The story behind Eu4ia: focus and fun

by | 14 Aug 2020 | Quartet Journey | 0 comments

I recently had the distinct pleasure of chatting to four amazingly talented ladies who met when singing together at the Cheshire Chord Company back in the late 1990s. Serendipitously, they decided to form a quartet. That quartet was Eu4ia and this is their story.

“They were ground-breaking for our region and instrumental in everyone raising their game!”
— ELAINE HAMILTON
Sweet Adelines International Board of Directors

Laser focused

Nancy Kelsall, Jane Grant, Kate Firth and Sandra Lea-Riley already had many years of singing experience between them as they set off on a trailblazing journey in 2000 that would see them win countless medals at a huge variety of contests, festivals and conventions at home and abroad.

Within just a year of singing together, they had won their first silver medal which only served to spur them on and go for gold. They knew they had something special going on as a quartet and they were hungry for success. Add to that the fact that they and their respective partners were all great friends who socialised and partied together and of course, they all loved and sang barbershop. A recipe for success.

Eu4ia after winning gold at LABBS 2001

Eu4ia after winning gold at the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers in 2001

They worked hard, supported and encouraged by Jane’s husband, the wonderful barbershop mentor and coach, John Grant. He was so much an integral part of Eu4ia that they used to refer to themselves as Eu5ofUs. John helped them keep focussed and disciplined with a meticulous coaching technique that contributed to their fabulous voice blend development and stage performances.

Eu4ia and their husbands

Eu4ia and husbands

In 2004, they competed at their first Sweet Adelines Convention and came first. New to Sweet Adelines, it was the first time in the region’s history that a competing ensemble would score over 600 points. Eu4ia did it with 610 points much to the rapturous delight shown them by the appreciative audience.

“They really raised the bar and set a fantastic new standard for Region 31. Quartet singing was never the same again!”
— ALYSON CHANEY
Sweet Adelines International Region 31 Education Coordinator

Eu4ia won first place in the Region 31 Convention in 2004

On stage at the 2004 Region 31 Convention, which Eu4ia finished in first place

The next day was chorus competition day. Kate’s husband, Neil was heard to say, “wouldn’t it be a shame if the winning chorus were to score a point more than you!” Lace City did just that scoring 611!

With the impending birth of her daughter, Kate’s pregnancy resulted in the quartet not travelling to International that year but returning to regional convention the following year to compete again. They won. Eu4ia was automatically entered in to the 2005 International Competition in New Orleans alongside the region’s winning chorus from the previous year, Lace City. A bond between the two was formed and the two ensembles, the first ever to achieve winning scores over 600 were to compete on the same International stage.

Eu4ia won first place (again!) in the Region 31 Convention

“Eu4ia really broke the mould. When they walked onto the contest stage, they had the presence and – above all – that wall of sound that I don’t think I’d ever heard before. It was completely obvious that they were in another league and they inspired a host of quartets who followed in their footsteps. It was a turning point in quartet singing in Region 31. I’ll never forget being in Detroit in 2005 to see them achieve 12th place, the first wild card in our region’s history. So proud!”
— VALERIE TAYLOR
Vocal Dimension Chorus Music Director and Sweet Adelines International Sound Judge

Enter Hurricane Katrina and a hurried convention venue relocation by Sweet Adelines from New Orleans to Detroit. Being fully fledged barbershoppers themselves, all the girls’ husbands were fully supportive of their partner’s endeavours and so were there to witness Eu4ia take 12th place in the quartet competition. It’s fair to say at this point that none of them was expecting to be placed as high as they were. The Detroit Convention had been an unbelievably amazing convention.

Tony and I were on our honeymoon, so it was a heck of a lovely extra wedding gift!”
— SANDRA LEA-RILEY

Eu4ia finished 12th place in Detroit in 2005

Eu4ia finished in 12th in the 2005 Sweet Adelines International Convention in Detroit

But always having fun

To allay the performance nerves, they would assume different personalities backstage – Beyoncé, Bette Midler, Elaine Paige – to name but a few! Deep breathing to stay calm helped as did an occasional tot of port as recommended by Kate’s opera-singing mum. But once on stage, their support and friendship for each other shone through and the nerves would dissipate.

“It’s okay to be scared. It pushes you to be better.”
— NANCY KELSALL

They won several more times at regional convention returning to compete on stage at International in Las Vegas, Hawaii and Seattle. As Sandra later commented, “we won everything we wanted to, but we would have liked to have been in the top ten at International.” It was not to be, so after 11 fun years of travel, singing and competing, Eu4ia called it a day.

“Eu4ia have been wonderful ambassadors for British barbershop and really put British quartets on the map. They were total trailblazers and I feel so lucky to sing in quartet with Kate Firth (tenor), who has so much knowledge and experience.”
— SHERI WARBRICK
Sweet Adelines International Region 31 Quartet Liaison Coordinator

They attribute their successes to their great camaraderie on and off stage and their ability to read each other, knowing how to deal with each other’s needs and understanding each other’s big personality. They would also learn from their failures as well as their successes. “The barbershop journey can be painful,” Nancy said. “Traumatising even, so learn from this as much as you can.”

Through the years of singing and socialising together, they’ve supported each through births, deaths and marriages and pretty much everything else in between. Mostly, they enjoyed great times.

And they still do!

Eu4ia's Top Tips

For those starting out on their competitive quartet journey, here are a few of Eu4ia’s top tips.

  • Have a goal with a plan on how to achieve it.
  • Sing with like-minded folk… and like them!
  • Make sure you have good, consistent coaching.
  • Work hard but enjoy it, keep the joy and see the bigger picture.

Nowadays they’re sharing their immense and extensive barbershop singing knowledge. Nancy Kelsall directs the 2019 Region 31 chorus champion, Heartbeat Chorus and sits on the Regional Management Team as Directors Coordinator. Sandra Lea-Riley is Heartbeat’s Executive Coach. Jane Grant sings in Heartbeat and Kate Firth teaches and directs in community choirs. Nancy and Sandra are Sweet Adelines Region 31 faculty and judges in the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers, too.

So, would they do it all over again?

In a heartbeat was their unanimous response!