Harmony Sweepstakes - I was there, where were you?
- The Nineteenth Annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival Chicago Regional - I was there, where were you?
"What Joy! Living in the Heart of Music." Patrick O'Brian
AD 2010 March 27, Saturday, 7:13 PM CDT. Behind the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts In Skokie. Parking in the garage is a piece of cake. And free. Bankruptcy deferred at least until Monday. A good omen.
7:30ish in the theater. Andrew Blendermann struts on stage in the usual tuxedo. He doesn't talk too long. Another good omen.
3 Men and a Melody sing. Still not sure which 3 are the men. They sing fine, ringing barbershop. They also talk, but not too much.
"All musics are created equal." Peter Schickele
This is a contest. I hate contests. These guys have the unmitigated gall, yea the evil presumption to judge musics, and rank one above the other. Must remain calm.
No Better Cause come out and sing. All five of them. Who needs a better cause?
Mathematical fashion note: Their stunning red ties have different patterns. One has stripes with positive slope (lower left to upper right). A European touch, not usually seen on American ties.
'Round Midnight sing long before midnight. Even before Sundown, but well after sundown. These guys had to come all the way from the peripheral state of New York to sing in the heart of music in the heartland. But they sing good, so I can forgive their "New York State of Mind," even feel a bit of compassion. Not everybody can live in Chicago, poor things.
If I have to quibble, maybe the audience is just a tad too refined. Where is the rowdiness? Why are we all sitting down? Yeah, we clap the off beats from time to time, but music makes ya wanna move. Yes! I see one courageous soul, undaunted by decorum, dancing on the side balcony.
The Bradford Trio. I am not a Christian. I really don't like to hear Christian groups slipping in a few bits of secular pop to appease me. These twangy ladies sang all solid Christian songs, which I love to hear. Oh, they counted right, there are three of 'em in the trio. Maybe the twang cover slips off from the good vocal techniqueonce or twice. Maybe the arrangements get a tiny bit too clever here and there. That's all right.
In between groups, some of the 3 men and/or the melody come out and talk trash. I guess they are only following orders. They aren't as annoying as some of the in-betweeners in previous years. Sometimes they even sing, which is good.
An Octave Above. These guys are slick and professional. I mean that in the nicest way. They are fine tonight, and I've heard them being even finer before. Oh, they also counted right. Except that there are actually seven tones in an octave, but that's not their fault.
Fifteen minute intermission. Bo-----Ring. I don't even need to pee yet.
But, strange and wonderful events take shape in the lobby. In stunning defiance of all proper musicocompetitive authority, to say nothing of Mama, who don't 'llow no a cappella singin' round here, five guys break openly into close harmony during intermission. They wisely keep their individual names and precise geographical co-ordinates secret ("somewhere near Detroit," sure). But, they are known collectively as Full Throttle, and they drove full throttle all the way from their hideout somewhere near Detroit to hear, and why not be heard? I catch them flagrantely "Come and Go"ing in a delicto Doo-Wopish way.
I also identify the daring dancer, but not her name yet.
"Pulled through." Mark Twain
Intermission is over, and Andrew and the men and/or melody don't talk too long.
The Offbeats. If there are 5 of them, does that make the metre 10/4? Is this a subtle CB joke? They come all the way from Iowa City, which is at least 1000 times cooler than you think. Even though all musics are created equal, "Kiss Him Goodbye" deserves a special mention. That was it.
The people in front of me become more and more annoying, writing letters and numbers on sheets of paper instead of listening properly. Using bright white lights. (Haven't you guys heard that red lets you write, but doesn't kill peoples' night vision?) The very fact that they are lined up in a row together is pretty suspicious. I'll try to ignore them.
Sundown. From Millikin, the college and/or university with the second best name. (Slippery Rock, of course. Beaver changed its name.) Delightful pop stuff. How did one guy get to sing with four such gorgeous babes? Probably his red tie, also with positive slope stripes.
Oh, yeah. More in-between trash, having to do with that contest stuff, but sometimes they sing. Deal with it.
Jimmy and the Threats. Jimmy won't be eligible for parole until 2013, but the remaining triple threat are keeping things warm for him. Among the equal musics, theirs stands out. It's the sort of music I like least on this show. I love it. Does music care how much or little I like it? Do I worry how much my amino acids like me? I love the smallness of these trios. I also love the largeness of those octets. One quibble: I don't really feel threatened. To whom are they really threats? Grammarians?
The audience is still way too restrained, even in the face of explicit threats. I am ashamed of my own complicity. I try to annoy people, and disrupt the in-between trash, with limited success at best.
Home Free. These guys are also slick and professional. That's OK, 'cause they have music, and it's contagious. Well, I'm about to whine a bit. Not the dread mudley song about how we picked a song for this contest by trying out every possible and impossible genre, yet again? Didn't I hear one of those last year, or maybe it was the year before, or ... ? C'mon guys. Sure, there's music in the mudley and the story, but the mudley and the story don't serve the music. (What? Oh, "medley.") Everybody else seems to like that sort of metacompetitive post-modern story about the music about the story about the music about the contest more than I do. Oh, well.
No, we are not yet home free. There's another intermission.
Nonmathematical fashion note: Some of the tennis shoes are genuine black Converse high tops. That's almost cool. Of course, cool is the white Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars that I used to wore, and they were only really cool after they got properly dingy brown. It didn't matter so much that I was a crummy basketball player, when I wore my Chuck Taylors.
And more contest stuff. The judges write down some stuff, discuss some stuff (or maybe they're just having donuts back in their secret room), analyze some stuff, judge thinking not that they themselves will be judged. Some of the groups win. Some of 'em don't. But, for a few brief ringing hours, we have lived together harmoniously in the heart of music. That means---drumroll and trite cliche alert---we all win!
"If it sounds good, it is good." Duke Ellington
And, yet another thing that sounds good---the spontaneous manual-digital-seatbackial drumrolls from the audience, snatching music from the jaws of competition.
The Finale, grand and otherwise. I like these finales, largely because the contest is over, and we're back to just music. The first time I fested at one of these a cappella festivals (it might have been Best of the Midwest, rather than a Sweepstakes), the groups all came out and sang a very rousing last number together. So now, why do the groups come out and plaster themselves to the back of the stage, like shy junior high kids at the first dance? (Well, that's the way it was when I was a shy junior high kid.) Can't we get them downstage and in our faces? "Good Night Sweetheart, Good Night" is a fine closer, particularly for the afterglow. I would have gone for something rowdier here. Audience sing-along is a fundamental requirement of musical life, just ahead of food, water and oxygen, so I only regret that there is rather little of it. And, we audience (yes, I share the blame), are rather wussy. So, why aren't there contestants flooding out into the audience as ringers and section leaders and agents provocateurs? I don't pretend to know how to do this sort of thing perfectly, just much better.
Now, to the Afterglow. After harmonic seventh chords, and the excuse for men to get away from our women, afterglow is the greatest contribution of barbershop singing to world culture. So the contest is over. So the concert is over. Does that mean that the music is over? A resounding and ringing "NO!"
Well, this afterglow is just in the lobby, and they've organized the attending groups into this long straight line of tables up against the wall (bad feng shui here), so we have to blow pretty hard on the embers to get some proper heat out of the afterglow.
Ah, the dancer's name is Tziporah Ladin-Gross. She and her buddies increase the kinetic part of the energy in the lobby by a few dancing orders of magnitude. They sing some good stuff in Hebrew. We've finally ascended from the music by those selected for the contest, through music by the band that came on their own, to the highest pinnacle---music by whoever feels like singing. ("Whomever"? Whatever.)
Ah, Full Throttle revs up, a couple of backfires, some noise. Are we on our way?
Yes! Approved competitively correct groups react to the guerilla provocation, and they fire back in close formation and closer harmony. We are glowing. I even like those poor benighted guys from New York now. Especially when they take in Jay G--- who, casting off his evil supervillain character, comes back to the good side as a singer of songs, rather than a judger of songs. They sing "Sweet and Lovely," and it totally is. I really like novelty. I like bands who aren't the usual suspects, but are equally guilty, to say nothing of threatening. I like to hear fresh, new, novel music. Wouldn't it be fresh, new, and novel to hear some good ol' chestnuts, sung really good on stage in performance, from time to time? Just a thought.
Primarily A Cappella are also here. They need no introduction, and they've already got as much of my CD budget as I can afford today.
"Try this at home." Bobby McFerrin
Gold Medal Ideas has a mighty silly name, and it smells of that evil competitive stuff. But, they are giving out free kazoos.
Yes, you got it right. Free kazoos. If you were here, instead of home playing couch potato like a doofus, you could have a free kazoo, too.
The kazoos carry the profound inscription, "EVERYBODY CAN MAKE MUSIC." Yes, I'm talking to you.
For a modest financial consideration, I believe that they will also make you a T-shirt with anything you want written on it. Yes, even, "Customize Your Own," or the more traditional, "We Print Anything."
But, back to the kazoos. Three delightful young whoopersnappers start tooting their kazoos. Even more delightfully, they allow one old fart to make it a quartet. ("Young whoopersnapper" and "old fart" are scientific terms, not intended to offend any particular age group, ethnic group, nor food group.)
Chapter 6 are represented. Representative democracy is cool, but for music, ya gotta be there. I like them anyway (wonderful concert in Lake Forest still rings in my mind).
AD 2010 March 27, Saturday, 11:46 PM CDT. Security forces gather in great numbers (I think 1 and 2 are pretty great numbers, actually) to douse the embers of the afterglow, and drive out the purveyors of perverse polyharmonic pleasure. My guerilla fighting instincts immediately put me on the alert. I opt for a strategic withdrawal, so that I'm not stuck in the cell with Jimmy next year, and I can attend
The Twentieth Annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival Chicago Regional
"I hate quotation. Tell me what you know." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Better yet, sing it out!