Shades of Harmony named ‘Most Improved Chorus’ at Region 19 competition

All female a cappella group's hard work pays off, earn medals for first time in group history at Region 19 competition

Chorus Director Lori Ludlum, left, shows off the plaque awarded to Shades of Harmony at the Region 19 competition where her group won ‘Most Improved Chorus.’ Assistant Director Melissa Guzman proudly displays the certificate and medal awarded to each member. (Anthony J. Mazziotti III/The Sun)

At the Region 19 competition in 2017, Williamstown’s all-female a cappella group finished with a mere 398 points out of a possible 800. Instead of accepting the score as status quo, the members put their nose to the grindstone, so to speak, and improved by 47 points the following year to bring the total to 457. A modest increase, but it still wasn’t enough in the eyes of the vocalists.

With the 2018 competition in the rearview mirror, the group had high hopes to continue to learn and grow as a chorus in preparation for the 2019 competition. According to co-team leader and membership chair Karen Bonin, one of the primary focuses of the group is on education. With a focus on improving their knowledge of music in the barbershop style, one of the judging criteria the group, Shades of Harmony prepared vigorously for its annual competition.

The hard work paid off. While they didn’t finish in the top three in the small chorus group, Shades of Harmony improved by a whopping 59 points bringing its score to 504. The 500 point threshold is something of a badge of honor for a cappella groups with an affiliation with Sweet Adelines.

“It’s a big deal to Sweet Adelines,” chorus director Lori Ludlum described. “Because they want choruses to be singing at that level in public. They want to encourage better singing in public, it gives Sweet Adelines a better name.”

With the 500-point score, Ludlum is now a “Certified 500 Director,” something she can proudly hang her hat on.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s very special,” she said. “I knew it was in there, it’s just a matter of putting all the skills together. We’re all amateurs at this hobby so we put it together. We’re human, we never know what’s going to happen, everything was in alignment and they [the chorus] did a great job. They did an amazing job on stage. All I do is wave my hands.”

Achievements for the director aside, adding 59 points to the previous year’s score was enough to win medals for the women of Shades of Harmony in the form of the “Most Improved Chorus” category. Winning a medal at a regional competition isn’t something that happens a lot – there are only 12 opportunities to do so with a lot of overlap. The classes are: top five overall, top three mid-size chorus, top three small-size chorus and most improved. Of the 20 teams to compete at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pa., they were able to walk away winners.

When the awards were being announced, assistant director Melissa Guzman thought her 23-member group’s best chance to win was the most improved category, but she was being cautiously optimistic.

“I was cautious not to get my hopes up, and then they said our name and literally everyone shot up out of their chair,” she described. “We were like a bunch of girls at a football game where they won the championship. It was crazy, incredibly exciting and just inspiring. It makes us want to keep growing and improving.”

“I’ve been with Sweet Adelines for 25-plus years and this is my first medal!” Bonin added.

Guzman, a nine-year member of Shades of Harmony, feels most excited for the new members.

“It was super exciting for our new people,” she said. “All of our new members, which we had on the risers, for them to go to a contest and right out of the gates win a medal – it’s super exciting to them.”

With a new title in hand and a certified 500 director, it would be easy for Shades of Harmony to take it easy and coast into next season.

That’s not their style.

In fact, Ludlum believes the group has 550-point potential, but she’d be excited to improve another 26 points and finish at 530. Ludlum and Bonin said their coach believes the group is better than half the Sweet Adelines choruses in the world, now it’s time to build on that vote of confidence.

“Work our way toward third place small-chorus,” Ludlum said of her goals for next year. “Thirty singing members is the next category [mid-size]. As long as our scores keep going up, that’s all that’s important.”

For more information about Shades of Harmony, visit www.shadesofharmony.org or the Facebook page “Shades of Harmony.”