Big Macs and McFlurries hardly seem to be the stuff of music history. But it was over a plastic table under those famed golden arches, on a wintry Ohio evening, that In Sync was formed.
Before you get your panties in a twist — no, that is not a typo. These aren’t the ’90s pop purveyors we’re talking about, but rather a quartet of Kentuckiana women singing good old-fashioned barbershop music.
Debbie Thistle, Sue Pelley, Krista Pickens and Pam Ringo came together in December 2009 through their membership in the Pride of Kentucky chorus. All four brought experience in choruses and quartets across the country as members of Sweet Adelines, an international organization of female singers committed to preserving and celebrating the tradition of barbershop quartets. However, it wasn’t until the aforementioned evening at McD’s that the foursome decided to join forces.
“We knew that we all really liked each other as people; we got along well, and we liked the way we sounded together,” recalls Pelley. “But still, it was a big commitment.”
Since the group members are spread out across the region — Pickens and Ringo live in Louisville, with Thistle and Pelley outside Indianapolis — rehearsing is a challenge. “Ultimately, though, we had similar goals and a similar work ethic, so we decided to go for it, and it’s worked out really well,” Pelley says.
To accommodate their busy schedules and long commutes, In Sync only rehearses monthly, meeting halfway between Louisville and Indianapolis. Rehearsals last all day and require significant prep work.
“We’re really lucky that we agree on the kind of music we like to sing,” Pelley says. “Pam makes learning tracks for us — that way we can sing along in the car while we’re driving, really get the song in our heads. We do all our homework on our own, so when we get together we don’t have to sit down and learn the notes and words of a song; we can focus on fine-tuning.”
The group’s repertoire ranges from Elvis and The Beatles to Motown and the odd show tune. However, for regional competitions, held in Covington, Ky., each year and sponsored by Sweet Adelines, the group must choose from a pre-approved selection of traditional barbershop songs.
“Competing in regionals really takes quartet singing to a whole different level,” Pelley emphasizes. “Every year, our goal is to sing as well as we can to win our regional competition and move on to the international level.” In Sync has made it to internationals twice since they began competing in 2010. Unfortunately, they missed the cut-off for this year’s finals by four points.
From sorority events to the Galt House, In Sync hopes to expose more people to barbershop quartet music, showing them it’s not just the stuff of men in straw hats but a vibrant, contemporary art form. “It’s really unique, one of the only true American art forms we have in this country,” Pelley says. “Plus, it’s just really a great deal of fun.”