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When I walked into a Scottsdale Chorus rehearsal, I expected singing. But as music filled the air, I was shocked to see so much movement. Fifteen floor dancers stepped and spun as they sang along to a fast-paced barbershop tune. Women of all ages filled the risers—singing, swaying, moving their arms, stopping to hear notes of instruction, laughing, and encouraging each other. I saw faces lit up, and I laughed along as the humorous choreographer singled out women to get their arms right, to animate more; to bring more performance to the piece. The women laughed and quickly took their notes—each with a clear desire to improve and make the group look good.
When I talked to Writing Programs Director Shirley Rose about her participation in the group, she spoke about the interplay of enjoyment and hard work: “We work hard, but that’s what we’re all there for. You have to learn to not take offense. Nobody’s tantrums are tolerated. We’re all very focused on being champions. It’s all about being the best. You just have to be willing to take instruction.” She told me that at a typical rehearsal, only Director Lori Lyford would be deciding what to do next and how rehearsal would go—but when necessary, various members will step up to lead.
This spring will mark Rose’s sixth year as a member of the Scottsdale Chorus, which is part of the Sweet Adelines International Organization. The chorus is made up of over 120 women of all ages (ranging from teens to eighties); and includes members of a wide variety of backgrounds and lifestyles. According to their website, “The Scottsdale Chorus is a high-level performing chorus that creates entertainment and contest packages that combine unforgettably close ringing chords, vocal precision, vibrant costumes, and jaw-dropping choreography. The Scottsdale Chorus has won the Sweet Adelines International Chorus Championship five times.”
Rose first saw the group when she attended a program of American music traditions put on by the ASU Project Humanities program with some of her colleagues. A gospel trio, a gospel quartet, and the Scottsdale chorus performed. When she spoke about the Scottsdale Chorus, she said, “I was overwhelmed by the sound, the visual effect; the energy. They all looked happy and beautiful. It looked like everyone was having so much fun; the music was wonderful, the sound was wonderful.” Rose was first interested in the pedagogy of what she saw. She wanted to understand how members learned. But after going to rehearsal for six weeks, she decided that she wanted to become a member and participate in the high-level singing.
Rose sang in her high school and small college choir and took piano lessons when she was a kid, so she could read music. When she described the barbershop style of the Scottsdale Chorus, she explained how barbershop has certain requirements about the way chords are done: “Everything is a cappella. We sing a style where the focus is on harmony.” She told me that, over time, she could hear the difference in subtle changes: “My ear has developed.” Further commenting on her personal growth, Rose shared, “There is feedback that is directed to me; personalized feedback.” She talked about how receiving personalized feedback in the group has informed her teaching. In the chorus, she will many times have an understanding that she knows she’s doing something wrong—but doesn’t know how to do it right. The skill to “fix it” may not be there. Receiving personalized feedback has helped her be patient in her teaching, realizing that often students need concrete feedback.
When I asked Rose about competitions, she brought up two memorable competitions: traveling to Las Vegas in the Fall of 2015 (where the group won the international competition); and returning to Las Vegas in the Fall of 2016 to perform a “swan song” as champions.
But after seeing the group in action—and feeling Rose’s enthusiasm about her experiences when I interviewed her—I learned that her love for the group reaches far beyond the singing and competing. She shared her personal thoughts about interacting with other members: “It’s been wonderful for me to meet women of all these different age groups—and from different socioeconomic groups and experience in different politics. My life as an academic is kind of a bubble. I meet people, and I get to know them; and I realize they’re really good people, and they have a political belief that’s different than me.”
In Rose’s busy schedule, Tuesday nights are guarded. She ended our interview by telling me that she wouldn’t miss a Tuesday night chorus rehearsal unless it was something major like a conference. She shared, “I never miss rehearsal to work. On Tuesdays, I don’t take my briefcase home. I don’t let anything get in the way of that.”
To find more information about the Scottsdale Chorus—including performance videos and upcoming events—visit their website.
Video 1: In this 2015 Scottsdale Chorus rehearsal recorded by ASU Now, Shirley Rose can be seen in the red shirt at the top right of the screen.
Image 1: Shirley Rose
Image 2: Shirley Rose performs with the Scottsdale Chorus in 2015; she is in the back row with glasses. Photo courtesy Scottsdale Chorus.
Video 2: ASU Now produced this 2015 informational video about ASU faculty, staff, and student participation in the Scottsdale Chorus.
06/25/18: This story was corrected to reflect that the Scottsdale Chorus won an international competition in Las Vegas in 2015, not a regional one.