December is an especially busy time for the members of The Beaconettes. There are loads of benefit events and holiday concerts, not to mention the annual Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition to perform in. There is also a whole heck of a lot of thinking that goes into just how decorative you’ll make your 15-inch, festooned-in-lights beehive wig.
From Parenting To Wigs And Gigs
“I go to Michaels and I channel my inner 7-year-old,” says Pauline Freund. After contemplating a farm animal theme as well as outfitting her wig with fruit, she decided on My Little Ponies. There are four of these toy critters (snagged from her daughter) tucked just so into her holiday coppery red wig.
It’s the wigs that are part of the kitsch and the charm of this all-female, all-volunteer a cappella group, a group sown in the friendships that form when you’re new to motherhood. Years ago, a handful of women who lived in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood met in a parenting support group. As the kids grew, one of the moms gathered the children to play music. It became an annual winter tradition.
“I call it the ‘North Beacon Hill Children’s Symphony Orchestra Annual Music Party,” Melet Whinston says.
Whinston, a family physician with a background in music, created parties that were the ultimate get-together and a lot of fun. So one year, the moms decided they wanted a chance at performing as well. So they sang.
And months after the holiday party, they were still meeting and singing until one day Whinston secured them a neighborhood gig.
“And we’re like, ‘Oh, they want us to sing for a half an hour. We don’t have a half hour of music!”' recalls Betty Jean Williamson. "And they said, ‘Well, what else do you know? And we said, ‘Silver Bells.’ We could sing that.”
So they rewrote the lyrics to reflect the Beacon Hill neighborhood: "City sidewalks, narrow sidewalks, from PacMed to VA/In the air’s the aroma of lumpia." Listen to the entire song:
The audience ate it up. The women decided they were onto something. They christened themselves The Beaconettes and unveiled an array of songs that were uniquely Seattle.
To the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" they sang about riding the ferries: "God bless our ferry gentlemen that ply the Puget Sound/they go to Bremerton so we don’t have to drive around."
To "We Three Kings" they sang about naked cyclists: "We three naked cyclists are/Baring flesh we paddle afar."
And in their quest to always keep current and topical, they created their own version of the song "Mr. Sandman" and made it all about marijuana: "Marijuana now it's legit/Can't wait to light up and take a big hit." Listen to the song:
'I Saw Them And I Knew: They Were My Choir'
A total of 14 women make up The Beaconettes, who have been around since 2007. The women are mostly in their 40s and 50s, although some are younger. They’re not all mothers, and they’re not even all Beacon Hill residents. Ronna Dansky takes two busses to commute from her Ballard home to get to rehearsal.
“I saw them perform and I knew: They were my choir,” Dansky says.
Some of the women come to the group with serious musical backgrounds and others didn’t know how to read a single note. But they work hard to hone their talent and for years, they’ve won the People’s Choice Award at the Great Figgy Pudding competition.
Their songs, along with their outfits, make The Beaconettes one of those acts you long remember. The wigs stemmed from the name of the neighborhood — Beacon Hill or “BE-HI,” which led to beehive wigs. They started out black but as the women grew more confident over the years, they’ve turned into bright pink and platinum blonde.
Among The Beaconettes are a preschool teacher, a landscape architect, a family physician and a couple of editors. They’ve each adopted an “-ette” name: "You Bet!" "Vinagrette!" "Moist Towelette!"
“As ‘Chevette Beaconette’ I can perform but as Pauline I cannot,” says Pauline Freund, a prosecuting attorney who works on domestic violence cases in South King County.
If there were an applause-o-meter for Best Wig on a Beaconette, she’d be a serious contender this holiday season. On a recent night, at a benefit for Beacon Arts, her stiffest competition among all the flamboyance: a beehive garlanded in green with twinkling lights topped off by a Seahawks Santa hat.
The Beaconettes perform at the Holiday in Volunteer Park in Seattle on Dec. 11. They've just released their first CD with all profits going to the Pike Market Senior Center & Food Bank. The CD is available at all of their live events.