understanding the keys in which they’re singing and developing vocal memory of note intervals.
“For those who don?t read music well, they have a variety of ways to learn the music at their own pace,? Newell said. ?All of our music is memorized before performing.”
In other words, the group assists people in understanding the basics and go from there.
Not everyone who joins Sound of the Heartland performs, although there is a performance team. New members don?t perform with that team until they pass auditions. The purpose of this is so new people can learn at their own pace. The benefit to them is they learn vocal skill development and have fun rehearsing once a week. Dues are $30 per month for the performance team and $25 per month for the minimum-participation level.
?Everybody is a member and has a place, and there?s a participation level for everybody,? Newell said.
?We are currently working on a chorus model that will allow singers to participate with us in three different ways,? Cheatham said. ?It will open up possibilities for women to participate with us who might not have the time to rehearse on a regular basis but still want to contribute/sing.?
One of the group?s members, Brennan, has been in Sweet Adelines for about 40 years, while Cheatham and Moore have been involved for about 30 years. Sound of the Heartland is open to women of all ages, but women younger than 18 will need a sponsor who can go to rehearsals with them.
Members joined the group for a variety of reasons, but the reasons are centered around singing.
?Twenty-two years ago, I worked with a woman who was a member of what was then Valley Center Chorus,? Moore said. ?She knew I liked to sing because she would hear me singing along with the radio in my office. She invited me to visit a rehearsal, and after one visit, I was hooked. I loved the music; just the simple fact of singing made me happy. ? There is something that truly lifts your heart and your mood that comes about when you become part of the music. In a cappella singing, your voice is the music.?
As a member of the local group and Sweet Adelines International, Moore said she has been able to share that joy with the community, and her favorite places to entertain are retirement communities.
?We share our music with them, and it helps them remember and relive some of the best times of their lives,? Moore said. ?When I see the smiles, it reminds me of why I do this, why I love singing in Sound of the Heartland Chorus.?
Another member, Schroeder, joined for similar reasons.
?I joined the chorus because I really enjoy singing, and it is fun to sing with people that enjoy singing as much as I do,? she said. ?What a great combination.?
The group can use more performers.
?I would love to have 10 more excellent singers in the ensemble,? Cheatham said. ?Any singer looking for a place to sing is welcome to try out with our ensemble. They can call us or attend a rehearsal anytime.?
The chorus has interest in conducting clinics at middle schools and high schools in the spring or fall of 2014.
?We know that middle school and high school girls have an interest in singing a cappella,? Newell said.
During rehearsals, it?s clear members enjoy what they?re doing. They smile and look animated, which includes the director.
?I?ve always been a singer,? Cheatham said. ?(I) grew up learning harmony sitting beside my mother who sang alto in church. When my husband and I moved to this part of Kansas, my neighbors? mother sang in a chorus and invited me to come listen to them. I was instantly hooked on the harmony and soon realized that I was born to be a performer and that God had prepared me to be a teacher. ?
Cheatham said directing was a natural progression for her, even though she had to be convinced she could take over for the director who quit. The year 2008 is when Cheatham earned her master director status, and in 2009, she directed the combined choruses of Oklahoma Jubilee and Sound of the Heartland at the international competition. She?s been a member of a variety of quartets, including singing baritone as a top five finalist in an international competition.
But before all of that, Cheatham joined the Wichita Chorus in 1982, and three years later, she started directing a chorus in McPherson. She became a certified director with Sweet Adelines in 1996.
Newell also loves performing.
?I love striving for excellence as I?m singing,? she said. ?I love singing at a higher level. I love sharing really good music ? especially since it?s unique ? very well received. I like being in this group because we?re all interested in striving for excellence and learning and growing, not only in our vocal skills, but in our performance skills.?
In addition to performing onstage, the group also does singing grams anytime during the year. They do singing grams for a variety of special events, such as Valentine?s Day, birthdays and anniversaries, and perform at other events, such as conferences, stage shows, church services and Christmas events.
They also carol at such locales as retirement communities, people?s homes with Christmas grams, businesses, downtown Newton on Third Thursdays and in restaurants.
Within Sound of the Heartland Chorus is a quartet, called Detour, which also will perform during the Dec. 8 fundraiser. This group is comprised of Cheatham, Newell, Ray and Schroeder.
Cheatham does have a goal for Sound of the Heartland.
?My goal would be to do more performing, widen our circle,? she said. ?I would love to be the go-to ensemble for elite entertaining in our half of the state.?
The local barbershop chorus has a mission with two aspects, Newell said. Those are to ?promote barbershop as a unique American art form and to educate women about singing a cappella harmony.? Within the Sweet Adelines organization, there are annual regional competitions, the champions of which are invited to compete in the next year?s international contest.
?International competition is an incredible experience,? Newell said. ?You have the opportunity to meet women from around the world, and you realize that you all have something in common ? friendship through music. When a full audience breaks into the song ?How We Sang Today,? your heart can?t help but be lifted.?

Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent