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Duet for life: Allegheny Township's Suzy and Byron draw strength from music ministry

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
Suzy and Byron Chertik in home recording studio of Gary Makovsky (not pictured), Delmont, PA.
Rebecca Emanuele | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Suzy and Byron Chertik in home recording studio of Gary Makovsky (not pictured), Delmont, PA.

Suzy Chertik had long aspired to sing.

But even after vowing at a retreat years ago to pursue her musical ambition, she made little progress, unable to envision a path toward performing as a vocalist.

“I didn't know what that looked like,” Chertik, 47, says, referring to finding ways to start singing, for which she won contests as a youngster. She teaches occupational therapy at a technical school in Pittsburgh.

“I just kind of kept it in my heart, for a long time,” she says.

That is, until she was handed a cassette tape that included a Christian song she was told to rehearse, agreeing to sing a duet of it within a week. The person who handed her the tape was her future husband, Byron, whom she met in the Lower Burrell home of one of her patients who arranged the encounter.

That was 20 years ago, and the couple has since spent weekends singing covers of Christian songs at venues across the tri-state area, including coffee shops, festivals and retreat centers.

They are to sing that song, “More Than Wonderful,” which had long remained a staple of their repertoire, to open their Aug. 24 performance, marking the day they first met. It is to take place at a church in Freeport, where they are members and sing with a group during worship services.

“I found a keeper,” says Byron Chertik, 53, a project manager at a Monroeville telecommunications service. Around the time the two met, he was singing harmony with a choir and a singer-songwriter, but he was seeking someone for a duet.

The couple, whose stage name is Suzy and Byron, has recorded only one album, “Through Song,” comprising mainly covers.

But they have established themselves in the contemporary Christian music scene in the region over the years. That is particularly true in the Alle-Kiski Valley, where they live in Allegheny Township and still schedule a few performances each month.

“Have you ever heard them sing?” asks Rosetta Lecocq, who has long helped run a Christian coffeehouse, Lazarus Tomb, in Arnold. “It's beautiful, just beautiful.” Lecocq notes one song in their repertoire, “The Prayer,” which they sing partly in Italian.

The Chertiks say they have encountered doubts along the way.

They sometimes questioned their balancing of full-time jobs with late-night preparations for weekend performances, occasionally driving long distances to sing in front of only a dozen people. All the while, they were raising five children, all of whom are now grown and who had accompanied them for a time.

“There were times,” says Suzy Chertik, remembering an episode in which the couple engaged in a shouting match while driving on a highway somewhere in the middle of Ohio, straining their voices so severely that they had to cancel a show they had scheduled near Columbus for the next day.

Yet, they have endured, continuing to draw inspiration from what they suggested are the bedrocks of their relationship: their shared faith and passion for song.

“It is our ministry,” Suzy says.

Proceeds from the Aug. 24 show will go toward their second album, “Through Christmas,” for which they are currently spending time in a recording studio.

As to how long they intend to keep performing: “As long as people want to hear us.”

Jake Flannick is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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