The Sweet Adeline
By Suzanne Buzek
Mary Pranger loves to sing. But the world of barbershop-style singing was a foreign place until a series of events led her to become a Sweet Adeline with the award-winning Cincinnati Sounds women’s chorus 25 years ago. Along with the pure joy of singing and the social aspect involved, the chorus has taken Pranger to competitions in a wide range of venues.
“After my first child was born, I needed an outlet,” says Pranger, manager for data and reporting for development and internal operations in the Division of University Relations. “I knew that this barbershop world existed because of a friend of mine who was in it, so I went one night and have been a part of it ever since.”
The Sweet Adelines organization is a worldwide group of choruses who sing barbershop music. In fall 2008, the Cincinnati Sounds competed in the international competition held in Hawaii, singing “Love Letters” and a medley of songs including “I Never Knew I Could Love Anybody.” The chorus is currently working on their pieces for the regional competition in April, which are “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’?” and a ballad, “Who’s That Somebody Else?”
Choruses in competitions range from 30 to 150 people on stage at a time, the competitive stakes raised by choreography, unique costumes and stage presence. While Sweet Adelines has allowed Pranger to widen her circle of friends, she has simultaneously strengthened her bond with her sisters and fellow singers, Judy and Donna.
“Judy and I went together the first night of practice, and Donna has been involved for about 20 years,” says Pranger. “Without singing, we probably wouldn’t see each other nearly as much. It’s something that we all enjoy and we each sing different parts: Judy sings bass, Donna sings tenor, and I sing baritone.
“The barbershop world is much larger than I ever thought, and the camaraderie is great,” says Pranger. “Girls as young as 12 and 14 are involved as well as women as old as 90. It runs a full gamut of ages and walks of life, which is really interesting.”
Another perk for Pranger in being a Sweet Adeline is that she can be as involved as she wants to be. After taking a break for a couple of years to earn her master’s degree in education at Xavier, she's now the baritone section leader.
Pranger’s singing doesn’t stop with the Adelines; she also performs with the Bishop’s Choir at the Cathedral Basilica in Covington, Ky. Once again, it’s a family affair: her husband, Gary, and daughter, Anna, also sing in the choir. One of Pranger’s favorite memories is a 2001 concert tour to Italy in which she and her husband participated. The choir sang Mass at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Peter’s in Rome, and gave a final concert at St. Ignatius in Rome.
“The most exciting thing for me was a small concert we were allowed to give in the Sistine Chapel,” recalls Pranger. “We were only given about five minutes’ time to sing a couple songs, but it was such an emotional high that it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.
“Here I was, surrounded by the paintings of Michelangelo, singing a Gregorian chant in a place where cardinals and popes have been singing for centuries—probably the same chant. It was the only time in my life that I can remember feeling that I could truly live history, the most awesome experience of my life.”