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2006 Chicago Harmony Sweepstakes - A Producer's Statement

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  • Andrew Blendermann
    To the Chicago Harmony Sweepstakes audience, and the Midwest a cappella community: A week has passed since the 2006 Chicago Regionals of the Harmony
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2006

      To the Chicago Harmony Sweepstakes audience, and the Midwest a cappella community:


      A week has passed since the 2006 Chicago Regionals of the Harmony Sweepstakes.  We had a full house, and in my opinion, a great show and a good competition.  But in the last week, I have received several e-mails from members of the audience, with a wide range of criticisms of the show, the groups, the judging, the hosting, and even the audience.  I would briefly like to address these criticisms, and offer my take on everything that happened on March 25th.  I will quote a few e-mails, and then respond to each.



                  “I am appalled that an art form as sophisticated and respected as 'a cappella' singing must be judged by people who are not themselves experienced in the art form.  Jingle singers, cabaret singers, and high school choir directors may know their respective crafts - but those crafts are not connected to 'a cappella' singing - and shame on you for not affording the participants the respect they deserve.”

                  I chose these judges because of their connections and experience both in the a cappella community and in the musical community in general.  My jingle singer (Judy Storey) has extensive experience as a background singer (read: harmony), and a vocal instructor.  My cabaret singer (Jennifer Chada) sings with a very talented vocal jazz group, Tonic.  And my high school choir director (Dan Gregerman) is incredibly active in the a cappella community, supporting concerts by such groups as The Real Group and Sixth Wave, and is an accomplished vocal competition judge.  My judging panel was more than qualified.



                  “[elmoTHUMM] went beyond the allotted time and were still pounding their stick far beyond the time when the red light appeared.”

                  There has been much discussion about the policy on timing for the groups.  Each group is given a ten-minute time allotment, and it is common knowledge that a red light appears at the ten-minute mark.  We try and keep groups as close to the ten-minute limit as possible, but we *do* allow a certain amount of leeway.  A group is not automatically disqualified for going over the ten-minute mark, and it is up to the judges discretion how to treat a group that goes over time.  If a group blatantly disregards the time (you may remember Blue Jupiter clocking in at about 12 and a half minutes), of course that will be taken into consideration, but groups going up to 30 seconds over is the norm, not the exception.  Only two out of the 8 groups performed under 10 minutes.



       “Did [elmoTHUMM] in fact not abide by the rules?”  "Incidental" is not the way to categorize two freestanding drum kits and a percussion stick” “Their usage of TWO cymbals, tambourine, and woodblock, as well as the pounding stick ABSOLUTELY DISQUALIFIED them from the competition. “

                  From our rules:  “Some hand-held percussion enhancements may be allowed, such as tambourines, maracas or the occasional kazoo. The basic guideline here is that, if the instrument is an integral part of the number as opposed to an incidental enhancement, it would not be acceptable. “

      I come down on two sides on this issue.  elmoTHUMM has been in our competition before, and has used the percussion stick (a broom handle with a tambourine on the end) before.  I have allowed it, because I considered it a glorified tambourine.  The other percussion they used (not “drum kits”, but otherwise accurately described) was used in one number, and in my opinion was *not* an “integral” part of the performance (there were no drum solos, and no percussion hits that substituted for vocals). 

      elmoTHUMM did not break the rules, but they bent them about as far as possible.  In retrospect, I should not have allowed the extra percussion, although I still will allow the floor stick.  After speaking with John Neal , the Sweeps National Producer, elmoTHUMM will not be allowed to use their extra percussion in the National Finals – the floor stick will be allowed.



       “…Your second place group from Utah competing in the Midwest regional who sung for four of their ten minutes (when they weren't clucking like chickens)”  “Two of the groups reminded us of being at the Gong Show.  We would have given them the gong--you gave them awards.”

                  First of all, as far as moosebutter not being from the Midwest – any regional is open to any group from anywhere (examples:  The Idea Of North is from Australia, Minimum Wage (New York) won in DC, and the Midwest’s own Octane won the Denver Regional in 1999).  The only restriction is that a group who wins the Nationals cannot compete again, in any regional.

                  No one can deny that moosebutter is unique.  Their humor was amazing, and their use of a fifth member (airhorn only) was inspired, and will go down as a unique moment in Chicago ’s history.  But are they a cappella?  Certainly.  I would describe them as a comedy group performing in the a cappella medium – but what’s wrong with that?  Groups are judged on musicality *and* performance, and moosebutter put on an excellent show.  The Harmony Sweepstakes exists to promote and support *all* kinds of a cappella music, from the oldest and most traditional (barbershop, jazz, gospel) to the newest and most innovative (“vocal bands”, percussion, and yes, comedy).  I would *love* to see a vocal group who did nothing but vocal percussion – aren’t classical percussion ensembles accepted in the classical music world? 



                  “If groups are performing that are teachers and having kids come, they should be told to tell their kids it's not a high school talent show.”  “An Octave Above almost won the audience vote…because they brought their own cheering section.  This is the second year in a row they have done so and both last year and this year, I had to plug my ears every time the cheerleaders shrieked.  Although I don't feel that ticket sales should be restricted, if An Octaive Above makes it to next year's show I submit that the group they will inevitably bring should have only limited voting capabilities so as to prevent them stacking the vote.” 

                  What?  Why shouldn’t groups invite their enthusiastic fan base?  Why shouldn’t you encourage every one you know to come to this show?  In my opinion, every group should fill the house and stack the vote with as many fans as they can.  Yes, the shrieking was a bit overboard, but I’m just excited that not only do we have a cappella groups with actual fans, but these are high-school students – each one choosing to drop almost 20 bucks and come to an a cappella concert on a Saturday night, instead of going to the latest movie!  More power to ‘em.



      “Fiveplay, although they are a great a cappella group, were an embarrassment onstage as hosts.  Who writes their stuff anyway?”  “Does the concept of 'a cappella' music necessitate slapstick and pratfalls?  It was truly embarrassing - especially for a fine vocal group like Fiveplay to be forced into the stupidity that was created all evening. “

                  I won’t deny that Fiveplay had some dead spots.  They had some good material prepared, but it could only be stretched so far.  Our judges had a lot to write about each group, so what we hoped would be about two minutes between groups invariably turned into five, and Fiveplay was forced to improvise on the fly.  Most hosts in the past (CVX, Nightwatch, and even Chapter 6) have had to do the same thing.  I am becoming more aware of this dilemma as a producer (just not knowing how long the breaks will be), and I’m taking steps to address it with future hosts.



                 The Harmony Sweepstakes is a unique event showcasing all the different forms of a cappella, from jazz to rock-and-roll to barbershop to comedy to Kabuki shape-note throat singing.  Groups are judged on how well they deliver their concept, both musically and artistically.  “When we think of a cappella, we think of harmony to the point of closing our eyes and being able to hear unity and beautiful sounds…”  Yes, of course we look for “musical content, vocal blend, quality of arranging”, and the beautiful sounds that the human voice can create.  But sound is only one, albeit important, aspect of a live show – stage presence and performance are another.

      The Sweeps are also heavily dependent on the groups that voluntarily participate in our competition.  Every year is different, with a different selection of groups and styles - one year we’ll have three college groups, the next year we’ll have three barbershop groups, and it’s all dependent on the entries we receive.  The more groups that are out there, and hear about our show, and participate, the better each year’s show will be.  The goal of every year’s show is to entertain the audience, and to present the variety of different styles under the wide umbrella of a cappella.  I’m sorry there were audience members disappointed in this year’s Sweeps show, but I have also received comments that this was the best show in years.  I appreciate all feedback, as I strive to make each year better than the last.


      Thank you, and I hope we can all look forward to next year’s Harmony Sweepstakes.


      Andrew Blendermann

      Chicago Regional Producer

      Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival



      Andrew Blendermann

      Blenderful Music



      Chicago Voice Exchange



      Harmony Sweepstakes




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