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Red Cedar Sounds: ‘Life without color is like music without harmony’

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  It’s a lot of work — and a lot of fun.

But in the end, it’s more fun than work.

That’s how members of the Red Cedar Sounds chapter of Sweet Adelines International describe getting ready for — and performing — their annual cabaret show the first weekend in November.

 This year’s theme for the show on November 2 is “Colors of Harmony” (Life Without Color is Like Music Without Harmony).

The Red Cedar Sounds have been working on learning the music for the show since June.

“We usually try to keep rehearsals to about two hours. As it gets closer (to the performance), then they get to be two-and-a-half hours. Occasionally there’s an extra rehearsal,” said Dawn Roberts, director of the Red Cedar Sounds.

“We have a lot of creative people here. It’s a thought process for coming up with a theme. We have a lot of talent,” she said.

When asked if they ever pick a song, and then reject it after a while because it is just not working for the group, members of the Red Cedar Sounds all laughed.

“Oh, yes,” said several voices.

“The quartets have changed their songs a couple of times,” Roberts noted.

“For as small as this chorus is, we are very lucky to have two quartets. There’s a lot of big choruses that do not have two quartets,” she said.

Some of the bigger choruses the Red Cedar Sounds see when they go to competitions have 150 members or even 300 members.

The Red Cedar Sounds’ roster has 17 members.

The quartets are Con Brio and Totally Connected.

When asked what motivates them all to keep practicing for their annual performance in November, multiple voices spoke up.

“We love to sing,” they said.

“It is the camaraderie. We love to sing together,” Roberts said.

A lone voice spoke up from the group.

“Some of us are just plain nuts!”

Members of the group laughed in agreement.

“We like to be centers of attention,” said one chorus member.

“We’re all a little bit of an actress. We’ve all got actress in us,” said another.

“Barbershop harmony sticks with you,” said someone else.

“Once you’re bitten, you can’t let it go,” said yet another.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” Roberts said.

American art form

If you have ever listened to the Red Cedar Sounds or the Dunn County Barbershoppers, it’s a sound you can recognize instantly.

But what is so special about Barbershop/Sweet Adeline harmony?

The answer is — it is the only truly American art form.

“Even though the music is written a certain way, it is not written in stone. We can change it to however it fits us. We can tweak it. We can change the interpretation, the blending of voices,” said Kathy Tape.

“Barbershop is however you want it to be. You can change your words, your motions, it is not like classical music. It is not cast in stone. There’s not one way to do it,” said another member of the chorus.

“When we go to competition, you can maybe hear the same song, but it’s a different style, a different interpretation. And it is just as good. There’s nothing that’s wrong. It’s all in how they interpret it,” Tape said.

When the choruses are judged at competition, they are judged not on the technicalities of the piece, but on the sound, their choreography, and their costumes.

At International Competition, people from other countries, who are not native speakers of English, are required to sing the songs in English.

“They can be from Sweden, but they don’t sing in Swedish. You can hear them walking down the halls at International speaking their own language, but when they get on stage, they have to sing in English, even though they may not understand the language,” explained one chorus member.

There are Sweet Adeline choruses in 14 different countries around the world.

“It’s a sisterhood. We’re part of a sisterhood. We take care of each other. You can travel anywhere else and find another Sweet Adeline somewhere,” said another chorus member.

“We sometimes have very frustrating moments (at practice), but we’re all friends,” chimed in another.

“This chorus is my second family,” said Ashley Sault, a student at Colfax High School. “That’s how it feels to me. It’s my second family. And I love it.”

“When you go to International competition, they honor people who have been in (choruses) for 60 years. There are some very elderly people who are still participating,” one chorus member said.

“For me, once I got that barbershop bug, I just had to be a part of it. All the places I have lived, even if I couldn’t join a chorus, I had to go to rehearsal at least once every two or three months just to get that fix. We have snowbirds who visit choruses in other states when they’re gone. It’s just something that gets into your soul,” Roberts said.


Two days after the Red Cedar Sounds’ show, Noreen Lueck said she is going to Hawaii for the International Competition.

“The people you run into at International that you saw ten years ago, and it’s like Old Home Week. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen that person,” Roberts said.

The caliber of entertainment at the International Competition “is Broadway,” chorus members said.

“Barbershop is an art form that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been singing, there is always something to learn. It’s like the way medical technology changes. You can find people who have been singing barbershop for 50 years, and they’re taking voice lessons. They’re always learning and growing. It’s a very progressive art form,” Roberts said.

In addition to the annual show in the fall, the Red Cedar Sounds perform at a wide variety of venues, such as nursing homes, birthday parties, reunions, clubs, Christmas parties, and tree lightings.

“We’ve done a lot of things out in the community,” Roberts said.

New members

The Red Cedar Sounds are always looking for more members.

The only requirement is that women enjoy singing.

Women who join the chorus do not have to be musically trained and do not have to read music. CDs are available to help them learn the songs if they do not read music.

“If they can hear a part and memorize it, they can sing with the Red Cedar Sounds,” said one chorus member.

“A lot of people think if they ‘talk like this’ (in a low voice), we wouldn’t want them, but we do. We need women with all kinds of voices,” said another.

“And you need to be open to learning … you just need to be willing to have an open mind and take a chance and learn it. That’s all you need,” Roberts said.

The Red Cedar Sounds practice every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Colfax Methodist Church.

Chorus members are always open to visitors and encourage anyone to come at any time.

“We have a phone tree, so in the winter, with storms, we let everyone know if the weather is too bad and we’re not having rehearsal. But usually, nine out of ten Tuesdays, we’re here,” Roberts said.

“We really would like to have more women join us. The more the merrier. It’s just going to be a bigger party with more people,” she said.


“The hardest thing we have sung at was one of our members passed away this summer, and we sang at her funeral. It was something we needed to do, but it was really hard,” said Mona Thorson.

The Colors of Harmony show on November 2 will be dedicated to Doreen Lorenzen, who was a charter member of the Red Cedar Sounds.

Doreen died on July 23.

“We won’t be able to say it, to announce it, but the show is dedicated to her,” said one chorus member.

“It will be too emotional to announce it. It’s hard to lose one of our charter members,” said another.

In addition to Roberts, Tape, Sault, Lueck and Thorson, members of the Red Cedar Sounds include Claudia Hogan; Lois Barrett; Leah Buerkle; Toni Moody; Marion Zwiefelhofer; Carol Chrostowski; Karen Hoepner; Chris Thome; Jennifer Davis-Farlow; Jennifer Dworak; Pat Eggert; and Judy North.

The Colors of Harmony Show this Saturday in the Martin Anderson Gym at Colfax High School will have two performances: 2 p.m. matinee with dessert ($8; $3 for 12 and under); and the 5:15 dinner show with dessert ($12; $5 for 12 and under).

According to the organization’s website, Sweet Adelines International is a non-profit musical education association for women founded in 1945 that has 23,000 members.

According to Sweet Adelines International’s “chorus locater,” the Red Cedar Sounds is the only chorus within a 50-mile radius of Colfax.

Within 100 miles of Colfax, in addition to the Red Cedar Sounds, the Heart O Wisconsin chapter is in Marshfield, and six other choruses are in Minnesota, including two in Richfield and one each in White Bear Lake, Forest Lake, Stillwater and Rochester.