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Web Communicator Displays Her Artistic Side in Choral Performance
by Pamela McLaren


from Dateline (February 27, 2003)

The Harborlites
The Harborlites, a 101-member chorus devoted to barbershop harmony, accepts applause following one of their award-winning performances. Last year, the women’s chorus competed against teams from New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and Canada in the 2002 International Chorus competition in Nashville, Tenn., and brought home a fourth-place finish. One of their members is Sheila Faris-Penn, director of Web communications for University Advancement.

Five days a week for eight hours a day, Sheila Faris-Penn sits before a computer monitor, working as director of Web communications for University Advancement.

During the day, Faris-Penn works with bits and bytes, passwords and digital files, involved in the establishment and technical support of Advancement’s various websites.

But when not on the job, she is part of a group of 101 women who work with notes and octaves, beats and rhythms to create beautiful music. Faris-Penn is a member of the Harborlites, a woman’s chorus devoted to barbershop harmony. On stage her vocal talents, and not those talents honed on a computer, come to the forefront.

Sheila Faris-Penn
Sheila Faris-Penn

Faris-Penn and the Harborlites get together at least one night a week for three hours of “definitely fun, definitely a lot of hard work,” says Faris-Penn, who has been with the group since 1996. The sessions are used for intense vocal practice, including work with voice coaches and a choreographer.

Members of the organization range in age from mid-20s to mid-80s, and the goal is always to be the very best.

“Competitions are what we live for,” she says.

The Harborlites’ collective skills and effort have generated award-winning performances. Battling some of the best choruses from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, the Harborlites spent years scoring among the top-10 international choruses by regional score, but only second place locally. A chorus has to take first place in their region to advance to international competition, or they can’t compete internationally, says Faris-Penn.

All that changed last year. Sweet Adelines International, of whom the Harborlites are part, created the wild card system.

“In order to enter the contest as a wild card, a chorus has to be one of the top-five-scoring, second-place choruses,” notes Faris-Penn, a baritone. “Our second- place regional score put us in seventh place in the world –better than most first-place scores.

“This was the first year of wild cards; the system was mostly created for us!”

Last November, the Anaheim- based Harborlites entered as a wild card in the 2002 International Chorus competition in Nashville, Tenn., battling choruses from as far away as New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and Canada. And when the last notes passed into silence, the Harborlites had garnered a fourth-place finish.

Faris-Penn first joined a singing group in junior high school, taking part in an after-school program. Her teacher in that program is a member of Harborlites.

After that, the singing bug stuck. She formed a quartet with friends from junior high and performed together for five years. She sang all through high school and in college, performed in chamber and baroque choirs, as well as in community groups.

“It’s just really exciting,” she says when asked why she continues to go through the intense weekly training and competitions. “I can’t describe how it feels to be up on that stage, knowing that I’m doing my very best. At the international level, the audiences are full of some 13,000 other Sweet Adeline chorus members and they know when you’re doing well.

“It’s amazing how dedicated people are to the Sweet Adeline competitions, and I like how well our group is performing,” Faris-Penn adds. As an example of why she is so proud of the Harborlites and the work they do, Faris-Penn recounted that the group’s annual concert was held shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Because of what happened, the chorus decided to add in patriotic music. Unlike the rest of the program that they had worked on for months, they learned the additional music in two weeks.

For the time being, the Harborlites are recruiting more women to join the group. “We’re actually one of the smaller groups at this level, and we need more voices to create more sound,” she says. Meanwhile, it’s back to the regional contest this April to qualify for the 2004 international contest.

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