Harmony a priority for The ‘Bu Notes

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The 'Bu Notes, pictured bottom row, from left: Maria-Flora Smoller, Diane Lansing, Julia Holland, Jennifer Kurtz, Kim Ledoux, Gina McCloskey and Heather Beck. The top row, from left: Laureen Sills, Terri Keossaian and Marti Maniates-Baysore. Photo by Dana Fineman / TMT

A group of local women comes together for the love of singing and sisterhood.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

For those who aren’t aware of the scope of Malibu’s homegrown talent, The ‘Bu Notes are a musically illustrative snapshot.

Launched in 2005, the chorale group, consisting of 10 local women of diverse backgrounds, was conceived in the most organic of fashions.

“We just liked singing together,” founder Julia Holland said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “I’m a singer and a singing teacher, and one day some friends and I just got together to sing at my house. We had so much fun that we asked more friends and finally got 10 of us together till we finally said ‘Enough! Let’s close the group at 10.'”

Holland had been a music major at the University of New Mexico before leaving to pursue a career fronting for pop and rock bands (she eventually completed her degree at California State University, Northridge). She ended up in Los Angeles performing in musical theater, married, had children and moved to Malibu.

“Once we started meeting up, it became a very democratic process,” Holland said in describing how the group works. “I usually arrange the songs we do or I find other arrangements and we find the harmonies. It’s more like a sorority.”

The group of fortyish-year-old women looks like a collection of blonde surfer girls just off the beach (“Our photo looks like a Clairol commercial,” Holland joked) and comes with different levels of musical and life experience. ‘Bu Notes member Laureen Sills is a real estate agent and Gina McCloskey is a horsewoman. Holland said one new member is a singer she worked with in a band 25 years ago. Most are busy working mothers (they have 22 children between them) with careers who just happen to have a talent for picking out three-part harmonies from ’70s pop songs, like Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” and “Love Train” by the O’Jays.

Maria-Flora Smoller was one of the original group members of Holland’s friends who got together once a week for the pleasure of abandoning housework and singing as a chorale. She has five children, ages five to 17, and said that singing takes her out of the stress of daily life.

“We’re all supposed to try and do one thing for ourselves that brings joy,” Smoller said. “This is a great group of dynamic, diverse women and we have a lot of fun. The best part about it is that there is no ego involved here. We’re all very diplomatic and whoever wants to bring a song in, does so, and we all work together. The priority is on harmony.”

Their repertoire is heavy on tunes recorded by Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Andrews Sisters and the Dixie Chicks. Their accompaniment depends on their performing venue and can range from a big band to simple piano.

“Sometimes we just sing a cappella,” Holland said.

Eventually, the group started volunteering for local fundraisers and was tapped to sing for area charity events and community concerts. They now are a regular feature at Malibu’s annual Chili Cook-Off and at Christmas caroling recitals. They recently performed at a fundraiser for School on Wheels (the nonprofit that provides tutoring and educational support for homeless children) and are now preparing for the Flip Flop Ball in a couple of months that benefits special education. Sometimes, if one in their group is unavailable, they’ll tap a musical daughter who sings in the Malibu High School chorus to fill in.

“We don’t go out and work clubs,” Holland explained. “We’re not into putting together a reel and finding an agent and all that. This is for the love of it.”

Their reputation, however, is beginning to exceed their group capacity. Holland said that more and more women are asking to join up-a testament to the healing draw of music.

“But we decided to close the door at 10 singers for The ‘Bu Notes,” Holland said. “I guess I’ll have to put together another choir.”

More information on The ‘Bu Notes may be obtained by visiting the Web site: www.thebunotes.com