Linda is our Team Coordinator. She runs our weekly business meeting during rehearsals and all our team meetings.There are countless management details she takes care of that most of us are not even aware of. She works hard for us year after year. Linda is also a talented choreographer and front row performer. She is loved and appreciated by all of us. She helps Peggy keep our chorus strong.
How did you get involved with the Sweet Adelines?
Twenty seven years ago I went to watch my husband play with his big band at the American Legion in East Hampton. The Sweet Adelines were also on the bill. The girls were dressed in red fringe dresses singing and performing from Grease. They were fabulous. I was sitting at the bar and one of the singers came up to me and said, “I could see you really loved the music, do you sing? Why don’t you come to the Methodist Church next Wednesday and check us out.” I auditioned, passed and worked on learning all the songs and choreo as soon as possible for the upcoming show. It was a lot of work, there were many songs to learn but I loved it.
I have always loved music, dancing and theatre. I started dance classes when I was three and kept learning. I took classes three nights a week when I was in High school. Eventually I became an instructor at my studio and taught ballroom dance, tap, ballet and modern dance. Later I went to The Boston Conservatory of Music and studied dance, drama and musical theatre. I did all the shows and summer stock. It was there I met the love of my life, Bob. We have been married for fifty years.
What is the best part of being a Sweet Adeline?
The singing is wonderful but what I value most is the friendship…true friendship. I was an only child. I think of my chorus members as my sisters.
It is not that she sees the world through rose colored glasses. Hilda is too practical for that. Nor does she see the glass half full. Her exuberance knows no bounds. It is more like she sees the cup being filled to overflowing each day with her love of family, country and community.
“I consider myself a patriot”, Hilda says of herself. Her father and mother, who both spoke German at home, passed on the customs from the old country and created a secure, productive life for their family in Hampton Bays. Hilda and her siblings enjoyed an all American life enriched by the traditions of German culture. Good Bavarian food, home sewn dresses, family parties, music and dance were all part of her upbringing. Hilda remembers performing for her parents and family members dressed in traditional German costumes. Hilda would play the piano and her and sister would sing.
“I absolutely love music”, Hilda says enthusiastically. “I can sing for hours and hours while I’m tending to my horses or harvesting the gardens. Singing makes me happy. It fills me with joy”
She says the song “Let Freedom Ring”, the theme song of our annual show, is what inspired her to make the quilt.
“I want it to be perfect”, she says of the raffle quilt she is making for the Sweet Adeline’s September show. Her warm expansive smile is not the pinch of an uptight knit picker, but of a joyful creative who has found her way into “The Zone”. Stitch by stitch, square by square, fold by fold,, Hilda’s quilt tells the grand story of American freedom. The quilt will have a liberty bell in the center. “Let Freedom Ring” will be in scripted around the bell.. The freedom quilt is a labor of love which she has generously offered as a fundraiser for the chorus.
“I’ve been in many groups”, says Hilda, but I have never met a group of people like the Sweet Adelines. I am so proud to be part of this dedicated, loving, group of singers. I like to do what I can to help keep the chorus strong.” A few years ago when our beloved choreographer, Carole Naso, retired to Florida, she said. “Hilda, You’re the new choreographer.” Hilda said, “OK, I’ll do it”. She is a natural choreographer, consistent and positive, managing to get us all to bring the words of songs like “New York, New York” and “All That Jazz” to life.
Hilda and her husband, Craig, like to sit on the garden swing at the end of the day to share a beer and highlights of their day. They speak of their three independent children who have left the nest to make their fortunes. They look out at the beautiful family homestead alive with Black-eyed Susans, butterflies and trees and speak of their hopes and dreams.
But not for long. After supper Hilda will drive to Sag Harbor to practice with her quartet, or meet up with the members of the Sag Harbor Community band to play the bass clarinet. Then she’ll drive back home and work on the quilt until midnight. Keep pouring, Spirit. Hilda is your vessel. Her cup runneth over with love
Hilda and her quartet, Rumor Has It, will perform at our annual show which will be held at The Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead on Sunday September 25th at 3M. Tickets can be purchased through the theatre’s website or by calling 631-727-4343. Raffle tickets for the quilt will be sold in advance and at the show.
There is a warmth, a comforting kind of love that emanates from Mae Biancone. Maybe it originates from her talent, or from being a mother of four and grandmother of twelve. In any case she is one special woman who has served our chorus as Team Coordinator, Assistant Director and Lead Team Leader
Please tell us about your background in music.
I was always in school plays, always singing solos when I was a young schoolgirl in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My mother and teacher were behind me, encouraging me to sing. Once an agent came to my school looking for talent. He was directed to me. Many doors began to open because of his recognition. I began to study voice and tap at the Star Allen Studio in Manhattan, which led to a role in the weekly TV series, Stars of Tomorrow. The other kids and I performed song and dance numbers at local movie theatres before the main feature began.
Acceptance into the Artists Guild of America helped me connect with aspiring songwriters who asked me to record demos to promote their songs. Soon after I graduated from high school I was asked to enter the Miss Kearny, New Jersey pageant. My sponsor assured me I did not have a chance because I was a short brunette. I sang “I’m in the Mood for Love” and won!
This victory gave me automatic inclusion in the Miss New Jersey contest in Atlantic City. What an experience! The sponsors provided me with a beautiful pale green full- length princess gown. Once again I sang “I’m in the Mood for Love” choreographed with tap. It was a thrill to chosen as the winner of the talent competition. Several of the contestants’ moms had heard that I had performed professionally with a big band on weekends for about two years. In fairness to their daughters who were strictly amateur, they had me disqualified. Regardless, it was an amazing experience.
Doors continued to open for me. The Broadway show, Bells are Ringing starring Judy Holiday was auditioning singers and dancers for the production. My mother was ecstatic when I was offered a part in the chorus. My childhood sweetheart Gene had other ideas for my future. I traded a life in he spotlight for one with the love of my life. I chose door number one and have never regretted that decision. Every Sunday we host a family dinner with at least twenty- one people, including our children, grandchildren and their friends. We have a wonderful life together.
How did you keep music in your life after you were married?
I sang in my church choir and helped with the congregation’s musical productions. A church friend told me about a Barbershop group that rehearsed in Southampton under the direction of Jim Strong. That was 1983. Jim was the ultimate director. He was precise, technical and knew all the ins and outs of barbershop singing. His assistant, Barbara Blaisdell aka Blaze, brought out the showman in him. They were an outrageous team creating hilarious parodies of popular songs brought to life with dazzling, flamboyant, costumes. My Wednesdays were sacred. Nothing would keep me from rehearsals.
It’s been 32 years since you joined the chorus. What keeps you coming back?
It’s simple. I love the people and I love to sing.
There is a place in the front row with Anne Cantwell’s name on it. The rehearsal halls and directors have changed over the last thirty-eight years, but Anne’s position front row center has not. She has had a long history with the Long Island Sound Chorus and with Long Island itself. If you have questions about the back story of the Chorus or Amagansett, just ask Anne. A descendant of the Miller family, Anne’s ancestors were among the seaside hamlet’s first settlers. A history buff and local historian, Anne has devoted several years of her life to retelling the tales of her kinsmen at Miss Amelia’s Cottage which is operated by the Amagansett Historical Association. This popular museum chronicles Amagansett family life over the last three centuries. In addition, as the wife of East Hampton Town Supervisor, Larry Cantwell, Anne joins forces with him and her love of the land to protect the legacy of the area’s natural beauty. She is a tireless advocate for the local environment.
Anne first auditioned in Sag Harbor in 1978 under the direction of Jim Strong. She told him right from the start that she did not want to sing the melody; she wanted to sing the harmony. She wanted a challenge. “Fine, fine, fine”, he agreed, “A bari you shall be.” She passed the audition, went home, purchased a piano and began her life as a baritone. Her musical background as a clarinet player helped advance her vocal skills as she applied herself to learning the precise, intricate baritone lines. Her hard work and dedication were appreciated, but Jim and his zany assistant director Barbara “Blaise” Blaisdale, wanted more from her. They wanted a colorful, flamboyant diva to belt out show tunes. So out of the shedded skin of the precise, mathematical, straight liner, Anne Cantwell “the performer” was born. “I didn’t know I had it in me”, said Anne. “Jim and Blaise set me free!”
Over time Anne has grown with the Chorus, serving in many capacities. She has served the board as Membership Chair, Events and Activities Chair and Treasurer, and has taken on responsibility in many other capacities as needed. She has been the Annual Show Chair seven times. She is a gifted narrator and Mistress-of-Ceremonies. When Anne speaks everyone listens, and you can hear each perfectly paced and articulated word. She is a natural orator.
Anne credits the warm, friendly atmosphere of the Chorus with helping her develop as a person. She has blossomed as a singer and performer and has made deep and abiding friendships. For Anne, Wednesday nights are sacred. She is always there in the front row, pitch perfect, choreo ready, singing her heart out in celebration of her life. And a very good life it is with her husband Larry, her daughter, family doctor, Dr. Lara Siskas who practices in Wainscot, her grandsons Avery and Chase and all the people over three centuries who have lived and loved on the beautiful shores of Long Island.
Sandy is a Crazy Quilt of talents and interests. She can be all business, getting the risers broken down, packed up and trucked off to a new rehearsal space which she has located, negotiated and secured in her efficient way. She can and will also track you down until you commit, either yes or no, to a scheduled singing gig, Say no and her eyebrows lower with displeasure. Say yes and her face brightens. She wants you on the risers. She needsyou on the risers. Her face is an ever changing landscape of expressions for the world to see. She is transparent, an easy read. When things go well the eyebrows relax and her dimples appear.
Sandy loves to have fun and she knows how to do it. Gardening, reading, singing, sewing, anything new and interesting jumpstarts this typical Gemini. She and her husband Pete, whom she met in the Army after high school, installed and maintain a fish pond amid her Mattituck flower gardens, ornamental trees, rock gardens and vegetable patch. After a busy day of shoveling, weeding and lugging rocks she enjoys kicking back with a good book. “I’m a voracious reader,” she admits.
Music has always been an important part of Sandy’s life. She remembers listening to the traditional Scotch-Irish blue grass ballads her dad played on the radio during the years he owned and operated a coal mine in Morgantown, West Virginia. She would daydream of being on stage, strumming a guitar and singing for a living. She took piano lessons and practiced her songs on the family’s upright piano. After moving to Baltimore she studied academics and music at Western High School, an all girls public school where she was given the opportunity to attend many affordable concerts by the Baltimore Philharmonic. Years later when her children were teenagers she returned to Suffolk Community College to prepare for a twenty four year career as an x-ray technician.
Although she hasn’t made her living with song , Sandy keeps the dream alive by listening to music and singing lead with the Long Island Sound Chorus. Her performance style is exuberant, joyful and uninhibited. Her three children Pam, Paul and Janet are her biggest fans and travel long distances to hear her perform. This year Sandy was voted Sweet Adeline of the Year for her tireless work as our Events Coordinator and costume committee member.
When asked what her fantasy competition performance and costume might look like, she answered with her thoughtful smile. “You mean money would not be an object? It would have to be something everybody would look good in.” She paused and then revealed, “ We would be wearing a forties inspired two piece outfit with a black knit jersey boat neck top, three quarter length bat wing sleeves and a tea length black sateen skirt that hugs the hips and upper thighs and then flares out. We would sound amazing and sing “Let Freedom Ring” because I love patriotic songs. And, of course, we would win a medal.”
Being a veteran, Sandy looks forward to our 2016 annual show which will have a patriotic theme. This Memorial Day, Sandy and the entire Long Island Sound Chorus extend thanks and appreciation to all those who gave their lives for our country.
Irene helps our chorus in many practical ways. She is the keeper of the keys at McGann -Mercy High School in Riverhead opening the doors week after week and ironing out any scheduling problems. Irene has a rich, resonating bass voice, deep with emotion and purpose. She holds the front center position in our chorus for good reason. Her voice and choreo moves are mesmerizing. I was curious to know what kind of encouragement Irene received as a young singer. This is her surprising response.
When did you discover you had a soulful singing voice and who has encouraged you along the way?
Well, sometimes we discover things about ourselves by accident. It may take years to actually find yourself and what you are capable of doing but if something is inside of you worth developing, sooner or later it will come out.
Other than singing in children’s choruses at school plays, I never really sang. As a matter of fact, I did everything possible not to sing alone in front of people. I have no idea why. Perhaps something that happened in my earlier childhood prevented me from singing by myself in front of people. Perhaps I had tried it and someone had made fun of me and I never sang again after that, maybe.
I don’t really have an answer but what I can tell you is this…that at the age of 36, while playing my guitar, someone put a microphone in front of my mouth and as if by second nature, I just started to sing alone! Song after song kept coming out of my mouth! I was making up for years of silence! All the fear had gone away and I realized that I wasn’t that bad after all.
Eventually I would have my own band. As time went on, I would also discover the Sweet Adelines, who enabled me to grow and to understand the fine art of acapella singing.
To further enhance my singing experience, I have been fortunate enough to be part of a quartet which in itself is hard to do because of the singularity of your own solitary part in unison with the other three parts of harmony.
Truly, I am grateful that I decided to sing on the day that person put the microphone in front of me. Unbeknownst to him and to me at the time, I discovered that encouragement can sometimes come without any spoken words.
Peggy DiSunno – Director
How long have you been a member of the Long Island Sound Chorus?
I have been a Sweet Adeline for 40 years. I joined when my children were small and it was one of the best things that I ever did for myself. I was fortunate to have a music teacher in high school who was a Sweet Adeline so she taught us barbershop and I was in a quartet in high school. We got to sing in the Sweet Adeline shows which was fun.
I have always been a baritone but did sing bass in high school. I joined in 1974 and in 2003, I stepped off the risers and began directing the chorus when our director decided to leave. I officially became the director in January of 2004. It has been such a fabulous journey for me. I am a teacher so always enjoy teaching and seeing the joy on faces when something new is learned.
What keeps you coming back?
Wednesday nights are sacred for me. Just ask my family. I rarely ever miss a rehearsal night. I can’t wait to get to rehearsal every week. I love seeing the chorus, so many friends from all walks of life, all singers. I love teaching new things, working on improving songs that we know and hearing overtones!! I love looking at the joy on the faces of the singers when the chords all match. There is nothing better!!
When we leave our rehearsals at the end of the night, we all feel tired but so joyful that we got to sing together for three hours. IT’S THE BEST!!!!! The Long Island Sound Chorus is an extension of my family, a warm, loving family.
A member for over forty years, Thea has grown young with the chorus. Back in the seventies when music waved over the land like a great flag of freedom, Thea and her BFF, Peggy, cooked a good supper, waved bye-bye to their kids and babysitting husbands (who also happened to be first cousins) and drove west with one thought in mind – to sing. A Thelma and Louise duet, they have been jamming together ever since. That’s a tower of sheet music and a couture’s closet of costume changes!
But don’t let the flirty eyes and showgirl flash of Thea’s stage persona fool you. Underneath the glitz and glamour is a hard working business gal. Thea has always maintained a leadership role in the chorus, holding various posts on our Management Team including Membership Coordinator. She is also the Music Team leader for the lead section, helping to qualify and prepare them for competition. Her early musical training on the piano and piccolo enable Thea to read and interpret music. She is a strong presence on the risers, mindful of every note, breath and key change, helping to keep the chorus precise and focused on the conductor’s direction.
Her pal, cousin-in-law, and BFF Peggy is now the director, and Thea does everything she can to support her. Our two dedicated DiSunnos form a sturdy structural beam upon which our Chorus rests. Thea wears the responsibility like a silk shawl. “I learned how to work with a smile when I was a waitress in my father’s Paradise Soda Shop in Sag Harbor,” Thea remembers. She started working when she was just twelve along with her five brothers and sisters. “I always kept my rose colored glasses on. I looked for the good in people and
situations. Everything looked good to me regardless of the circumstances. It’s not that life is always easy,” she mused philosophically, “but you’ve have to take your cards and play them.”
Thea has been dealt a good hand and has played it well. She has worked her entire life taking the skills and experiences she gained from her father’s family business and applying them to her husband’s. She has been an integral part of Mike DiSunno and Sons since the eighties. The name Mike DiSunno and Sons is synonymous with East End construction. “It doesn’t seem like work to me,” she says, “it’s my life. I just love it!” Perhaps this is what keeps Thea looking and acting so young. “How do you keep such as positive attitude?” this interviewer asked. She answered in her calm, peaceful way. “I meditate. I sing. I practice gratitude. I go to the ocean every day. I adore my brothers and sisters and all my friends. My high school sweetheart ,Carmine , and I have raised three beautiful daughters, Now we have three grandsons and a granddaughter. Our grandchildren are the icing on the cake.”
You can see Thea perform with her quartet Chordiva along with Peggy DiSunno, Linda Gorniok and Laura Lynch at our annual show which will be held on Sunday, September 25, 2016 at the Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead.
Julia Gentile is a woman you cannot forget. She leaves her watermark on your life with her energy, intelligence and kindness. Is there anything she can’t do? She cooks, sews, dances, plays the piano and sings. She is the matriarch of her adoring family and an inspiration to every single woman in our chorus.
Please tell us what place music has held in your life.
I’ve been a Sweet Adeline for almost twenty five years. Music has always been a big part of my life since early childhood. I listened at my father’s knees as he played his guitar and sang the old songs of his birthplace in Italy. He was often joined by my sister on mandolin and the beautiful singing voices of the rest of the family. The family I married into was also musical . My husband and I used to love to dance together. It is not surprising that all our children turned to music in a big way.
Since you are a member of lead music team, could you give us some tips on how you learn a new song?
My personal favorite way is to listen to the song on the learning CD while reading along with the music. I make note of any confusing sections which I then play on my piano. Once I understand the music I play the CD in my car over and over and over again. I hope these tips encourage others. Also, it helps to check with a section leader if you need help. Happy singing to you all.
It takes Susan extra time to travel from her job in Smithtown School District to our new rehearsal location in Hampton Bays. It is over an hour-long drive but she does not mind. She uses the time to crank up her CD player and listen to chorus songs over and over again. A self- proclaimed chord worshipper, she especially loves working on ballads and milking the phrase endings for every grace note and overtone possible. She is a stickler for lifting vowels. Do not let her hear you say anything but “aisle” for I’ll, otherwise you will hear about it.
Sometimes Susan is a few minutes late. It gives this writer a chance to take a good long look at our fashionista’s ensemble as she takes her place in the lead section on the top row of the risers. Sue does small things with great love. Her acrylic nail art, rhinestone studded shoes, full make up and jewelry are all coordinated to create glamor. Her jewelry collection is extensive and varied including baubles, bling, chokers, and rings. Some nights she wears precious vintage gems inherited from her mother while other nights she wears funky pieces of costume jewelry purchased from CVS. Regardless of where it comes from or how much it costs, it always looks smashing on Sue.
Music has always been important in Susan’s life. She grew up with the sounds of A Hundred and One Strings, Frank Sinatra and Connie Francis rising from her father’s living room stereo. At her present home, the radio is tuned to a country or eighties hits station. She adores the emotional wailing ballads of country pop sensation, Martina McBride, and the high-energy heavy metal rock riffs of Poison, Motley Crue, Queen and Bon Jovi, but her all time favorite artist is Barry Manilow. Barry looms large among the sizable collection of meticulously arranged tchotchkes in her home. Manilow magnets claim a large portion of her refrigerator door.
Sue is one of those people with a golden aura. She is relaxed, happy and seems to enjoy every second of her life from taking a sip of a diet coke to singing with At Last, her accomplished quartet. She has two daughters and a grandson, A.J. Susan shares her home with her Sweet Adeline’s sister in song, Martha Wagner, and nine cats. Her vision for the chorus is that we master the art of taking the perfect pitch.
At first glance you might expect to see Linda Gorniok on the risers of a high school musical rather than singing with an adult woman’s chorus. A petite brunette with a pixie haircut and horn rimmed glasses Linda’s youthfulness and vitality belie her status as mother of three and grandmother of three. A member for almost twelve years, she said it was a fortuitous event that led her to the Sweet Adelines. “We were hosting a Finnish exchange student,” Linda says, “ and the local paper had written an article about him. As I searched the paper I came upon a little advertisement and the words jumped off the page: DO YOU LIKE TO SING? I showed up at Open Membership night, sang a few tags and thought, “Hey, I can do this!” and she was given the bass part.
Linda loves being a bass. “When I was a little girl singing in Brooklyn I was placed as an alto because I could hold the part. I love the bass because of the strong, deep, full sound. The German town of Ridgewood, Brooklyn was home to her family including her German-born mother, Ukrainian born dad and two sisters. “We spoke German at home and went to the German Boys and Girls Chorus to learn the culture and music of Germany. That’s where I started singing at the age of seven.” At ten she began playing an accordion brought over from Germany (which she has subsequently dusted off to high acclaim for our weekend Retreats). “I still have all my original books and sheet music,” she admits with a chuckle.
Linda met her husband of forty years when she was twenty and working for Lufthansa Airlines. “He was part of the German border patrol and Kennedy Airport was his station.” They began a family when she was 22. Today her son Greg plays guitar and is part of a Reggae band, son Christopher is an elementary school teacher who always brings his trumpet to school to play Happy Birthday to his students, and daughter Andrea plays the violin. This past Thanksgiving the family put on a variety show complete with “stage curtains” separating the living room and dining room. “Everyone had to do something,” she said, “read a poem, sing a song.” She and husband, George dressed up as Sonny and Cher and sang I’ve Got You, Babe.
Linda admits that the Chorus has taught her volumes about music. “I’ve learned so much about its nuances, how much holding a note can change a sound. And all the intricacies have helped me enjoy music so much more.” She feels as though she’s improved in certain areas. “I used to have trouble smiling when I performed even though I thought I was smiling. But its finally clicked and the joy (of singing) comes out physically on my face!” An almost forgotten fact is that shortly after joining the Chorus Linda became a member of a quartet that went to Contest for three consecutive years. “We really jumped into that cold water feet first!” she proffers. “It was scary and thrilling and a lot of work. We practiced very hard. But we did it and I’m so glad we did.” She has been part of two other quartets since then, presently the bass for Chordivas along with Peggy Disunno, Thea Disunno and Laura Lynch. Her four year old granddaughter, Lydia, is an unofficial member of the Chordivas “We meet at lunchtime and I have to tell her not to sing along. She knows all the words!”
Linda’s approach to a song is a perfect example of German engineering. “When I get a new song the first thing I do is figure out all the notes. I like to make sure that everything is accurate and everything I hear on the learning cd is accurate — or not.” If it’s not she goes back to the cd and listens carefully, looking at the sheet music and writing out each corresponding note. “If I have trouble hearing the note on the cd I go to my piano and play it so I’ll know exactly what I should be singing,” she says. Linda also enjoys finding patterns in the music. “Many times there is repetition of phrasing. I also look for areas where there is no pattern, where things are different. I like to pull the music apart. Then, when we go into sections we can go over it and be aware of
different endings and phrasings.” All her riser mates know that Linda is musical True North; if Linda sings it you know it’s right. Her leaderships on the risers is dependable because she does her homework. “ I like to be sure of what I’m doing, “ she says with a modest smile.
Linda truly enjoys the sisterhood the Long Island Sound Chorus provides. “There’s a saying that shared problems are lessened and shared joys are multiplied; that’s how I feel about it. When I took care of my parents before they passed everyone emailed me and helped me with kind words, hugs. They were so supportive.” Linda gives credit for that camaraderie to our director. “Peggy includes everyone, even people who have moved away still receive emails because the ties are never broken. You always have that Sweet Adeline connection.”
Our weekly vocal warm-up coach for the past year, Linda clearly loves the position. “I try to bring in the element of fun. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a teacher and maybe that’s coming through now. Both my sons are teachers and so is my daughter-in-law.” Linda tries to make it interesting and mix it up a little. She says she’s inspired by Carol Bill and Peggy’s warmup exercises and some music videos.
I asked Linda if she could sum up what Sweet Adelines has done for her in ten words or less. She quickly answered in one – Joy! “I get joy from signing and it just makes me feel good. After a hard day you may not want to go to practice, but you go anyway. And you are always so glad you did.”
It didn’t take long to see that our newest member, Laura Lynch, would be a great asset to our chorus. She arrived with her tape recorder in hand ready to learn. Laura passed the singing audition within two weeks, a chorus record. Laura spent several years in Los Angeles pursuing a career in comedy and theatre before starting her family here on Long Island. She is a charismatic performer and a welcome addition to our tenor section. Laura has joined the Chordivas quartet, which also includes Peggy DiSunno, Thea DiSunno, and Linda Gorniok. They will be performing at our annual concert, which will be held on September 27th at the Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead.
What brought you to the Long Island Sound Chorus?
As far back as I can remember I have always loved music – harmony especially. There is something about the sound a perfect chord makes that makes my soul sing. My father was a Whaler, so I was familiar with the format. I was even in a quartet in High School with my dad. After having children I got stuck in that “mom” rut and was feeling like a piece of me was missing. I had been toying with the idea of joining the chorus years ago, but with my kids being so young, I didn’t think I could commit the time and energy. I was also afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough, or that I wouldn’t fit in. Then earlier this year my husband pushed me to go to a rehearsal, so I thought I’d give it a try. That first night I was welcomed warmly by everyone. I started singing right away, and I’ve never looked back. My only regret is that I didn’t join the chorus sooner.
Perhaps it’s the clarity of her eyes or the unguardedness of her smile that makes you feel instantly comfortable in Jackie’s presence. She has an openness that says you can be yourself with me, whoever you are. You are one of God’s creatures. And whether or not she is religious is beside the point; Jackie is spiritual and you sense that the moment you meet her.
Jackie was initiated into music as a twelve year old Girl Scout on a hiking tour. As she tells it, “An enchanted moment happened. The wind was moving through the reeds, a gentle back and forth whoosh. I felt nature singing a song that was somehow just for me. I was mesmerized.” At that moment she knew that she had been appointed to carry music throughout her life. Jackie claims to never having had a particularly strong or a technically correct singing voice, but she feels that life has given her many opportunities to express herself through music. As a teenager she heard Barbara Streisand sing for the first time – and she was changed. “In my mind Streisand was connected to New York and independence. If I could just get to New York I could be like Streisand, a self actualized, independent, creative, outspoken woman.” And that was her intention throughout her teenage years in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Then she entered California State College in Pennsylvania and met Mel Moss. “He was from Brooklyn and wanted to take me home to meet his mama.”
New York was everything she’d dreamed of. “Once I got to Brooklyn, the coffee houses, the Village scene, it was like they were speaking their souls, telling their stories to me. I felt like I had found my tribe.” Jackie kindled a musical friendship with a neighbor who ignited her ability to write songs. “Song writing came naturally to me and I started going to coffee houses with young musicians and comedians.” She developed a repertoire that she and others sang and, although she felt somewhat limited by her technical abilities, she kept at it for several years. Opening a coffee house in a Greenport church basement, musicians gathered and Jackie played the dulcimer filling the room with Joni Mitchell-esque songs. Once again it felt like music had brought her to a very special place. Then she became a teacher and brought the music along with her. She taught her students to write songs because according to Jackie, “Music elevates everything.”
She credits her husband for helping her find her musical way. “Mel helped me get here even though he’s reserved about music. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t want you to catch him tapping his foot. When we first went to concerts I was almost a head banger, but he was so stoic that I had to control myself. He comes from a long line of musicians so he has always encouraged me and been a critic in the best sense of the word. He’s super smart and loves music. We’ve been together over 40 years. We’re soul mates skipping down the trail together. It’s so great. He’s my best friend, he really gets me.”
Jackie finds music profound in its ability to create a sense of relaxation and openness in people, something she says we shy away from in our culture. “We don’t like to relax. We like to be driven and pushed. Music is like the Holy Spirit. It’s this gentleness, trust, openness, and vulnerability. That’s part of the medicine of music. It says be here with me now. You don’t have to go anyplace, just relax and enjoy the beauty of me. Be in the present and enjoy the moment.”
About being a member of the Long Island Sound Chorus, Jackie says that as a Sweet Adeline she’s come from not wanting to tap her foot like Mel to channeling her inner Barbara more and more. “Ok, Barbara!” she says, “I know what you’re about now!” The Chorus has helped her feel free to express herself and let the music come through her body. “It’s my new frontier,” she says with that unguarded smile. ,”It’s what I’m moving towards. “
Karen Strong Mullen
Strong is the perfect name for our dedicated Bass Section Leader and Chorus Coach. She is rooted and grounded in the barbershop tradition through the legacy of her father, Jim Strong, a legendary singer and director and her mother Betty Strong. Karen’s coaching style combines technical precision with a deeply intuitive understanding of the song. She likes to “fix things” until they are perfect but achieves this in a relaxed, easy going way. She motivates the chorus to sing with their whole bodies, minds and souls. Karen has helped the award winning Long Island Sound Chorus develop their artistic, uplifting sound through her passion and love of coaching and barbershop singing. Karen’s quartet, Rumor Has It, can bring an audience to tears. Her rich bass voice, combined the voices of her sister, Linda Beyer, Carol Bill and Hilda Blevins strikes a perfect balance between power, sensitivity and style.
Our chapter of Sweet Adelines was established in 1959. Do you know anything about the history of our group?
My mother, Betty Strong, was in a travelling choir while she was in college. She loved music. When she got married to my father, she was immersed in barbershop music but only as a spectator. She finally got sick of just listening to the men sing and decided to start a chapter for women. She and a group of good friends worked long and hard to establish the first chapter of Sweet Adelines on Eastern Long Island. Their director was Mrs. Jane Filer. Later my father became the director. I started singing with the chorus in 1971 under the direction of my dad. Somehow, through the change of directors and times, the chapter my mother founded in 1959 is still going strong. Now my daughter Randi and my sister’s daughter Deanna are in the chorus. I see a very bright future for our group.
We owe your mother and her friends a debt of gratitude. What was it like growing up in a home with Jim and Betty Strong?
There was always music in our house. Famous men’s quartets from all over the country would frequently stay over night at our house in East Hampton. My sisters, Barbara, Linda and I would listen to the harmonies and join in on the tags. My grandmother played the organ. We would all gather around and sing with her on Sundays and holidays. I can still hear her leading us in a round of “Million Dollar Baby” and many other songs from her well-worn songbook. My sisters and I were always encouraged to sing. We sang in the C Minor’s chorus, a chorus of forty young girls aged 9-12, for a couple of years. One Christmas my two sisters and our dad dressed up in colonial costumes and sang carols for the Historical Society in East Hampton. Music was at the center of our lives.
Can anyone learn to sing or is it a God given talent?
There are different levels. Some people have more of a gift than others but everyone’s voice can be improved through practice. I recommend that our chorus members practice at least fifteen minutes every day with a focus on one or two particular skills. Personally, I listen to songs I’m working on in my car. Some days I work on breathing. Other days I work on lifting the soft palate and finding the right singing space for a particular vowel. I keep working on the skill until it becomes second nature, then I move on to something else. Discipline is important if you want to improve, but it has to be fun. Singing is not for the gifted few. Everybody has a voice. Nobody should be afraid to sing, to sing for joy! That is what music is for.
There are two Lisas. One is the composed, serious, chorus treasurer Lisa who enters rehearsal every Wednesday night in a well cut suit, dragging files and checks, invoices and documentation for the chorus’s business affairs behind her. Then there is Lisa, the entertainer. That Lisa lights up the risers like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. An outstanding performer, this Lisa is joyful, expansive, full of razzamatazz and fun! She is the kind of performer who grabs the audience by the heartstrings and says, “Listen to this!” The audience has no choice but to comply, enraptured.
Lisa has been a member of the Long Island Sound chorus for five years, and feels as though she has just turned a corner. All our coaching has helped her develop the technical skills she felt she needed to sing with artistry. And once the technical foundation was established Lisa felt the she could perform with a more layered, intuitive approach to singing. Now that the left brain skill set has combined with the right, Lisa feels that she has reached a new level. She implores “Newbies” to take heart. Like her, you will get better and better with time and practice.
Lisa was not trained in the performing arts, but the one constant in her young life was the sound of her mother’s beautiful voice singing to her four daughters. That music became a part of her psyche, and Lisa passed it on to her own four children. In their early years, Lisa sang them to sleep with songs from her childhood.. Her children still talk about those wonderful songs to this day, proving once again that music has a powerful way of sealing cherished memories.
Besides being a Sweet Adeline, a wife and a mother of four, Lisa is an attorney at the prestigious Esseks, Hefter and Angel Law Firmin Riverhead, NY. She had a passion for helping women who were victims of domestic violence and her work as a women’s advocate at The Retreat in East Hampton motivated her to go back to school to become an attorney at the age of 40. As a single mother raising four children she found herself desperately wanting to have the legal power to help women protect themselves and their children from abuse. Lisa believes that women in these situations need to be empowered, get out of isolation and regain perspective. Her message to women is you are valuable, there is help out there, and you are not alone.
Lisa is a hard working, compassionate and talented member of the Long Island Sound chorus. Like each member of our group, her voice is unique, appreciated and an important reason why we have such an amazing chorus. We love you, Lisa!
You know you are Irish if you greet the sunrise with a smile, tromp adversity with wit and whistle while you work and work and work. That is our chorus member Joan Ryan. A first generation Irish-American, she has the disposition of a green Spring, a Jack the Giant work ethic and a heart of pure gold.
Joan’s father, Francis, left his native Ireland and emigrated to America to seek opportunity in the land of the brave and the free. It was there he met and married his wife ,Genevive. He was proud to be an American citizen and to provide a living for his wife and family of five, Joan, her brother and four sisters. Joan’s father worked as a steamfitter and helped build the tall skyscrapers that were rising up in Manhattan after the Great Depression. Francis never left the dinner table without thanking God for his many blessings.
Dinner time at Joan’s home was a time for family sharing and closeness. Joan fondly remembers the times after the evening meal when somebody would start a song and everyone would join in. The “woodshedding” would continue until the table was cleared and the dishes were washed, dried and put away. The singing made the work seem like fun. Work and music, music and life were all connected in the family’s home.
Music was always an important part of Joan’s early life. Family gatherings and holiday meals were elevated by the whole family singing songs like “Alice Blue Gown,” “ Danny Boy,” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” Joan’s mother had a beautiful clear voice and loved teaching her children the old songs. Her father played along on the flute or violin. The family proudly ran behind their dad when he marched down Fifth Avenue playing the bagpipes in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade.
It is no surprise that Joan and three of her four sisters found their way into Sweet Adeline choruses. Joan, Fran, Patty and Gen first joined the Heart of Long Island Chorus and formed their own quartet. Joan has since moved on to the Long Island Sound Chorus. She has been singing baritone since 1985 and now serves on the Music Leadership Committee. Joan has been a tireless worker for our chorus serving as the Pitch Keeper and member of the Management Team, Retreat Committee , and the Costume Committee. She and her talented Costume Committee members have conceptualized and created some of the performer’s most dazzling costumes including the tuxedo and derby combo which helped the chorus take home a first place competition medal. This year’s colorfully flowered Mardi Gras costume was a design masterpiece and helped bring the celebratory carnival songs to life.
Besides serving on formal committees, Joan has been a sympathetic friend to all chorus members. Whenever any of us is going through one of life’s storms, Joan’s empathy and encouragement reassures us to have faith and to carry on. She helps us all stay optimistic and strong.
Ask her family. She and her husband of 57 years, Lowell, have built a strong loving family like the one she was raised in. She has passed on the values that her parents have instilled in her to their two daughters, and one son. “They are all successful,” Joan says proudly. The apples have not fallen too far from the tree. If you really want to see the full radiance of Joan’s smile, just mention any one of her seven grandchildren. “They are the light in my life,” she says, “I adore them.”
When asked what advice this wise and accomplished harmonizer could give us and her family members, she says, “Whistle while you work, work, work and always follow your heart.”
Martha Wagner is funny. She makes us laugh with her whooping and goofing, kidding and cavorting but beneath the hilarity is a woman of purpose.
Martha joined the chorus a year after her mother died. She was 16 years old. Loosing a parent is difficult at any age but even more so during the teen years when your identity is still in flux. Martha is not a whiner. Looking back on her life she counts her many blessings and recognizes the support she received during that critical time her life. Two women from her church choir recognized her musical ability and invited her to a Sweet Adeline’s rehearsal. With the help of Joan Ryan who drove her to rehearsal every week, she was able to find peace, purpose and community in the arms of Sweet Adelines. You could say she was a daughter of Sweet Adelines.
While other kids were listening to the raucous rock of Motley Crue and Poison, Martha was listening to church music and wholesome standards. She knew that if she were going to survive the death of her mother she would have to walk the straight and narrow path. And she did.
Strong and independent, Martha has loved music her whole life. She has grown beyond being a child of Sweet Adelines to being a leader within the organization. She is a virtuoso tenor with perfect pitch who often carries the entire tenor section in the absence of the other two tenors in her section. She is our director, Peggy’ DiSunno’s, right hand gal blowing the pitch throughout rehearsals and prompting the chorus to sing.
Her quartet, At Last, is a group of accomplished singers who can bring you to tears with the beauty and emotional depth of their harmonies. Recently Martha has taken on the responsibility of assistant director and tenor section leader.
How do you work full time and get all these other things done, What are the secrets of your time management?
With a twinkle in her eye she told me about her photographic memory that allows her to quickly pick up information and store it. She also credits her intuition.
“For me, music is all about spirituality. Music connects me to my soul, my intuition, and my feelings. I just want to pass this on to others and bless them the way so many others have blessed me.”
Did I mention that Martha has had multiple ear surgeries and wears two hearing aids?