CRESCO, IOWA –Nestled in the Northeast corner of Iowa, four young sisters raise their voices in song, their harmonic blend often stopping passersby in their tracks.
Addie, 14, Josie, 12, Ella, 10 and Gwen, 9, are the daughters of Steve and Julie Sopha of Cresco, Iowa. Largely self-taught and surrounded by a music-loving family, the girls listen to their favorite artists on YouTube and Pandora Internet Radio for inspiration. The sisters’ musical tastes range from folk music, Priscilla Ahn and Norah Jones to Lennon & Maisy.
Multi-instrumentalists, the Sopha Sisters play ukulele and mandolin, are just learning a little guitar and clarinet, and “mess around” on the piano.
Addie attends Crestwood High School, and Josie attends Crestwood Junior High School. Ella and Gwen attend Notre Dame Catholic School, also in Cresco.
The Sopha Sisters are a familiar sight around town, where they participated in the Patriotic Cantata at the Cresco Community Chapel, the annual Art in the Park event, a veteran’s banquet, and the Norman Borlaug Harvest Fest. They also sing at churches and nursing homes in the area.
Regionally, they were recently guests on Lanesboro, Minnesota’s “Over the Back Fence” variety/radio show. Other area performances include singing at the Hoyt Sherman Place and the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa.
While the ease with which they slip into three-part harmony might seem like second nature, the sisters only learned to harmonize over the last couple of years.
Says oldest sister Addie: “We were exposed to lots of music when we were little, but learned how to sing harmony a couple of years ago.”
The girls’ mother, Julie, describes how a musical upbringing has influenced her daughters:
“We always have music in the house, I always played music,” she said. “I sang them lullabies and we listened to kids’ songs on CDs and they would sing along. They could all carry a tune decently at a young age. They got even better as they got older. We’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by music. Any time we get together with grandparents, there is lots of music: Singing, piano, and guitars.”
As the sisters’ musical talents grew, they became known regionally as The Sopha Sisters, and began performing publicly, which they say is a nerve-wracking but ultimately rewarding experience.
Addie said, “Before we (perform onstage), it’s always nerve-wracking, and we’re freaking out, but after we’re onstage and ready to sing, we settle down and it’s fine.”
Adds Ella, “We’re nervous before we go out there, but afterwards, we think, ‘Oh, that was kind of fun!”.
Gwen has her own technique for battling pre-performance jitters.
“Whenever I get nervous, I smile,” she said.
Their poise onstage paid off: They have performed twice at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. The sisters placed in the top seven of the Sprouts Division last year, and in 2015, they made it to the semi-finals in the Senior Division.
In addition to impressing the judges, the girls’ singing has impacted fair attendees.
Addie said, “One time at the state fair, a man came up to our mom and was crying, and he told her how much the music touched him.”
As witness to how her daughters’ music affects others, Julie says performing in front of large crowds gives them invaluable communication skills they can take with them throughout their lives.
“I’m so proud of how Addie can speak in front of large groups of people. It’s such a great skill that will help her throughout life.”
As the Sopha Sisters continue to amass fans of their folk-inspired harmonies, they consider what role music will play in their future.
“I think we’re always going to like singing and performing once in a while, but we will probably do more YouTube videos,” Addie said. “I don’t think I want to make music a career, though.”
Adds Julie, “They have so much fun at home where there is no pressure, so I would love to see them make YouTube videos at home to share with people, where there isn’t that added stress of performing.”
She continued, “I hope that music is always a part of our family; that down the road, I’ll be surrounded by kids and grandkids who love to sing and make beautiful music for me to enjoy.”
For more on The Sopha Sisters, visit their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/sophasisters, or their YouTube channel.
Sara Stromseth-Troy is a freelance newspaper feature writer for The Cresco Times Plain Dealer, and serves as Young Adult Librarian and manages the social media accounts for The Cresco Public Library. Fortunate to grow up surrounded by an extended family of music educators, she is honored to volunteer in blog writing and social media for The Spirit of Harmony Foundation. She lives in Cresco, Iowa.