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Singing in the Rain
A band of a cappella aficionados turn a faux pas into a ringing success

Photo by Paul Ruffolo

When the designated night arrived in May and the Mil Town Treblemakers had finished their dinner at Cafe Centraal, they began to sing. A half-dozen young women, they stood up from their table (with full stomachs) and broke into song, subjecting the Bay View restaurant’s patrons to the same cleaving of conversation that marks any grand ol’ musical.

But the crowd loved it, as would others. After the ladies paid their bill at Centraal, they headed outside and “continued walking down the street, singing in any venue that would take us,” says Lisa Bultman, one of the performers.

That had been the plan all along – to crawl through the neighborhood and put voice to song whenever a suitable opportunity materialized. It’s a marketing ploy the group has used time after time. And it worked its magic more recently during Bay View Gallery Night in September.

To start that mobile concert, the Treblemakers broke into song at the Classic Slice pizzeria on bustling Kinnickinnic Avenue. “The kitchen staff was definitely surprised and confused,” says Nathanial Shippee, assistant day manager. But, he adds, he “found it delightful.”

“We’ll basically take any opportunity to sing,” says treblemaker Betsy Simmons. “It makes people happy.”

The treble started in 2009 when four South Milwaukee High School grads got together to sing sans musical accompaniment. Their first public performance came at a South Milwaukee tree lighting, then they sang the national anthem at a 2010 Milwaukee Bucks game, a few songs for Donald Driver at a United Way event in July and ditties at almost 30 other events.

Katie Franecki, a founding member, arranges all of the group’s songs, usually pop hits with a TV theme-song medley thrown in for good measure. She adds what the group calls “silly syllables” (bum bum bum, da da doo) and “vocal percussion” (the beat) as she boils compositions down to an a cappella-ready framework.

What’s the group’s next move? A hint: In September, on an otherwise quiet South Milwaukee street, their voices arose from a window when a lone treblemaker cut through the harmony, alleging, “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.”

The Treblemakers will sing a medley of the “worst” Christmas songs at a Dec. 1 concert.

Sounds like Santa’s in big treble.

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