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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the July 7, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
When A Cappella Breaks Tradition
There are six of them — six dynamic but vastly different women in age, background and lifestyles. Without a common denominator, their lives might never have meshed.
But the women of the Key of She share one passion, and it’s music. Within minutes of talking with them, it becomes clear that a cappella singing is their mighty bond, their profound connection, and their source of endless delight.
“We come from different places and do different things, and that’s what makes this group so much fun,” says Susan Jaques, a founding mother of the Key of She and its self-proclaimed “bossiest and most senior member.”
Jacques has a long history in music, which began with her harmonizing with the radio at the tender age of four and playing piano at five. She would then go on to sing in a cappella groups in high school, and become an occasional arranger for a singing group at her alma mater, Smith College.
In the Princeton area, Jacques, who is a mother of six in a blended family, joined the Boudinotes, a women’s singing group that she enjoyed from 1975 to 1987. She then helped to found Double Treble, another a cappella ensemble of about 10 women that performed throughout the region.
When that group disbanded in 2000, the energetic Skillman woman, the former executive director of the Foundation for Fighting Blindness in Princeton, decided to form a new group that would join the brave new world of a cappella — voices with microphone support. “We wanted to be on the cutting edge with electronics and with vocal percussion,” says Jacques. “It’s a slight break with tradition, but one that we welcome.”
Vocal percussion, explains Jacques, is a kind of “vocal drumming” that allows vocal sound to be transformed, through electronic amplification, into a drumming sound. It breaks traditional a capella sound barriers in what the Key of She regards as an evocative way. The group has already has amassed some impressive credits. In its second year of existence, the Key of She, which sings classics, jazz, and even salsa, walked off with the coveted “Audience Favorite” award at the 11th annual New York Harmony Sweepstakes, known as the “Super Bowl of A Cappella.” That same year, 2002, the ensemble opened for the late Ray Charles at the 1,400-seat Union County Arts Center in Rahway.
The group, which is composed entirely of altos, often surprises audiences with its deeper, richer “women-sound.” Its repertoire ranges from Gershwin and Cole Porter to Karen Carpenter and Sting, with a bit of whimsy and humor thrown into the mix. Key of She’s mischievous take-off on “Blowin’In the Wind,” a satire on men, is an instant crowd-pleaser.
It’s been a heady and rewarding journey for the six women of Key of She, all of them former members of Double Treble who share Sue Jacques’s love of miked a cappella. On a recent morning, several of the Key of She members gathered at Jacques’ Skillman home to reflect on how they came together, and what the group means to them.
Dyann Mazzeo of Skillman had earned a degree in biology at Boston College, devoted some years to pharmaceutical sales, and then had worked in continuing medical education for doctors. But after several life-altering experiences, Mazzeo decided to do what she felt she was meant to do, and she became a pastry chef.
“I just knew it was time to do what I loved and wanted to do, which is one of my reasons for joining the Key of She,” says this enthusiastic member, a former a cappella singer at Boston College who was also involved in community theater.
The group’s “tycoon,” Amy Raditz of Princeton, whose first life was in the hotel industry, is now a career coach and trainer for DBM, the global outplacement company in Princeton. Her love of music led her to the Key of She, and Raditz still manages to find time for weekly rehearsals and public appearances.
“My degree is in theater arts and my passion is for performing, singing, and entertaining. Key of She allows me to connect with a special group of women who share the love of singing and provide support in every aspect of life,” says Raditz. “The group helps me to stay grounded, focused, and committed.”
Lisa Ernst of Hightstown, another member of “KOS,” as the group is affectionately known, and a mother of three, works in the electronics industry. Ernst admits that in her hectic life, the Key of She is “the only thing in my life that is totally for me. It’s really good for my ego, which feeds the rest of my life. If I’m happy, my family’s happy.”
Pennington resident Patty Cronheim, a nutritionist-turned-music teacher, and a single mom, and Pat Stearman, also of Pennington, complete the sextet.
Stearman, whose background is in accounting, and who is credited with coming up with the group’s name one day while taking a shower, sums up the impact of KOS.
“The group is important to me well beyond musical fulfillment,” she says. “The friendships, support, and mutual respect are priceless benefits.”
— Sally Friedman
Key of She, Friday, July 9, 7 p.m. at Orpha’s Coffee House, 1330 Route 206, Skillman. Call 609-430-2828.
Awesome. Fantastic. Delightful. Those are the words Linda Grimsley, co-owner of Orpha’s Coffee Shop with her husband, Patricio Abarca, uses to describe the Key of She, which makes a return engagement to Orpha’s on Friday, July 9 at 7 p.m.
Grimsley, who opened the coffee shop last August as a retreat for those seeking fresh-roasted coffee and pastries — and very special entertainment — understands perfectly how and why the women of Key of She, some of them busy executives, need an outlet.
“My husband and I left the corporate world behind to open this place, and we absolutely love it,” says Grimsley, a former computer guru whose husband was a banker. “The women of the Key of She fit perfectly into our mission and mix, which is to have a place where people can truly relax and also be entertained by the best performers of the region.”
The Orpha Coffee Shop, named for Grimsley’s 82-year-old mother, offers entertainment almost every Friday night.
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