There was the faint hum of a pitch pipe, as an unassuming lady in a red sweater stood not so much in front of a group of about forty women, but with them. She then launched into exaggerated arm movements, almost leaving the ground. The circle of participants then produced a single bar of four part harmony – some of the most beautiful I’d ever heard, across several octaves of vocal range. There were no instruments, and no auto-tune.
Ozark Showcase Choir director Rosey Frerking then paused, and after gently checking the posture of one singer and providing a quick tip for better breathing to another, bent her knees slightly before launching the group back into song. The ladies of the choir range from sixteen to ninety – there may have been a few younger or older, but as the only male on the premises, I knew better than to ask. I simply sat back and listened. Well, I also watched.
There was a palpable seriousness, but without the intense sternness that emanates from the average little-league coach. There is no bark of “Do it again!” It’s not even pressure to perform well – it’s more of a general sense of purpose – they were there to sing. And sing they did.
It didn’t take long to sense that this group was about more than just the music. A core group of experienced mentors leaned close to the newcomers, helping them get each note just right.
“This is a sisterhood of music,” says Frerking, who also holds a Masters Degree in counseling. After speaking with her for a few minutes, I learned that we shared something else in common – she had done her student teaching in 1970 with my uncle, whose reputation as a high school band director is legendary in the region.
I’d heard about vocal music having a positive effect on brain chemistry for people with depression and other mental illnesses, so I asked Frerking about it.
“There’s a lot of research out there that supports that. We don’t do group counseling here, not formally,” Frerking continued, “but getting together in a supportive environment is good for all of us.”
“Everyone here has used this to heal a part of her life,” said one member. “Some of these ladies have been doing this for thirty years. We’re all here for each other.”
Ozark Showcase conducted an “open house” in January, hoping to attract new members and acquaint others with their mission. A few of the visitors shared their thoughts.
“This is the antithesis of folk music – which is how I learned to sing,” said one.
“Barbershop is one of the hardest ways to sing,” a veteran answered. “When it’s done right, it’s beautiful, and when it’s done wrong, it can be nails on a chalkboard.”
A bit of laughter followed, then I heard the most popular phrase of the evening…
“Okay, let’s sing it again.”
More information about Ozark Showcase can be found on their website.