The History of Pride of Portland
Back when there was still a Region 24, two Portland area choruses, Blue Lake Chorus and Willamette Sound Chorus, had a unique connection: brothers!
Yvonne Whedon (right), long time director of Blue Lake, was ready to retire and had invited Mike McCormic (center right, from when he was our "Music Man") to co-direct with her. Mike’s older brother, Tim McCormic (far right), had directed Willamette Sound Chorus since it’s inception in 1996. The two choruses shared a friendly gamesmanship, not unlike sibling rivalry.
Blue Lake and Willamette Sound won their share of Region 24 championships, but struggled to place well internationally. A question began to intrigue both choruses. What if these two regional winners combined into a larger, stronger single chorus that could be more competitive internationally?
The idea took a backseat until the two choruses met, for the last time, at the 2000 Region 24 Competition. Willamette Sound edged out Blue Lake by a mere four points, 604 to 600. But it was a milestone for both, as neither chorus had reached 600 points before. Blue Lake’s score of 600 won Yvonne the much deserved and coveted title of Master Director.
Yvonne retired after that competition and took her place on the risers. Mike took over as director of Blue Lake. Due to work considerations, Tim stepped down as Willamette Sound’s director. Nancy Kurth filled in as interim while a director search was planned at Willamette Sound.
The timing proved irresistible for re-evaluating the idea of Blue Lake and Willamette Sound combining forces. After numerous discussions and consultation with Sweet Adelines International, members voted to rename Blue Lake and dissolve Willamette Sound. They kept Blue Lake’s charter, originally granted on November 8, 1968. On December 31, 2000, Pride of Portland was born. Mike McCormic became Pride’s first director, and the chorus won its first Region 24 competition in 2001. This was the first of many championships. And so, while the story behind Pride of Portland Chorus begins in 2000, in reality, we have now celebrated over 50 years together under the Blue Lake Charter.
With the return of its charter to International, Willamette Sound withdrew from the 2001 International Competition, allowing the second-place chorus, Blue Lake (now Pride of Portland) to represent Region 24 at International. Pride of Portland was over 140 strong when it hit the international stage for the first time in 2001, finishing an astonishing tenth place.
Pride’s first regional championship qualified the chorus to compete at the 2002 International Competition. Due to family and work obligations Mike stopped directing the chorus in 2002. Zoe Thompson, former International President and director of Lakeside Chorus in Seattle, stepped in as interim director while we prepared for International in Nashville.
Welcome to Ryan Heller
Pride also began a new director search. They looked carefully at the job requirements for their next musical mentor. Members wanted someone who would not only return them to the top 10, but would launch them to the next level. The chorus was so fortunate to find that person in Ryan Heller. Despite his youth, he thrilled the chorus when he came for his director audition, exhibiting an encyclopedic command of musical theory, impeccable credentials, and a relentless drive that most veteran directors would envy. Little wonder, as Ryan had been immersed in barbershop from the cradle. Mom and member Kris Pederson was a Sweet Adeline even before he was born.
Ryan’s natural leadership skills translated into success. At the 2003 Region 24 Competition – his directorial debut, Ryan won the Novice Director Award while Pride of Portland earned its second regional championship. At the 2004 International Competition in Indianapolis, Pride scored their highest finish to date – 7th place!
Ryan transformed what it means to be Pride of Portland, reshaping the chorus through education, personal vision, and a fierce love of barbershop!
During Ryan’s tenure, Pride won every regional competition it entered with five top ten international finishes, achieving the Most Entertaining Chorus Award at the 2010 International Competition in Seattle.
In 2013, Pride celebrated Ryan’s 10th anniversary in style with a record-breaking score at the last Region 24 Competition in Boise. Pride of Portland broke the prestigious 700-point barrier, earning a mind-blowing 701 points with a powerhouse performance that elevated Ryan to the rank of Master 700 Director.
International reviewed all regions and made significant changes. Region 24 was no longer and Pride is now part of Region 13, the North by Northwest Region.
Ryan directed Pride of Portland Chorus for over 16 years. He left, to pursue other musical endeavors in Texas, following the 2018 International Competition in St. Louis, Missouri. Under his leadership the chorus won eight regional championships and placed as high as 4th internationally. As noted earlier, Ryan is a Sweet Adelines Master 700 Director; an honor few other Sweet Adeline directors can claim! He remains a popular coach, speaker and guest conductor, and is currently directing a SAI chorus in Texas. With his trademark exuberance, Ryan works to bring out the optimal performance in each musician.
A new era
In November 2019 Pride of Portland embarked on their new director search. We were thrilled to hire Drew Osterhout, a Pacific Northwest native, who spent the last few years in St. Louis honing his skills with the four-time Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) championship chorus, the Ambassadors of Harmony, where he was baritone section leader. At the 2019 International BHS Convention, the Ambassadors of Harmony placed second in the competition!
Drew’s other barbershop experience includes his role as Head Clinician for Harmony Explosion Northwest and co-directing Northwest Vocal Project Chorus to a 6th place international finish in 2012. Drew has sung in numerous quartets, most recently with Spitfire Quartet (2019 BHS International competitor).
Pride looks forward to a very exciting future under Drew’s direction!
The story behind Pride of Portland Chorus begins in 2000, yet Pride recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in November of 2018. Impossible? Not when you consider the chronicle of events that fashioned Portland's premiere women’s a cappella chorus.
Back when there was still a Region 24--the Mount 'n Shore Region--there were also two Greater Portland area choruses: Blue Lake Chorus and Willamette Sound Chorus. Both were chapters of Sweet Adelines International with memberships of comparable size (50+), but these two choruses had a connection unique to other all-female ensembles: brothers.
Tim McCormic directed Willamette Sound and had since its inception. For many years, Yvonne Whedon (pictured, far right) was the director of Blue Lake, but as she contemplated retirement, she convinced Tim’s brother, Mike (pictured, right), to become co-director. The two choruses shared a friendly gamesmanship not unlike sibling rivalry, anyway, so why not pit brother against brother?
Both won their share of Region 24 championships, but neither placed high internationally. The leadership team of each chorus began to wonder: how could they boost themselves higher in the rankings? What if...these two regional winners combined into a larger, stronger entity that could be more competitive? A solid plan, but one outside the comfort zone of many. The majority was drawn by the intimacy of a medium-sized chorus. Could they successfully adapt to a larger group and overcome the logistical issues combining two choruses entailed?
The recommendation took at a backseat when the two met for the last time at the 2000 Region 24 Competition. Willamette Sound edged out Blue Lake by a mere four points: 604 to 600. But it was milestone for both. Neither had reached the 600 mark before, earning Yvonne, a certified director, the title of Master Director. Soon after, Yvonne retired and moved back onto the risers. Mike took over as director of Blue Lake. Tim started a new, demanding job that forced him to step down as Willamette Sound’s director. Nancy Kurth filled in as interims while a director search was contemplated.
With a new sense of urgency, the merger proposal was resurrected. Why search for a director when there was a perfectly suitable candidate in Mike McCormic? Sweetening the pot was the location of the next International Competition: their hometown of Portland, OR. The timing proved irresistible. After numerous negotiations, members voted to rename Blue Lake and dissolve Willamette Sound. They kept Blue Lake's charter--originally granted on Nov 8, 1968--and settled on a new name. On December 31, 2000, Pride of Portland was born and Mike McCormic was named the director. They entered their first Region 24 Competition in 2001, winning the first of many championships.
With the return of its charter to International, Willamette Sound withdrew from the 2001 International Competition, allowing the second place chorus, Blue Lake (now Pride of Portland) to represent the region at International. That galvanized dozens of eager members from area choruses to flock to the new ensemble, swelling the ranks. Pride was over 140 strong when it hit the International stage for the first time in 2001. They earned an astonishing 10th place.
Little doubt remained - the merger was a triumph. Pride's first regional championship qualified it for the 2002 International Competition so it was international-bound once again. However, Mike left in 2002, so Zoe Thompson, former International President, came out of retirement and graciously stepped in as interim while Pride prepared for International in Nashville, TN, and began formulating preliminary plans for a director search. They fell out of the top ten that year to finish 17th.
With Zoe's impending departure in 2003, Pride recommitted itself to an exhaustive director search. It took a good hard look at the job requirements for their next musical mentor. International success had branded itself permanently on the psyche of this burgeoning chorus. Members wanted someone who would not only return them to the top ten, but launch them to the next level.
Pride found that director in Ryan Heller (pictured, left). Despite his youth, he blew away the chorus when he came for his director audition, exhibiting an encyclopedic command of musical theory, impeccable credentials, and a relentless drive that most veteran directors would envy. Little wonder, as Ryan has been immersed in barbershop from the cradle; his mother (and Pride of Portland member) Kris Pederson has been a Sweet Adeline since before he was born.
Ryan’s natural leadership skills translated into instant success. At his directorial debut at the 2003 Region 24 Competition, he won the Novice Director Award while his mighty Pride earned its second regional championship. At the 2004 International Competition in Indianapolis, IN, Pride scored their highest finish ever: 7th place!
With his trademark exuberance, Ryan is as energy-driven as the sound he demands, reshaping the chorus through education, personal vision, and a fierce love of all things barbershop. He has transformed what it means to be Pride of Portland. During his tenure, Pride has won every regional competition it has entered with four top ten International finishes, achieving the Most Entertaining Chorus Award at the 2010 International Competition in Seattle, WA.
In 2013, Pride celebrated Ryan’s tenth anniversary in style--with a record-breaking score at the last ever Region 24 Competition in Boise, ID. Pride broke the prestigious 700 barrier, earning a mind-blowing 701 points with a powerhouse performance that elevated Ryan to the ranks of Master 700 Director. Pride became a part of North By Northwest Region 13 in 2013, and represented both region 13 and 24 at the 2014 Sweet Adelines International Convention in Baltimore, MD, and roared to a stunning 4th place finish!
With a full-time position as the Artistic Director/Conductor of Chorus Austin, Ryan recently felt it necessary to retire as Pride of Portland's director in May of 2019, after 16 years at the helm. Pride achieved great things under Ryan's leadership, and we wish him only the best as he begins his new life in Austin, TX. We look forward to continuing our successful path with our new director, Drew Osterhout, leading the way onward.
What will the future bring? Find out yourself. Visit a rehearsal, join Pride, and make history with us!