DIANE MAKAR MURPHY As a matter of chorus, singers are women of note
It was dreadful. Absolutely irritating. Her daughter wouldn't take singing lessons. And she was determined to make her. Maybe, if a friend took lessons, too ... And that is where our heroine enters our story.
Janet Cratella, 69, then an adorable little 8-year-old, DID want to learn to sing.
"Our neighbor was so determined to have her daughter take voice lessons that she had me go, too!" Janet said. "I remember learning 'Mickey Mouse's Birthday Party.' Helen [the daughter] and I still laugh about it today."
But, these 61 years later, Janet -- thanks to that persistent mom -- is still singing. As a member of the 40-member Spirit of the Valley Chorus, which practices in Hubbard, Janet practices weekly and competes often. Other members come from Sharon, Oil City and as far away as Uniontown, Pa., to name a few locales. "People hear of us by word of mouth," Janet said as she spoke to me before a rehearsal.
Sweet Adelines: The group is part of Sweet Adelines International. Unaccompanied by any instruments, the ladies sing in barbershop-quartet style, knocking out ballads and what fellow singer Libby Bevilacqua calls "gutbusters" -- the upbeat tunes that get your toes tapping or your hands clapping. (Libby likes the ballads; Janet enjoys the upbeat tunes.)
"I love to sing, and I love this," said Janet, a Girard resident. "My husband died 21 years ago. I raised eight grandchildren and have four children, and now I do this for me."
Back in those voice lesson days, Janet also took dance and piano. "But my dad said I was too busy climbing trees to practice," she recalled. But she wasn't too busy to sing in operettas in grade school, practicing every day the week before each performance.
And 16 years ago, she started singing with her first group of Sweet Adelines. When the Spirit of the Valley Chorus started, Janet joined.
"I sing here and at church now," Janet said, pointing out that her home baking business eats up the rest of her time. The chorus meets weekly, with a rare break for a holiday or on a Monday after a show. "I get to the point where I'm singing when I roll over in bed," she said. "Sometimes I feel too tired to come, but once you're here, you're glad."
Later start: Libby agreed. She started her singing career a little later than Janet. "I always sang in church choirs, but not as a little kid. Our high school had no chorus, but I took piano lessons as a small child, so I know how to read music. Plus," she said, "I came from a musical family. My father sang at [Pennsylvania State University]."
Libby, a Sharon resident, joined her first group of singers in the early '60s at age 31. She was new to Kingwood, W.Va., and hoped to make friends by joining the church choir.
"I met three women who wanted to start a barbershop quartet," Libby recalled. "But a requirement was that you had to belong to a chorus, so I joined one." A chorus is a group that sings unaccompanied. "I still get together with those ladies to sing," she said.
Janet likes being in the bass section and rarely takes on a solo. Although she said she "has the voice for it," she confessed she just "doesn't have the guts."
Libby also admitted being nervous "up until the last two or three years. It was stressful for me, but fun."
As Janet pointed out, "That's what we do. If just one person is in the room for our rehearsal, we all perk up."
An audience: The day of this rehearsal, several people are in the room. Director Karen Boyer raises her French manicured nails above her head and "do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do" ascends from the four sections: tenor, lead, baritone and bass.
In a moment, I see what Libby and Janet are talking about. Theirs are just two of the animated, smiling faces as the chorus breaks into "Tonight" from West Side Story.
XSpirit of the Valley Chorus presents "Tonight's the Night," 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Liberty High School Auditorium, tickets cost $12 at the door, $5 for children under 12. For advance tickets at a discount, call Mary Sinkovich (330) 755-5519.