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Sweet Adelines sing of harmony

"For all of us in Sweet Adelines, getting along with each other is part of the harmony," Kathy Carmody says.

Carmody, international president of the group, presides over the "harmonic convergence" that has hit Salt Lake City this week. Her job is to blend the 7,000 singers who have arrived for the women barber-shoppers 51st annual convention and competition.This year the event runs through Oct. 18 at the Delta Center, with 49 quartets and 28 choruses competing from around the world.

Several Utah groups are performing, with the local Mountain Jubilee Chorus in a position to win an international championship.

And again - as in 1990 when the group gathered in Utah - the chords have been loud but the discord inaudible. And that's rather remarkable, considering that the diversity and demographics of the Sweet Adelines are, well, so democratic.

"We come from every walk of life available to women," Carmody said. "We have doctors, attorneys, blue collar workers and socialites. There's a plumber and an IRS auditor. We even have a woman who's a pilot for Northwest Airlines. There's every possible profession."

Peggy Acomb, a baritone in the local Mountain Jubilee Chorus and crackerjack quartet "Dazzle," is a justice court judge for Salt Lake County. She says her job is one that does tend to throw people.

"When I tell them I'm a judge, they say, `Oh, and which singing category are you judging.' Still, the Mountain Jubilee Chorus has a bit of everything, too. There are homemakers, innkeepers. One woman used to drive a forklift. But the important thing is we have a common bond. We love music. And we especially love barbershop harmony."

And barbershop harmony demands that people get along. Long hours of rehearsal, the "ego on hold" nature of quartet singing, the shared vowels and shared emotions all must somehow come together when a group "locks and rings" to produce the gorgeous harmonic overtones that are the hallmark of the music.

"I suppose singers who don't get along could sing barbershop," said Connie Miller, a member of 4-star Collection, the reigning international quartet champion. "But the group wouldn't last."

Added Pat Rygg of 4-Star, "The blending and harmony must come from the personalities of the singers as much as anything else."

Marcia Starnes and Denise Baber round out the award-winning foursome. Now they've been crowned champs, 4-Star Collection is ineligible to compete. Instead, they fill the year with entertaining, recording and being barbershop ambassadors.

"We have wonderful bosses who give us time to travel," Rygg said.

"And understanding husbands," Baber added. "We practice every Monday night. Thank goodness for `Monday Night Football.' "

In the end, Carmody is quick to give the "pitch" for the organization: "There's much more to being a Sweet Adeline than just singing," she said. "We teach leadership and communication skills. And there's a self-confidence that women gain from joining our group. We also have a foundation for younger women who want to get involved. Our growth is continual. And I don't see an end to it."

"I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony," blared a Coke commercial years ago. The Sweet Adelines know that commercial. But they've never seen it as a pipe dream down by the old mill stream.

No, they're out there showing how it's done by example.

- Quartet semifinals run until 5 p.m. Thursday at the Salt Palace ($16). A quartet concert follows at 8:30 p.m. (Delta Center, $15). Chorus semifinals are Friday 11:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (Delta Center, $20), quartet finals Saturday 12:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Delta Center, $20) with the chorus finals at 7:45 p.m. ($20). For tickets, call 298-7416.