Becky (Hovland) Larson said that barbershop music has taken over her life.
For 30 years, Larson, a Minneota native who now lives in Cave Creek, Ariz., has performed with various Sweet Adelines choruses around the country, which includes the last two decades with the 120-member Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chorus. This past October, the Scottsdale Chorus won the 64th annual International Competition in Seattle, Wash.
As a child, Larson delved into music. She started taking piano lessons at a young age. She was in the band at Minneota High School under Rick Novotny and sang with the choir and Madrigals. Larson credits Novotny for keeping her involved with music.
"Minneota helped create all of this," Larson said.
Back in 1981, Larson was at a bank in Marshall when she saw the Marshall Area Chorus singing at a bake sale. She already had a taste of barbershop while in St. Cloud and knew it was the genre for her.
"I immediately jumped into it, I thought this is the perfect thing for me," Larson said. She joined the Marshall Area Chorus, which was under the direction of Helen Pederson.
From there, she had moved to Boston, Mass., to sing with the Liberty Belle Chorus, then to Dayton, Ohio, to perform with the Gem City Chorus. Liberty Belle is an international competitor and the Gem City Chorus is also an international competitor and has been champions of five international gold medals.
Not only does she sing within a women's barbershop chorus, Larson has been visually coaching choruses since she began singing with one. When she was in Boston, she worked with quartets and choruses. She travels throughout the country and she has also worked with quartets in Sweden and Australia via Skype.
"It opens a lot of doors," she said.
Larson said choreography for Sweet Adelines International at an international level requires aerobic, cardio and vocal stamina as they are mandatory for overall supreme levels of musicianship.
"All competitors must do it all and to win gold, they must do it all flawlessly and without effort," Larson said. "Choreography is layered over music to enhance chord structures and provide emotional connection from performers to audience, and when designed correctly, the dancing assists singers in elevating their vocal skills as well as giving the audience a memorable experience."
"It's all about making the music come alive," Larson added.
At an international level, you're never willing to be just average, Larson said. When getting ready for last October's competition, the Scottsdale Chorus spent about 10,000 hours rehearsing during an 18-month period. The chorus meets regularly every Tuesday night for four hours. But the chorus will do extra dance rehearsals, all-day and weekend rehearsals, and retreats to prepare for internationals.
"We rehearse as many as nine hours at a time (at retreats)," Larson said. "We're dancing on kneepads."
Larson sings all four voice parts in the chorus - tenor, lead, baritone and bass - specializing mainly in baritone. Sometimes she may sing all four parts within one song.
"I love that, that really tickles my brain," Larson said. "I like that she (Scottsdale Chorus director Lori Lyford) trusts me to do it."
At Internationals, Scottsdale went up against 40 choruses from around the U.S., England, Scotland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and several Canadian provinces. The Scottsdale Chorus scored a total of 3,077 points out of a possible perfect score of 3,280 points. No other chorus in Sweet Adelines history has ever scored that high, Larson said.
The chorus has also won gold medals in 1984, 1989 and 2006.
Larson said the chorus never goes into a competition thinking "we're going to win it," it's "do the very best you possibly can."
"When I came off the stage, my inner self was totally at peace," Larson said. "The whole chorus felt that way."
Winning gold at the International level is like winning Olympic gold, Larson said.
"It takes extreme dedication, very high skill levels, specialized talents and the overriding drive and ambition to keep the goal in sight despite sacrificing things like family time, rehearsing through adversity such as injuries, and pushing oneself for constant improvement as a singer," Larson said.
Larson said she appreciates barbershop music because of many different reasons: it can change somebody's life for one day, she enjoys the musical theater aspect of it and she likes the challenge of the music and the stage.
"You're wearing a suit of armor of sizzle," Larson said.
2011 is a "golden year" for the Scottsdale Chorus, Larson said The chorus is focusing on taking major performances to communities, educating the public about its craft.
"We are full of performances for the next year," Larson said.