Happy, finger-snapping, toe-tapping music soared through Opportunity Presbyterian Church on a recent evening, as the Spirit of Spokane Chorus belted out “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”
For 30 years, this women’s chorus, affiliated with Sweet Adelines International, has made music together, garnered numerous awards and given back to the community. In October, Mayor David Condon signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 12 as Spirit of Spokane Chorus 30th Anniversary Day.
Originally named Spokane Falls Chorus, the group won the regional Small Chorus Championship with only 20 members in 1989, their first year of competition. Since then, they’ve continued to grow in size and talent.
Founding member, Missy Hubbard joined because her mother was a member of a Sweet Adelines group, and she quickly invited Karen Wenzel to sing with them.
“When I walked through the door and heard the harmony, I was hooked,” Wenzel said. “I became the group’s 20th member.”
Like Hubbard, founding member LouAnn Hommel, had familial ties to Sweet Adelines. Her mother was a charter member of the first local group, Lilac City Chorus, founded in 1957.
“I grew up hearing this music,” she said. “My dad was part of Pages of Harmony (a local chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society).”
The Spirit of Spokane Chorus sings four-part a capella harmony – four different voice parts blend together into one chord. Though barbershop singing is considered to be one of the trickiest accomplishments of a vocal ensemble, you don’t need to read music to join this group.
“I don’t read music at all,” Hubbard said. “And I sang with the Doug Scott Cabaret Band for over 20 years.”
Director Mike Elliot, who also leads the Central Valley High School choirs, said he agreed to audition for the director’s post “in a moment of weakness.”
“That was 27 years ago.”
With over 40 members, ranging in age from teens to 80s, the group has shined at competitions.
In 1999, it performed at the Sweet Adelines International competition in Atlanta, where it placed in the top 20 in the world.
In 2000, the group repeated the regional win, scoring high enough to be one of the top five mid-sized choruses in the world. This gained them an invitation to an international competition in San Antonio in July 2001, where it placed second.
More recently, in 2019, it won First Place Division AA Chorus and the Second Place Chorus spot in Region 13, which includes Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska.
“Vitality, energy and the desire to learn and get better, dominates this group,” Elliot said.
While the Spirit of Spokane Chorus thrives on competition, camaraderie and community involvement are equally important to members.
Over the years, the group has given to nonprofits like Teen Closet, Toys for Tots and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the group presented a $1,000 check to Women and Children’s Free Restaurant on Giving Tuesday on Dec.3.
But the members also take care of each other – coordinating meals when a member is ill and offering support during life’s challenges.
One of the youngest members, Jaid Hohn, 23, appreciates the camaraderie she found when she joined the chorus.
“I suffer from depression,” she said. “But when I’m here I feel so much better. This community of women gets me out of the house.”
Newer member Sheri Replogle found a similar welcome when she auditioned in August.
“I was a Sweet Adeline in Coeur d’Alene for many years,” she said.
After moving all over the country, one of the first things she did when she returned to the area was to look for a chorus.
“I really missed it. I love the harmony,” Replogle said. “This choir has a true family feeling – a natural all-enveloping sweetness and a strong sense of community and caring. I was hooked from the first night.”
That’s what drew Cherie Letts to the group, as well.
“I sang before I talked,” she said, smiling.
For many years, health issues precluded her involvement in music, but five years ago she joined the chorus.
“Barbershop music is different than any other type of music in the world,” Letts said. “When we’re on pitch, it will cause a visceral reaction – you will tingle.”
Spirit of Spokane rehearsals are open to the public and to potential new members.
Letts is clear about what potential members will find.
“It’s a community. A family bound by a shared love of music,” she said. “It’s a sisterhood like I’ve never known.”
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