Sterling sisters share musical taste, talent

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2004

Erika, Alecia and twins Sydney and Shelby Smith are more than siblings, they're an ensemble whose vocal skills recently were honored in a national competition.

The quartet, who range in age from 12 to 18 and hail from Sterling, competed earlier this month in Austin, Texas, at the National Fine Arts Competition sponsored by the Assemblies of God.

The sisters competed against about 140 entrants in the small group vocal ensemble category. After advancing through two rounds, the sisters had a shot at the top prize.

"They were placed on the finals' list, which made them eligible for the national merit award," said Janice Smith, the girls' mother.

The sisters weren't selected for the top honor, but they placed high enough within the top 10 percent to each win a $1,000 scholarship to an Assemblies of God university.

The Smith sisters sing under the name, "Berachah," which means blessing in Hebrew. The songs the group sings have Christian themes, but they are not the traditional hymns common to church services. The tunes the sisters prefer have a more modern beat.

"We sing basically popular contemporary Christian music by groups like Point of Grace and Avalon," said Erika, the eldest sister. "We do a song, 'Dream,' by Michelle Tumes, and it really has a funky bass beat to it and we really like it."

The songs performed by the other groups at the competition also were Christian themed. But the styles varied.

"People do old hymns and then there's rap. It's a plethora of music. There's a ton of different kinds," Erika said.

Individuals and groups competed and performed in more than two dozen categories. The small vocal ensemble group category the Smith sisters competed in was for groups of two to four singers, Erika said.

One of the highlights of the event for the sisters was a chance to step inside a recording studio and lay down a track. Some volunteers from a local college set up a portable studio in an exhibition hall at the convention center where the competition was held.

The sisters recorded "By Heart," by Point of Grace, a song they performed for the competition.

Recording in a studio was more difficult than the Smiths expected. For one thing, the group had to contend with the studio's unfamiliar apparatus.

"It was a lot harder than we thought," Erika said, speaking for the group. "We're used to singing without headsets on and we can hear each other and blend really well."

The quartet took home a copy of their effort on CD and have been listening to the recording with a critical ear. Although not completely satisfied with the results, Erika thinks their first recording came out all right.

"Everybody is their own worse critic. We'll listen to (the recording) over and over and say we could have done better on that part. But, all in all, it's pretty good," she said.

The sisters began singing together about five years ago. They started taking the musical training they got from their parents, Brian and Janice Smith, who are longtime choir members, and applying it to songs they liked.

"We'd just mess around and make our own arrangements," said middle-sister Alecia. "We'd just have fun and see what we could do."

The sisters' first performance as a quartet was for fun during the holidays.

"For Christmas, we just decided to sing a song," said the 15-year-old.

At the time, twins Sydney and Shelby, the youngest of the sisters, were 7. The quartet soon began performing in public, at church functions, benefits and in talent shows.

For awhile, at least, the quartet will be reduced to a trio. Erika, who graduated from Soldotna High School this spring, left last week to start college. She'll be using her scholarship at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.

Erika still plans to perform with her sisters when she comes home for vacation and thinks the siblings will be singing together for a long time to come.

"When I come home for Christmas, we'll probably do something," she said. "I don't think it'll ever be over. We'll always be together."

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