A song in their hearts

For decades, Harmony Singers have provided entertainment while raising money for a number of local charities

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The Harmony Singers of Pittsburgh have been performing for 47 years, but their roots go back even further.

"Way back when, we started off as the Westminster Community Singers, then, in 1967, changed our name to the Bob Lochlin Singers," said Bethel Park soprano Judy Weddell, president of the group. Mr. Lochlin was a music teacher from Bethel Park who founded the Harmony Singers.

"After singing with Dan Brockett's Musical Comedy Review in 1969, we took our current name in 1970," Mrs. Weddell said.

Performing two major concerts each year, one of which is a holiday-themed recital in December, the 38-singer ensemble is gearing up for its annual spring concert this weekend.

The group also performs several free concerts at venues such as senior care homes, and it also holds a yearly concert at the Market House on the South Side for Pittsburgh seniors.

Since 1976, the Harmony Singers have raised $50,000 at their concerts for local charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Women's Shelter of Pittsburgh and Angels for Animals, a no-kill shelter.

The upcoming spring concert will benefit the Pittsburgh Children, Youth and Family Service Holiday Project, which distributes Christmas presents to needy children.

The singers, which practice in Brightwood Christian Church in Bethel Park, are accepting new members.

"Unlike other vocal groups, we don't read music during the concert but memorize each song in the repertoire starting with weekly rehearsals in September," Mrs. Weddell said. "Beginning in January, we rehearse twice a week and, as we get closer to the concert, rehearse in smaller groups as much as four times a week. We're very serious about our music and presenting the best show we can for our audience."

The spring concert, titled "Born to Be Somebody," will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Chartiers Valley Intermediate School, 2030 Swallow Hill Road, Scott.

"The title focuses on how people become who they are, first by given a name by their parents, then by growing into the dreams they pursue, the challenges they meet, the choices they embrace and the roles they accept as parents, friends, professionals and, ultimately, Americans," Mrs. Weddell said.

Some of the concert songs are "name songs" such as "Sweet Caroline," "Johnny Angel," "Barbara Ann" and "Mame." Others, such as "The Wind Beneath My Wings," "What the World Needs Now" and "Pure Imagination," are inspirational. Thirteen of the female singers will tap dance to "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish."

A five-piece musical ensemble will accompany the singers. The two-hour concert will be led by music director Cynthia G. Pratt of Dormont, a member of the professional corps of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and a singer with the Pittsburgh Opera Chorus since 1980. Miss Pratt has a master's degree in music and voice performance from Duquesne University.

"Many of us are thrilled with her because she's so intent on improving our musical performance, it's almost like she's giving us private voice lessons," Mrs. Weddell said. "She works with us as individuals and in groups, and her gentle way encourages us to reach inside ourselves to spotlight the best part of our vocal range."

Mrs. Weddell said Miss Pratt also challenges the singers. In 2008 and in 2011, she took them to Carnegie Music Hall in New York, where they sang with choirs from across the United States. In April, they sang with a total of 1,700 singers at the Petersen Events Center with the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Manfred Honeck.

"We're a very cohesive group," said Mrs. Weddell, who has been with the singers for 17 years. "Our piano accompanist, Carol Karl of Bethel Park, has been with us for 40 years, and [singer] Rick Campbell of [Mt. Lebanon] for 35."

Every September, on the Tuesday after Labor Day, the Harmony Singers invite prospective new members to a free ice cream social at Brightwood Christian Church. Membership is $40 a year, plus an additional $30 in the first year to help pay for music and costumes. For information: 412-833-6341.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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