Thursday, Jun 30, 2016
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Vocalists devoted to Toledo ensemble

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  • Vocalists-devoted-to-Toledo-ensemble

Gary Lewis, director of the Pride of Toledo Chorus, rehearses a number from the musical 'Grease' with 15-year Pride veteran Pam Knight. The 97-member chorus accompanies.


The music brought Joan Simonis and Donna Becker to a Toledo choral group. The friendships keep them.

The two, who live near Defiance and Port Clinton, respectively, travel more than two hours each week to sing with the Pride of Toledo chapter of the Sweet Adelines, an international network of competitive

a capella choral groups. And while they drive a long way, three others come an even greater distance, traveling from Fort Wayne, Ind., Jackson, Mich., and Cleveland.

Why the devotion to a group that requires hundreds of hours of driving time and hundreds of dollars in expenditures each year just to belong?

"The caliber of the chorus was what drew me to it," Mrs. Becker, 62, says. "It keeps you young, it keeps you active. Look at all the friends you have," she adds, waving toward the dozens of women talking, laughing, and hugging before rehearsal starts.

"It's worth it," Mrs. Simonis, 35, says of the 140 minutes she spends driving to and from rehearsal each week. "I love singing, and I love the women."

And in an era when some groups struggle for members, the Pride of Toledo can afford to be picky. The group, which has about 100 members but would like to add another 40 to its ranks, has been running a "diva" camp for aspiring members, attracting grandmothers and high school students alike.

Over four weeks, the prospective singers learn choreography, develop their voices, and get acquainted with members and what it means to be a member of the Pride. Its last session is tomorrow, and new divas are still welcome to come check out the group.

After getting a feel for the Pride, a diva can try out formally. She learns her part in the ballad "How We Sang Today," and practices with three members, says Cathy McQueen, one of the membership chairmen. The quartet performs for the director and his staff, and sings with the full chorus.


Director Gary Lewis, with his back to the camera, directs Nelly Arnett, Barb Hiner, Nancy Schlosser and the rest of the chorus during rehearsal at Common Space II in South Toledo.


No one knows how many of the current crop intend to try out. "I'm hoping a whole lot," Ms. McQueen says.

"I love the ladies," says Rebecca Rae Boone, 15, a freshman at Toledo's Whitmer High School. "I would definitely consider joining."

But not quite yet.

"I want to develop my voice more," she explains, shivering on the risers in the drafty rehearsal hall in Common Space II, in the former Martin school on South Holland-Sylvania Road. "But I will try out one day."

The group's gravity can have a strong pull.

They perform at local venues including the Toledo Zoo and Sauder Village, and contests take them all over the country where they perform choreographed routines.

A prospective singer can try out for the group at any time, not just during a membership drive. That may be what happens for Jennifer Faulkner.

From the loft seats opposite the risers, the West Toledo woman watches the Pride and the divas prepare to sing together, and ponders. A singer and actress in her school days, the 36-year-old nurse longs to return to her creative passions.

"I do miss it," she says, sighing as chorus director Gary Lewis, an old friend of hers, cues the singers. "I miss performing. This would be a nice segue."

Ann King, one of 21 founding members of the group, says the group keeps the level of musicianship high. And not every voice fits in, even those with years of training, she acknowledges ruefully.

"We can't have individual styles," the Bowling Green woman says. "We blend. We are more happy to have a pleasant voice than a trained voice we have to untrain."

That's how Mrs. Becker got in. Decades ago, a neighbor urged her to try out. Mrs. Becker was dubious, but she agreed to try. Thirty-two years later, she remains self-deprecating about her skills.

"I can't read a note," she said. "I never took music. I don't have a clue."

But she has no inhibitions about dancing, which the group's front line does in performances and contests. Indeed, she is part of the group's choreography team, along with Nancy Schlosser, a former synchronized swimming coach, and Lu McEwen.

"They're probably the best group I know," Mrs. Simonis says. "They gave me friendship and understanding and music and compassion. I'm sticking with this as long as I can."

Contact Vanessa Winans at: or 419-724-6168.

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