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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Female barbershop quartet headed to international competition

From left, Tonya Garske, Andrea Olsen, Carran Kelley and LouAnn Hommel perform for Sweet Adelines gathered at the Northside Church of Christ on Monday. The quartet, which calls itself Pepper, will head to Baltimore for the international Sweet Adelines competition after winning the regional quartet competition. (Jesse Tinsley)
From left, Tonya Garske, Andrea Olsen, Carran Kelley and LouAnn Hommel perform for Sweet Adelines gathered at the Northside Church of Christ on Monday. The quartet, which calls itself Pepper, will head to Baltimore for the international Sweet Adelines competition after winning the regional quartet competition. (Jesse Tinsley)

Even when they are rehearsing, the members of Pepper Quartet perform as if there is an audience.

They smile and make eye contact. Their choreography snaps. They hit all the right notes.

That precision is being rewarded: Baritone Tonya Garske, tenor LouAnn Hommel, bass Carran Kelley and lead Andrea Olsen are preparing for international competition.

The female barbershop quartet will compete Nov. 3-9 at the Sweet Adelines International Convention in Baltimore.

The group qualified April 11 during a regional competition at the INB Performing Arts Center where they outperformed 27 other quartets. The group has spent the summer raising funds for the trip, which costs about $6,000 for flights, hotel and entrance fees.

“We do an awful lot of performing,” Olsen said.

Hommel and Kelley formed the quartet nine years ago.

“They call me a barbershop brat,” Hommel said. Both of her parents sang barbershop.

Kelley’s parents were in a cappella groups in college and taught her and her sister how to harmonize.

When she was stationed in Alaska with the U.S. Navy, Garske saw an ad in the newspaper for a singing group. She didn’t know what kind of group it was when she arrived, but fell in love with the genre. After retiring from the Navy and moving to Spokane, she found Pepper.

Olsen has a background in classical singing and teaches voice at North Idaho College, Spokane Falls Community College and Holy Names Music Center. She didn’t know anything about barbershop music until she began coaching Pepper. After the lead retired to be a full-time grandma, the remaining members encouraged her to audition.

“I did it to get them off my back,” she said. They all began to sing together and Olsen said her teeth began to rattle in her head and goose bumps popped up on her arms.

Pepper is the first quartet from Eastern Washington to qualify for the event since Past Reflections in 1981. And there’s a link from Past Reflections to Pepper Quartet: The tenor was Hommel’s mother and the bass was Garske’s mother-in-law.

Olsen said they have figured out how to live with each other while traveling, including assigned seats in the car to account for motion sickness and hot flashes.

“I sit in the back seat on the hot side and it’s my car,” Kelley said.

For Hommel, barbershop is just a way of life. She enjoys the friendships, fun and following in her family’s footsteps.

“There’s a feeling about it that’s really remarkable,” Hommel said.

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