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Toasting Tampa: Women Find Power In Harmony

After a long day at school, 8-year-old Madison Rodgers quickly finishes her homework and hurries to the Tampa Women's Club on Bayshore Boulevard. Rodgers climbs the risers and joins more than 100 women who are part of the international award-winning chorus group, The Toast of Tampa Show Chorus.

Women (and girls) of all ages, professions, and surrounding counties volunteer their time, talent, and passion to practice every Tuesday from 7 to 10 pm, rain or shine.

The barbershop chorus group is part of Sweet Adelines International, an organization dedicated to educating and preserving the American style music.

Although traditionally performed by men, the barbershop style is sung by women all around the globe who represent different countries and districts and gather to compete every year for the title of "Best in The World'' at the Sweet Adelines International Competition.

Ruth Price, 80, was on stage in Indianapolis in 1993 when the Toast of Tampa Show Chorus was given the first place award for their performance.

"I still have the video of it and every time I watch it, I still get goose bumps and tears,'' says Price.

After more than 40 years of singing in barbershop choruses, Price, a retired executive assistant, expresses her loyalty to The Toast and the women she sings alongside.
 
In December of last year, Price was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Although Price was absent from practices due to her illness, she was not forgotten by The Toast.

"The support I got from these ladies was amazing. They brought food to me, they sent me cards and emails and visits… I really honestly believe they helped me heal because I am cancer free now,'' says Price.

Distance Doesn't Matter

With any membership of an organization come willing sacrifices from its members. Although most of the women who sing in The Toast are residents of Tampa, some travel to Tampa from cities as far away as Orlando just to participate.

Lana Owens, 44, and daughter Abbie Owens, 12, make the hour and a half drive from Sarasota County to attend practice every Tuesday evening.

The Owens are part of a musical family says Lana. Her mother was involved in barbershop choruses when she was young and had heard about The Toast over the years. Once Lana joined the group, Abbie, the youngest of four, showed an interest in the chorus and began accompanying her mother to Tuesday practices two years ago.

"We get to spend time together that we wouldn't normally have,'' Lana says. "We practice meshing our voices while we're in the car.''

The Toast welcomes all women who are interested in lending their voice to the group. There is no age limit and no prior experience required. A love of music and the time to come together to practice is all that is asked of the chorus singers.

An Emotional Experience

Katherine Bush, 23, is one of the newest members of The Toast. After her first day of orientation at the University of South Florida Tampa for the graduate program in Medical Science, Bush auditioned for a spot on the risers and passed with flying colors.

"To me, singing is an entire emotional experience. I feel like it's a way to communicate to the entire world through one basic language,'' says Bush.

Bush attended Marshal University in her home state West Virginia as an undergrad. While vacationing in the Tampa Bay region last year, she stopped in on a Tuesday night practice and returned as a hopeful candidate for the chorus when she arrived for her graduate studies.

Now that Bush is an official member of The Toast, she will accompany the chorus to Hawaii for the international competition next year. Until then, The Toast of Tampa will continue to practice their performance pieces in search of the perfect pitch.

"Music,'' says Price, "you just have to have music in your life. A world without music would be a big mistake.''

The Toast of Tampa Show Chorus will celebrate its 25th anniversary with their annual Standing Room Only Show on October 20th at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Christina Barron is studying journalism and mass communications at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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