WASHINGTON -- By the time Air Force Reserve Col. Michelle Barrett attended her first barbershop singing performance, she didn't even realize women had long since made their mark in the genre. Four years ago, the Reserve Advisor to the deputy assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Reserve Affairs attended a performance by the Alexandria Harmonizers, a Virginia-based men's chorus in which her Navy friend sang and she was hooked. "They would sing, dance, perform and it was entertaining," Barrett said. "I loved the music and I told him, 'It would be so cool if women could do that.'" And though her friend quickly informed her that women are actually well-versed in the four-part harmony a cappella singing style, Barrett admits it still took her a while to leave her comfort zone and take on the new hobby. "It took me about three years to get up the courage," the colonel said. "Finally, I went to go listen to the Vienna-Falls Chorus of about 80 women, but you can't just go listen."
The vocalists, she said, often involve the spectators, voice-place them, and direct them in harmony. Barrett recalled that after muddling through harmony in a rendition of "Happy Birthday," the singers placed her as a baritone, cementing her involvement with Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide organization of women singers committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony. The Oklahoma-based organization which includes the Vienna-Falls Chorus, claims a membership of 24,000 women and encompasses more than 1,200 registered quartets and 600 choruses. The women all sing in English with choruses in most of the fifty United States as well as in Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the Netherlands. Barrett said Sweet Adelines helped unite the members of Excel, Barrett's quartet within the Vienna-Falls Chorus. Their popular "singing valentines" in the Pentagon in February as well as their performances in nursing homes has made has helped establish the quartet. "We delivered (singing valentines) in the Pentagon last year and it just stuck," she said. "We get along, we have a good time." Formerly a C-27 and C-5 pilot at Howard Air Force Base, Panama and Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Barrett said music has always been a part of her DNA. "I've grown up singing with my parents, so music has already been a part of my life," Barrett said, noting stints in church choirs and the Cadet Chorale at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Aside from crooning selections such as "Heart of My Heart," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Crazy About You Baby," the quartet, Barrett said, has even "barbershopped" the Air Force Song - despite the fact that the colonel is the only active serving military person in Vienna-Falls Chorus. "It's neat to share my military community with them, but also take the things I learn from this organization into the military - the communication, the support, the encouragement, it's honestly the most positive thing I've ever done," Barrett said. Currently regional champions, the Vienna-Falls Chorus is fundraising in preparation for a trip to Hawaii in November to compete internationally.
"After my dad died, it was the 'year of the yes,'" Barrett said of her inspiration, who passed away in April 2009. "So any opportunity that came up I said yes."