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Colchester
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Aca-all stars: Local barbershop quartet eyes first place

Carol Hollenbeck sells boxes by day; every other minute she can spare, she’s singing. When she’s in a bad mood, anything from Disney’s Frozen works. Otherwise, it’s all about barbershop.

Hollenbeck sings bass in UpScale, a local women’s acapella quartet singing in the barbershop style who have been together for seven years. UpScale won first place at Colchester’s Got Talent competition in 2018 with an acapella rendition of, “Titanium,” by David Guetta and won second place last year. The quartet was invited to return for a third time as All Stars, this year’s theme, and they hope to win back the first place title.

The other three ladies instrumental to the quartet include April Knight who sings tenor, the highest voice part; Carolynn O’Donnell who sings lead; and Trecia Pallman-Hamilton who sings baritone, or, “all the notes that are tragically accidental,” Pallman-Hamilton said, eliciting bubbles of laughter from the other members.

“It’s like we’re just standing in our spots and she’s doing twist around us,” Knight said to describe the baritone part. Hollenbeck sings bass, the lowest voice part, also thought of as the other lead.

Barbershop style is sung in four parts with consonant harmony, meaning that singers line up the chords at the same time to create overtones. “You try not to spread it too much... so the sound is nice and lush,” Hollenbeck explained. “The goal is to create an overtone the whole time so even though it’s only four people, it sounds like 20. It’s an amazing feat.” Acapella differs in the number of parts and in style; while all four parts sing the lyrics in barbershop, acapella singers often feature a lead singer on lyrics with the other voices singing background parts.

The members of UpScale first met through Vermont women’s acapella barbershop chorus, the Barretones and began singing as a quartet in 2014.

“I saw an ad in the newspaper. After college there’s not a lot of opportunities to sing in groups,” Knight remembered. She grew up playing instruments and singing in choirs in school but didn’t have much prior experience with barbershop music.

Pallman-Hamilton’s background is all music and theater. She described herself as a “reformed music teacher,” who grew up playing instruments and singing with her siblings.

Hollenbeck, who directs the Barretones, has been singing her whole life but was introduced to barbershop in college.

“There was a men’s group that would rehearse in the common area. One day I was walking by them and it sounded like a hollow chord. I said, ‘Are you missing a part?’” Hollenbeck recalled. The group was missing a tenor, the high harmony, and she ended up filling in. After that, she was hooked.

O’Donnell grew up singing in church and school choirs, but ultimately sought it out for herself. “It wasn’t because anyone in my family was doing it. I just always liked to sing,” she said. Singing lead in the quartet is a new challenge for her—not technically, but in terms of performance.

“As the lead, I have to be able to emote in a believable way,” she explained. “For me it’s definitely hard. I don’t have a background in acting or even as a soloist because I’ve always sung in choirs. This is really the first time I’ve had to step out and try to be more emotive without being hokey.”

One of the newer categories introduced in barbershop competitions within their organization, Harmony Inc., is “performance.” The category defines performance as being, “realistic in imaginary circumstances.” The group often discusses performance and how to emote authentically during bi-monthly rehearsals and voice lessons.

Some quartets thrive off of the cheese-factor however, incorporating comedy into their quartet personality. According to the ladies, every quartet has a personality, often determining song choice, costumes and stage presence.

While the members of UpScale aren’t sure what their quartet personality is quite yet, they know they want to come across as light-hearted. “We’re not a comedy quartet, but we like to have fun with it,” offered Knight. Many of their songs feel upbeat, even romantic, without veering too far into ballad territory.

There are three main barbershop organizations in the US. Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), historically known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc., was established in 1938 as one of the first organizations to preserve barbershop music. Initially, membership was reserved for men but as the scene has grown, BHS opened their doors to include, “everyone in harmony,” according to Hellenbeck. Women’s barbershop organization, the Sweet Adelines International was established in 1945 as a counterpart to BHS, and Harmony Inc., which the members of UpScale belong to, was established about 60 years ago and includes much of the east coast.

“[Harmony Inc.] came about because there was a lot of inequality going on in the music world,” in terms of racism and gender inequality, explained Hellenbeck. In the last 20 years, BHS has opened up their competitions to mixed quartets and much of the music has changed.

“If you’re only singing one genre of music, you’re singing to a very narrow audience,” she said. “You want to make sure what you’re singing really encompasses everyone, so everyone is included... It’s not necessarily the picture of the old barbershop with the hats and mustaches anymore.”

The other ladies agreed, noting how they work well together because of their web of support.

“We’re putting our hearts out there, if we’re doing it right. When you’re singing you’re very vulnerable so it’s good to know someone is there to support you when you’re freaking out and thinking I can’t do this,” said Knight. Do the ladies wish they could sing full time? They’re unsure. But according to Trecia, what makes barbershop special, is that it doesn’t matter what you do during the day.

“What brings you all together is the music you perform together. Doctors and garage attendants can sing together and what they do during the day doesn’t matter,” she said.

UpScale will be performing, “Go The Distance,” from Disney’s Hercules at this year’s Colchester’s Got Talent: All Stars show on Friday, Jan. 31. To attend the show and other attractions at this year’s Winter Festival, bracelets can be purchased in advance at the Colchester Parks & Recreation Department, Burnham Memorial Library, Mazza’s General Store, and ACE Hardware.


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Planning commission presents MBI at quiet meeting

Nearly ten months since residents voted against a town sewer, the Planning Commission presented the Malletts Bay Initiative (MBI) Wastewater Solutions report to the town Selectboard. Their recommendation? Sewer is still the best option. But despite a climactic lead-up to the commission’s decision, the room—packed to the gills with people—was surprisingly quiet.

Planning and Zoning Director Sarah Hadd and Planning Commission Chair Richard Paquette led the presentation at the meeting on Jan. 14, filling in the Selectboard on the Commission’s different research projects and studies, public outreach campaign, and workshops on alternative wastewater solutions. Other options that the Commission considered included land conservation, community septic, and ‘no action.’

“I was all on board with trying to find an alternative solution but we just couldn’t,” Paquette told the board, following a question from Selectboard member Herb Downing about whether the Commission’s decision was spoken with one voice. “That’s always frustrating,” Paquette said—wanting to find other solutions but finding that they’re unavailable.

Ultimately, the commission concluded that a sewer line was the least expensive of options they had considered; it met all of their requirements, including capacity and coverage; and it could provide additional opportunities for growth.

The meeting was filled with members of the Planning Commission, town staff, and community members, including a group of outspoken residents against the sewer who call themselves the Friends of Malletts Bay.

The group submitted a 37-page alternative proposal to the board which Chair Jeff Bartley called attention to and said the board would review at a later date. Their proposal calls for additional research and suggests creation of a conservation fund. Ultimately, the proposal consists of smaller scale solutions including a combination of community septic and land conservation, using a smaller number of properties than the selectboard has identified as high risk.

Only two residents stood up to speak, Representative Sarita Austin who also serves on the planning commission, and Clinton Reichard of the Colchester Historical Society.

Reichard expressed his dismay at the position the town is put in by the state; charged with finding a solution to pollution but unable to inspect residents’ wastewater systems without permission.

“How can the town do something when you aren’t allowed to investigate it?” he asked.

“Let’s assume that the voters aren’t ready for sewers in any form or fashion,” Downing proposed in a quiet voice, as if pointing to the elephant in the room could speak it into being. “If you had a magic wand, and the legislature would pass any law you’d like them to, what sort of enforcement would you create? What tools would you have in your toolbox from an enforcement standpoint?” he asked Hadd.

“I think you always need to be careful about wishing for the genie in a bottle, because of the unintended consequences,” Hadd said after a short pause. “What the state does for one child, it has to do for the others... And even if the state were to let us do more enforcement, we wouldn’t necessarily be equipped,” she continued, and it would change the landscape of enforcement across the state.

“It’s going to be an ongoing struggle unless you come up with a comprehensive solution,” Hadd said.


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Local business owner running for selectboard

Stacey Mercure wears many hats—physical trainer, massage therapist, master figure pro, board member, yoga instructor, business-owner—the list continues.

Despite also being the brain (and muscle) behind Colchester Health and Fitness, Mercure doesn’t seem to sweat between roles. One of her mottos in business is to plan for your plan to change; roll with the punches. “Things may not always come out the way you want but you gotta be flexible. Literally,” she said laughing. “That’s where yoga comes in.”

This March, Mercure hopes to pick up another hat—as well as an empty seat—as the newest member of the Colchester selectboard. Three seats are up for reelection and only two incumbent members are running, leaving the third seat wide open.

“I definitely see both sides of the coin, as a resident and as a business owner,” Mercure told the Sun. With her experience as a business owner, a board member of the Colchester Community Development Corporation (CCDC) and a veteran of the service industry, Mercure hopes to add a fresh voice to local issues while revamping communication channels between town government and residents.

“We have to think long-term as a community: What’s going to be important to the community 20, 50 years from now? It’s going to change a million times so let’s come together with the best solution for everyone,” she said.

While Mercure seriously started to consider running about a month ago, the seat has been on her mind since last summer. According to Mercure, sitting members of the selectboard as well as Senator Richard Mazza suggested she consider running after former selectboard chair Nadine Scibek resigned her post. Ultimately, former chair of the Planning Commission Pam Loranger was appointed to Scibek’s vacant seat in August of 2019 and is running for reelection this March, but the position stayed in the back of her mind.

“It was a very big compliment,” said Mercure when her colleagues suggested she run. “I’m not that political of a person so this is a new platform for me. But I was recommended by people who I admire. That’s why I started thinking about it and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Mercure was born and raised in the Green Mountain state. One hundred percent “Vermont made.” She has lived in Colchester for over 20 years and owned a small business for 13. “So I’ve paid my fair share of taxes,” she said smiling.

One of her favorite aspects of Colchester is the lake. As a selectboard candidate, water quality is on Mercure’s mind.

“Wastewater is an issue and I think it’s really going to be important to listen to what everyone has to say about it,” she said, regarding the Malletts Bay Initiative, one of the town’s most controversial topics relating to water quality in Lake Champlain. While Mercure did not support any specific solution, she emphasized the need to find a long-term solution.

“If we’re going to dig the roads up, how many times do we want to have to do that? Is that going to cost taxpayers more money?” she asked. “I think there needs to be a lot more education with what the town plans on doing. I think a lot of people hear, ‘increase in taxes,’ and that’s all they hear. We need to communicate better; we need to help people see both sides of the coin.”

As a veteran of the service industry, Mercure considers herself a top-notch listener. “There’s so many different types of people that communicate really differently. Being in the industry has helped me know people,” she said. In the political forum, Mercure considers listening and open-mindedness to be necessary.

Sitting on the board of CCDC has also bettered her listening and problem-solving skills. “When you sit on a board it’s not just you making decisions. You’re working together as a group and you’re able to get feedback from one another of the pros and cons; looking at the whole scenario, situation, whatever that may be,” said Mercure. As a business-owner she’s a veteran budgeter. And as a boot camp instructor, she’s not afraid of hard work.

“It’s just about doing your best,” she said smiling. “I’m excited and I would be very grateful for the opportunity if it’s meant to be.”

While Mercure hasn’t submitted her petition for election yet, she hopes to collect enough signatures and run for the seat being vacated by selectboard member Herb Downing who has served on the board in various roles since 2011. Candidates for selectboard must collect at least 30 signatures and submit a petition to the Town Clerk’s office by Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. According to Assistant Town Clerk Wanda Morin, only incumbents Jeff Bartley and Pam Loranger have submitted petitions for reelection so far.