Visiting the Burbank Singers for a rehearsal recently, the last thing I expected to find was an Olympian in their midst.
In 1984, Joan Fontana joined 2,000 other voices in the Olympic Chorus to sing at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Los Angeles games. She recalls singing "all night," and at the end she received a medal.
It's not gold, she says, but it was "gold-looking." Hey, it's closer than most of us will ever get, at least until my lobbying efforts to get "couch sitting" accepted as an event pay off.
The Burbank Singers are an eclectic group. You have just about every level of experience joining voices for old standards and show tunes. Fontana, for example, was a member of the Burbank Chorale for 35 years. But since the Burbank Singers are offered as a course at Burbank Adult School, anyone can join in — even men, though the group is mostly women and belongs to the nonprofit California Women's Chorus Inc.
The statewide organization is comprised of 13 choruses that meet every spring for a multi-day convention. They spend from September to April rehearsing songs for the gala, which then becomes a concert of 200 voices singing 10 songs.
"It's really powerful," said Burbank Singers member Irene Issenhuth. "I love the convention — you get to see and meet a lot of friends."
Issenhuth wandered into the world of chorus about seven years ago, she tells me after offering me a spongy cherry cookie during a break. She was taking a computer class at Burbank Adult School and found the chorus offering.
The classroom, acoustically speaking, is not great. Singers take up seats at long desks, about four to a desk, facing the front of the room. Director Diana Tyson guides the group while accompanying them on an upright piano. In the back of the room the sound deadens — perhaps designed that way so as to not disturb nearby classrooms.
But walk to the front of the classroom and you quickly find that Tyson has the best seat in the house. The blend of altos and sopranos is tight, especially on a song called "The Rainbow Connection."
"The reason we like [Rainbow Connection] most is because we think it makes us sound good," Tyson laughs.
Tyson now moves on to "There's No Business like Show Business," a new addition to the repertoire. Since this is one of the first practices of the season, the group's a little shaky on its syncopation.
She slaps the top of the piano to keep the beat, and narrows in on a group near the front of the class. Tyson keeps it light — instructional, but with a patient touch.
"You have one of the hardest lines in all music," she tells them.
A few repetitions ("There's NOOOO people like SHOOOOW people") and soon they're back in sync ("They SMIIIILE when they are LOOOOW") with more surety this time.
"Music brings us all together, you know," Fontana said.
The Burbank Singers meets every Tuesday through December from 9 to 11:30 a.m., and is still accepting members for this season. A semester is $89, with discounts for members of the Joslyn Adult Center. There are no auditions.
For more information, call the Burbank Adult School at (818) 558-4611.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't imitating Robert Goulet, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @818NewGuy.