Music News & Reviews

Women's love of singing keeps SisterSound in full voice for 15 years

It was a cold January evening in 1996 when 13 women gathered at Park United Methodist Church on the edge of Woodland Park for the first rehearsal of a new women's chorus in Lexington.

Founder Connie McNeely was inspired by MUSE, a Cincinnati women's choir, and a desire to give women around Lexington a similar opportunity to sing.

On what's expected to be a warm May night on Saturday, SisterSound will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its first concert with a rousing show featuring songs such as Somewhere Out There, Unchained Melody, You've Got a Friend, Let the River Flow and the novelty classic Purple People Eater.

"We're not a stuffy choir," says Judy Page, 62, an associate professor in the communication disorders program at the University of Kentucky.

Page is one of a handful of women who were there for that first rehearsal and are still in the choir.

During that time, the rules have remained basically the same: If you are 18 or older, a woman and can match a pitch with other singers, you're in.

That was perfect for Cheri Tolle, who has been in SisterSound about five years.

"I hadn't been in any kind of choir for years and was looking for a place where I could sing," says Tolle, 48, administrative director for the Markey Cancer Center's Affiliate Network at UK. "This has been a wonderful place to develop friendships and work on a common goal of singing music by women, for women. And it's always fun to sing in front of our family and friends."

Tolle will have her mother, Betty Tolle, and daughter Emma Barnes in the audience for Saturday's concert, which will be a celebration and a farewell. John A. Roark Jr., the group's director for 11 years, will be conducting his final concert, and incoming director Rob Vanover will lead a tune.

"We always called John Mister Sister, so I guess Rob will be Mister Sister 2," Page says.

Looking back on the group's 15 years, Page can recall numerous highlights, including singing for the inauguration of former Mayor Teresa Isaac in 2003, the memorial for victims of the crash of Flight 5191 and the national anthem at several UK women's basketball games, including one at Rupp Arena.

"It was great to sing on the floor at Rupp Arena," Page says.

Page also has appreciated the diversity of music SisterSound has taken on, including a cappella arrangements by Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Looking ahead, she has one big hope for the choir.

"We feel like we're one of the best-kept secrets in Lexington, and we're sort of tired of that," Page says. "So I hope we can grow our audiences in the future."

Tolle, who has taken much of the last year off because of scheduling conflicts, says, "I hope they continue to attract a wonderful, diverse group of women to sing together."