By Sarah Guinn
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Show-Me Harmony Chorus director Glenda Rucker said she strives to make music more than just notes on a page -- she strives to make it come alive. Rucker moves through the space at the Joplin Family Worship Center, where the chorus practices every week, as she listens to the chorus warm up.
“A little more open,” Rucker shouts.
She uses her arms as an exercise, raising them with ascending notes and letting them fall with the descending. She asks her members to do the same.
Rucker instructs the members of the small chorus -- consisting of about 20 women -- to project their vocals, producing powerful chords that pack the practice area.
The Show-Me Harmony Chorus will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year with a concert, “Celebrate Good Times,” 7 p.m. Saturday at Ozark Christian College.
The chorus is an all-female a cappella barbershop chorus made up of leads, tenors, basses and baritones. It’s also part of Sweet Adelines, an international singing organization for women, formed in 1946.
Rucker has been a member of the Show-Me Harmony Chorus for 31 years and has spent the past 24 years directing, she said.
Rucker describes the barbershop-style music as “an art form that is absolutely 100 percent American.”
The craft, Rucker said, stems from slaves whose only freedoms were to sing and harmonize. The harmonies evolved and were incorporated into new music, she said, and from there, the barbershop chord was born.
The barbershop style goes like this: The lead has the melody, tenors sing the high notes, the bass sets the foundation of the chord and baritones fill in where needed, Rucker said.
“It’s structured, yet it’s based on the barbershop seventh chord. You can hear it, but a lot of times, people don’t understand what that chord is,” she said.
Rucker is no stranger to four-part harmonies. Her parents were a drummer and an amateur singer .
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” she said. “I grew up singing four-part harmony.”
And after she discovered Sweet Adelines, the four-part harmony became a part of her everyday life, she said with a laugh. Choosing pieces for the chorus and learning new music are constant challenges Rucker faces.
Before Rucker introduces new music for the chorus to learn, she must first find an arrangement of it in barbershop style and have permission to use it. This makes building a solid repertoire difficult, she said.
Once she has found the pieces, she teaches the chorus the four parts that make up the arrangement. Once the girls have learned their parts, they bring the music off the sheet, and Rucker can then add flair for accentuation.
“One thing about barbershop É is that I can take liberties with the way something is done,” she said. “If I want to hold a quarter note three or four beats, I can. It’s the interpretation of the song. There’s not a director who sings a song the way it’s written.”
Rucker said she has seen a wide range of characteristics in the women who make up the Show-Me Harmony Chorus. The chorus welcomes all women, no matter their religious background, creed or color -- it’s all about getting together to sing. She’s had members from as young as 11 to women who still sing and dance into their 80s and 90s.
At practice, the girls sing and dance to Simon and Garfunkel’s, “The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy,)” making peace signs while moving to the beat. Twenty-somethings groove to music from far before their time while gray-haired ladies still living in the ’60s feel the beat.
“You never get too old to sing,” Rucker said.
Members don’t have to know how to read music, either, she said.
“Watching the light bulb come on when they learn a new musical concept,” is part of the thrill she enjoys in directing, Rucker said.
Rucker said she tells her choir members to, above all things, claim ownership of what they do.
“Any hobby, whether its woodworking or sewing or cooking or singing, you have to have personal involvement and have to have personal ownership of the craft you’re trying to perfect,” she said.