ZEST Heart of New Jersey chorus never misses a beat

Sweet Adelines chapter welcomes women who enjoy singing and performing


They’re not rock stars, but they probably have more fun singing together than many of today’s musical titans.

Members of the Heart of New Jersey chorus, under the direction of Jane Holden (center), practice for their annual show Nov. 15, called "Harmony Sampler." The Sweet Adelines chapter draws women from Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties and beyond. Members of the Heart of New Jersey chorus, under the direction of Jane Holden (center), practice for their annual show Nov. 15, called “Harmony Sampler.” The Sweet Adelines chapter draws women from Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties and beyond. They’re the Heart of New Jersey, a chapter of Sweet Adelines International, that meets every Wednesday evening at Defino Central Elementary School in Marlboro to practice their craft of fourpart harmony with a wide-ranging repertoire of songs. The women sing for pure enjoyment and for the love of entertaining whenever called upon.

Directed since 2002 by Jane Holden, a music teacher at H.C. Johnson Elementary School in Jackson, the 30-plus-member women’s chorus is getting ready for “Harmony Sampler,” its annual show, which will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, at the James J. Cullen Center, 1776 Union Ave., Hazlet, where the group practices in the summer. The show will demonstrate the group’s ability to sing in four-part harmony everything from show tunes to old and new favorites, and even a touch of doo-wop. Some of the tunes the group plans to sing at the “Harmony Sampler” are “Great Day,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “As Time Goes By,” “When I Fall in Love” and “Sha-Boom,” to name a few.

Admission is $15; $12 for children 12 and under and seniors. Dessert is included. For tickets to the Nov. 15 show, contact Kate at 908-616-0656. Tickets also will be available at the door.

The group also will perform in the evening on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at The Grove in Shrewsbury and will be strolling the streets of Red Bank from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12.

Heart of New Jersey welcomes new members and provides the necessary training to perform with the group. The requirements are simple, Holden said. Essentially, prospective members must enjoy singing. Learning CDs are provided to sharpen vocal skills, and it is not necessary to be able to read music, she added. The barbershop harmony parts are divided into tenor, lead, baritone and bass, Holden explained.

The members, who range in age from 20s to 70-plus, not only get a kick out of performing, they enjoy the camaraderie of a close-knit group. Some women drive over an hour to attend the practices, but it’s a trip well worth it, they say.

“We’re like a family,” said Betty Slocum, of Bradley Beach, a team coordinator, who helps with the business end of the chorus.

At a recent practice, Alicia Evans, 25, of Matawan was welcomed as the group’s newest and youngest member. She found out about the group by going online.

Pat Reynolds of Brick, who has been a member of several Sweet Adelines groups for a total of 51 years, said she has been a member of large and small choruses and has enjoyed them all.

Another member, Lily Prasad, of Marlboro, said, “I have three kids, I work full time, and this just makes me happy.”

Donna Edwards, of Millstone, exp lained,”Every Wednesday when we come here, we leave our cares at the door.”

Sometimes the chorus grows through friendship.

Said Becky Woodard, of Millstone: “She [Donna] got me hooked. We’re friends, and our husbands and children are friends. You learn a lot and mostly it makes me happy.”

Membership also brings out hidden talents. The members create the choreography that goes along with the songs, Holden said.

Ellen Greenhouse, of Freehold Township, one of the founders of HONJ, noted that some members even write their own music. Greenhouse added that she has written scripts for the shows and even wrote a grant application, skills she did not realize she had.

In addition to singing at community events and annual shows, Heart of New Jersey competes in regional competitions. Greater New York Region 15 of Sweet Adelines International honors include third place, small chorus, for 2009, and most improved in 2008.

Part of the fun of being a member of any Sweet Adeline chapter is attending the international competition, held in a different city each year, as a spectator, guest or performer. Three HONJ members recently attended this year’s competition in Nashville at the end of October. Greenhouse, who has dual membership with a Las Vegas area group, performed in Nashville with Celebrity City Chorus. Two other HONJ members enjoyed sitting in on riser rehearsals with several choruses and remarked about the quality of the performances of full choruses and quartets from around the world.

Said Sharon Pitoscia, of Ocean Township: “The finals just blow you away. The performances are really Broadway quality.”

Jean Kearny, of Jackson, noted that “every year the groups get better and better.”

Kearny also noted that 6,651 Sweet Adeline members were in attendance at the 63rd annual International Convention and Competition, and the Guinness Book of Records officially certified the group as conducting the world’s Largest Singing Lesson ever recorded Oct. 24 at the Sommet Center in Nashville.

The Heart of New Jersey does its own fundraising and receives an annual grant from the Monmouth County Arts Council. The chorus performs at venues such as street and county fairs and parades, as well as for veterans and senior groups and for corporate events.

More information about the chorus may be found at its website, http://honj.org/, or by emailing Audra at honj.membership@gmail.com.