Diane Parkes listens to a group of women who are embracing a male-dominated musical tradition.
It is a Monday evening but there is no shortage of good cheer in the school hall where more than 40 women are singing in harmony.
Arranged on benches at Grove Vale Primary School in Great Barr, the chorus is belting out the tune I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.
It sounds lovely to me but chorus director Rod Butcher isn’t having any of it and insists they give it another go before they are allowed to break off for interviews.
He may be a tough taskmaster but the group are more than happy to try again – after all there are standards to be met.
These women are Second City Sound, a Birmingham-based ladies barbershop chorus. Formed in 1990, the group are now one of the leading choruses in the country, taking fourth place at the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers Convention last year.
Barbershop harmonising may traditionally have been a male domain but there are approximately 50 women’s barbershop choruses across the country and the trend is growing.
In school halls, churches, and community centres up and down the country women are sharing their joy of singing.
And Second City Sound is so keen to spread the message its has arranged a free singing course for women from February 21.
The group is hoping to introduce women to the enjoyment of music – and gain a few new recruits along the way.
Rhoda Poyser is one of the newest members but one of the first things she says is that she wished she had joined years ago.
The 59-year-old, who lives in Aldridge, retired from her job as head teacher at Pheasey Park Farm Primary School in Walsall last year, so she now has time for hobbies.
“I had seen the chorus perform at Sutton Town Hall and had loved it but while I was working it was too difficult to have the time for that kind of regular commitment,” she says. “When I retired I wanted to do something for myself.
“I had always done a good deal of singing, I used to lead hymn practice at school, but I wouldn’t say I was necessarily a good singer. I am really enjoying learning to sing. And from the first evening I came here people were so welcoming.”
Joining in October 2009, 32-year-old Louise Blackburn, from Great Barr, says she “instantly fell in love” with the barbershop style of singing.
“I loved the experience of singing in four part harmony and came away from each rehearsal feeling elated and full of energy despite starting the rehearsal feeling tired from a full day studying or being at work.
“I have learnt so much about singing technique, music, singing in harmony, made some great friends and also now sing in a quartet. What started as a stop-gap while I was studying for an MA has become a passion.”
She also enjoys the social side.
“Everyone was really kind and welcoming and there was a wide range of people, ages and background which gave it a feeling of vitality.”
And many of the members have been part of the chorus for a good deal longer.
Olive Ryder, aged 72, is one of the founder members and travels from Tamworth every week to take part in rehearsals.
“My husband used to sing with the Anvil Chorus and I used to go along to make the tea,” she recalls. “I was talking to another woman, Jean Young, who also loved singing and we said ‘why don’t we start a chorus?’
“Both Jean and I were quickly hooked and we started the club. Since then it has just become bigger and bigger. We have members who come from Stafford, Bedford, Coventry, we even have one who comes from Wales on occasions.”
Olive is the secretary but she has held every post during the last 21 years.
“For a lot of the members it is more than a hobby because we are also a competitive chorus. We also do sing-outs and competitions.”
Chairman Yvonne Powell, aged 70, from Great Barr, says barbershop singing is all-inclusive because every member of the chorus matters.
“It is four part harmonies and we use a capella and every voice is part of that. It is a unique and entirely different way of singing.”
And now the group are keen to encourage other women to join. A lot of people do not realise there are ladies barbershop choruses,” says Yvonne. “They think a barbershop chorus can only be four men wearing hats singing in harmony.”
* Second City Sound Ladies Barbershop Chorus free singing course takes place between February 21-April 4 from 7.45-9.15pm. For more information contact 0121 605 4755 or email@example.com For more information see www.secondcitysound.org.uk