PENINSULA WOMAN: Quartet turns up volume at pair of fundraising concerts

SEQUIM — Some might say the song’s risque.

But it’s also one descriptive invitation from four women who know a good time when they hear it.

Aspire! is the quartet — sisters Linda Muldowney and Connie Alward plus Mary Ellen Bartholomew and Lindy McLaine — with “Red Hot” in their repertoire.

Here’s a taste of the number, written by Nancy Bergman, a master arranger who specializes in songs for Sweet Adelines, the worldwide organization of female barbershop singers.

“Baby, do I have your attention? All of your attention?

There are a few things I’d like to mention, like to mention

Red hot mama is what you’ve got

timid and shy is what I’m not!

Let’s get together, it’s kissing weather

It’s red hot, red hot!

And that’s just the warm-up.

Things get a bit more heated later on in the song, thanks to these women. They are obviously having a blast, obviously pouring everything they have into this music.

This Saturday, Oct. 1, the Aspire! women will show off their abilities as the featured quartet in two concerts at the Sequim High School Performing Arts Center. The pair, titled “The Magic of Music,” bring together Aspire!, plus the 30-voice Grand Olympics Chorus of Sweet Adelines, for a 2 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. show.

Also slated to perform are the quartets Hot Apple Pie, Shirazz, Loonie Tunes and Top of the List. And from the Olympic Peninsula Men’s Chorus, the Dungeness Transfer quintet and No Batteries Required quartet will sing.

The concerts’ musical menu will cover the gamut from vintage to contemporary pop, including a package about love and romance from Aspire!

The foursome rehearsed “Red Hot” recently for a reporter and gave it their signature blend of precision and gusto. They also talked a bit about the effect music has on their lives.

When you sing from deep inside, your whole being hums, says McLaine. And the women agree: After a long day at work, a song — or several — makes the stress fall away.

The Aspire! singers rehearse together for at least three hours one evening per week. And each practices on her own, at home or at work.

“I work on my music during my breaks,” says McLaine, whose workplace is the Sequim Library.

“I leave the building,” she adds with a smile.

Alward works at First Federal’s Eighth Street office in Port Angeles.

“I’m over there singing all the time. Ask my co-workers,” she says.

Alward and Muldowney began singing with encouragement from their mother June Anderson. She took Alward to a Sweet Adelines practice one day in March 1979. She was just 14, and this new pursuit was a positive one at a pivotal point in her development.

“It was a good thing, at that raging hormonal stage,” Alward recalls.

She’s been a Sweet Adeline — part of the international organization of female barbershop singers — for 32 years now.

“It’s in my blood,” she says.

Alward, Muldowney and their mom have lent their harmonies to various events, including weddings. At Alward and Muldowney’s brother David Anderson’s wedding in 1984, they sang “Blue Skies and Always.”

And Alward sang at her own nuptials in 1990, bringing her bridegroom Brad to tears with “Evergreen,” the love ballad made famous by Barbra Streisand. He tried hard to keep his upper lip stiff, she remembers. Ultimately, he gave in to the moment.

Aspire! is a relatively new configuration of singers that has already won a regional award. On April 1, the quartet traveled to Spokane for the North Pacific Sweet Adelines International competition, which draws singers from across Alaska, Idaho and Washington. Much to their delight, the women of Aspire! won fourth place overall.

For McLaine, whose musical background is comprehensive, this brand of a cappella harmony is a fresh frontier.

“It’s amazing,” she says, “how much there is to learn about barbershop.”

McLaine first learned to sing from her mother, Lin Bruce. The family moved around a lot while she was growing up, so she and her three brothers spent many hours riding in the car. Their mom taught them songs, “to keep us in line.”

Bartholomew sang with her mother, too, in the car, while doing dishes, wherever they could.

“The very first song I remember singing, I was drying dishes, and my mom was washing,” she recalls. She was 5 years old, and the song was “Clementine.”

When Bartholomew got to school, she didn’t have an easy time fitting into choir. She possessed a rich, deep voice unlike her female classmates’ high tones.

Many years later, Bartholomew moved to Walla Walla. One night at a Sweet Adelines meeting, a singer heard her and said, “You’re a bass. Come stand by me.”

“I thought, oh, I’m home,” Bartholomew said.

After moving to Port Angeles, she found another group of women with whom she clicked: the three who would create Aspire!

Singing is a tonic for the constitution, these four women find.

“It releases those good endorphins,” says Muldowney, who has sung with Sweet Adelines ensembles for 26 years.

You don’t necessarily sing because you feel good, the women of Aspire! say. But once you do activate that voice, you can feel yourself being lifted.

Muldowney is fortunate enough to have a husband who’s a barbershop singer: Jim Muldowney is a member of the Olympic Peninsula Men’s Chorus.

“I have total support at home,” while practicing, says his wife.

Yet while barbershop harmonies depend on precise execution, “the notes and words are only the basic steps,” says Muldowney. To bring the song to life, the singer must engage her heart.

Saturday’s concerts celebrate matters of the heart, via the romantic fantasy known as Twilight. The Aspire! quartet will debut a package of songs, stitched together with a little prose, inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s stories set in Forks.

The package includes “If I Give My Heart to You” from 1954, “Hey Mister Stay” changed to “Hey Monster Stay,” and the love song immortalized by Jim Croce, “Time in a Bottle.”

Singing these songs well, the four say, gives a body one of the sweetest sensations there is.

“It’s wraparound sound,” says Bartholomew. “It’s like you’re being buoyed up by all that sound.”

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