"When it happens, it's magic!" That's how veteran choir director Shelle Jennings describes those elusive moments when a choral singing group melds in perfect harmony. "It's happening more often lately in my living room," says Jennings, director of Park City's Treble Makers, a newly minted, all-women, a cappella singing group.
The group formed just over a year ago when founding member Anne Collett called Jennings and asked if she'd direct a new singing group. "I'd had the idea for quite a while," says Collett, who is also a longtime member of the venerable Park City Singers. "A lot of us are in that group and we love it, but some of us wanted to sing even more. I wanted the intimacy and flexibility of a smaller group. I didn't know for sure, but I thought there might be other women in Park City who would want to sing with us. I just knew if we had Shelle on board, the thing would fly."
Jennings and Collett set stiff parameters for the group at the outset. Candidates would be required to audition, read and memorize music, practice at home and commit to a weekly rehearsal, no excuses! "I wanted auditions because I thought it was important to understand that this wasn't going to be just another breezy group. That isn't what I wanted," says Jennings. The end result was an elite group of 16 singers who really know their stuff, she says. They meet every Monday night at Jennings' house for an hour-and-a-half of singing and a dash of socializing.
"There's always a little wine," quips Layla Ward, a pure soprano. She looks forward to her Monday night commitment. "We all know we start at five and we move heaven and earth to get here! Just to be a part of the group and sing with this caliber of talented people is a privilege. There are times when I'm so in the moment it is Zen to me."
For Joan Townsend, another charter member, the Treble Makers are a virtual sanctuary. "I've been singing since I was three years old, "she explains. "I sang on stage at the Tippy Tin Inn in Cedar Falls, Iowa, whenever my parents and I went there for dinner. When I moved to Park City I began looking for a 'singing home.' I love being a member of the Park City Singers, but I wanted even more. The Treble Makers give me that."
Townsend says rehearsals are strictly business. "We spend our time perfecting the sound and creating an exceptional musical product. Shelle can be a harsh taskmaster. She strives for perfection from all of us. We'll never get there, but sometimes we get really, really close," she grins.
Though the singers work toward musical goals, the journey is no less important. Rehearsal breaks to quaff refreshments and "visit" are often punctuated by lilting laughter. Jennings likes to repeat Treble Makers' Karen Nielsen's description of the group: "We take the music seriously, but not ourselves."
Sarah Klingenstein, also soprano, was thrilled to join the group. "When Anne called and asked me to audition, I couldn't believe a group like this was forming. Now, Monday nights are the happiest time of my week," she gushes, quickly adding, "don't tell my husband."
The women sing in very intricate, four-part harmony, says Klingenstein. "It makes the music just delicious! When I am at rehearsal for that hour-and-a-half, I am thinking about nothing else and I am so joyful!"
Klingenstein says the group has several local "gigs" scheduled for the holiday season. They will be singing at the Park City Ice Arena for Santa's arrival on Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at the People's Health Clinic volunteer Christmas party. The group auctioned themselves off to a local family during the recent KPCW radio fundraiser. Look for them on historic Main Street the weekend before Christmas, singing in the pocket park.
They will also perform on Nov. 21 at the Macy's Candy Windows' unveiling at City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City. Townsend recently arranged an audition for the group to sing the national anthem at a Utah Jazz basketball game. "We're on pins and needles waiting to hear if we'll get to do it," she says.
Thus far, the Treble Makers have placed an emphasis on singing at fundraisers and for nonprofit organizations. That's fertile ground in Park City. Though eager to sing, the group is not currently for hire. "We'd like more gigs, and are happy to accept donations, but we're not quite ready to start charging," says Jennings.
It's a heartfelt labor of love for the sixteen Treble Makers. "I'm so pleased that we have a dedicated group of women who have made this a priority in their lives. With so much going on in Park City, that's not easy, says founder Collett.
For Jennings, who has been directing choirs for almost half-a-century, the Treble Makers are a dream come true. "I'm doing this because I absolutely love working with these women," she confesses. "I love choral music above all else and I love conducting. I've been doing this all my life and it is my life. It's what makes me breathe and get up in the morning. Best of all, I actually get to hear them sing. I'm so proud of them. There are times when I 'well up' because it's so moving. That's heaven to me."
To "hire" the Treble Makers or for more information, email or call Anne Collett, email@example.com , 901-3444; or call Shelle Jennings, 655-7531.