Last year around Christmas time I went to the Van Nuys National Guard armory to film the boxing of the 600,000th care package sent to a service member oversees by There, nearly hidden under the stairs, beside a long line of volunteers waiting for assignments, was a chorus of women in sparkly red, white and blue vests, singing carols a cappella in tight four-part harmony, barbershop style.
I was happily surprised to spot in the chorus Evanne Levin, whom I recognized from our mutual faith community. I saw Ev again during the recent high holy days services and she told me a little more about her group. The RiverOaks Chorus is a chapter of Sweet Adelines International, an organization of "more than 600 choruses who are perpetuating the unique American art form of barbershop harmony while looking optimistically to the future in their quest to Harmonize the World!”
Here in the east Valley, RiverOaks (named for the location where it was founded more than 30 years ago, on Riverside Drive in Sherman Oaks) is a chorus of about 28 women of various ages and walks of life who rehearse every Tuesday to sing at local events, in regional and national competition and at a big original production once a year.
Several members who live in the area talked to me on video about their love for the musical experience and for one another.
These gals don’t fool around when it comes to the singing. Chorus director Theresa Schonbach is a certified director and classically trained musician. You can see her put the chorus through its paces in the video. Listen for that pitch pipe tone, the only music cue they get. They were preparing for their big annual fundraiser on Sunday afternoon (tickets are tax deductible). The ladies were also auditioning their first act costumes, plucked from their own closets.
Show director and scriptwriter for the High School Reunion musical Leanna Bakken Berns of North Hollywood told me all about it in the video. The show comprises barbershop classics as well as contemporary hits and show tunes. Special guest Fritz Coleman will perform standup, and the Walter Reed Middle School Concert Choir will also perform. The chorus interrupted rehearsals to perform a complete number from the show for the bonus video.
Many of RiverOaks Chorus' performances during the year are for the benefit of local charities and community events, like the one for Operation Gratitude. The women sing at nursing homes and residential care facilities including the Jewish Home for the Aging and United Cerebral Palsy homes. They’ve adopted the , at whose facilities they perform and which benefits from their fundraising.
Every Christmas they join KNBC weathercaster Coleman for the big Toluca Lake tree lighting and block party, which is later shown on the evening news. On weekends, the chorus can be heard singing at the Sherman Oaks Farmers Market.
Sunday’s show will take place from 2–4 p.m. at the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn. Tickets at the door are $20 with discounts for advance purchase, children and groups. Check the website or call 818-886-SING for more information.
(See the videos and photo gallery above.)