It's MOH vs. VM in KC
JD Ahmanson, Jul 14, 2010
As soon as they opened their mouths to sing, it only took a moment for The Westminster Chorus to prove that the “Choir of the World” was the Barbershop Harmony Society’s 2010 International Chorus Champion. The much-anticipated rematch of the 2006 contest in Indianapolis pitted the young chorus against the venerated Vocal Majority, the most honored chorus in barbershop history. But it was only the culmination of a week in which both Westminster and the Masters of Harmony proved their impact on the Society.
The week began on Sunday, June 27, at George Mason University, where Westminster joined the Alexandria Harmonizers, third place 2010 Sweet Adelines medalists Maxx Factor, Old School, Musical Island Boys, and from Sweden, Q-Tones and Ringmasters. MOH/W quartets were in abundance, represented by OC Times, Masterpiece, The Edge, and The Crush. The near sell-out crowd was also entertained by Greg Pappas, a “speed painter,” whose upside-down portraits were turned around at the last minute to reveal such legends as Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, and Freddie King. The day also saw the debut of both Westminster’s and OC Times’ new CDs.
The Choir of the World spent most of Monday touring our Nation’s capital, thanks to the generosity of the host families from the Alexandria Harmonizers. The last few days of June were hot and humid in both Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, when the Far Western District champs bused to the Birthplace of America on Tuesday. The first competition of the convention got under way with the college quartet contest, held in the Philadelphia Convention Center. The 2009 Collegiate Quartet Champion The Vagrants had a busy night, both mike testing and singing their swan song set before handing over the title to Swedish Match. Then it was early to bed in order for them to compete first in the quarterfinals the next day.
Wednesday was the first full day of the convention. An early start of 10 am was planned to give attendees time to enjoy the evening or go to bed early. First out of the chute in competition were The Vagrants, singing “Wedding Bells” and “Carolina Mammy.” Singing in third position was Masterpiece, singing “Sweet Pea” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.” The second session opened with mike testers OC Times, 2008 International Quartet Champion, sounding as good as ever with “Look At Me Now” and John Brockman’s impressive arrangement of “It Happened In Monterrey.” The Edge was the next Far Western District quartet to compete, singing “Sentimental Journey” and “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby / Ain’t She Sweet” medley. Catcher Block was the last of the Westerners to appear in the day’s competition, singing “Bewitched” and “You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me.”
The crowd twittered (literally) in anticipation of the call-off, and discovered that The Edge and Masterpiece moved on to the semifinals. Catcher Block came in at 27th with a 79.5 and The Vagrants ended up 31st with a 78.3. Later it was revealed that for the quarterfinal round, The Edge scored an 82.5 for 16th place and Masterpiece scored an 85.4 for fifth.
The semifinals began Thursday morning at 11 am, with The Edge performing in third position with “Lovely Way To Spend An Evening” and “Who’ll Take My Place When I’m Gone?” Singing 17th was Masterpiece, performing “Stormy Weather” and “‘Deed I Do.” Again the crowd twittered in anticipation (thanks to the free Wi-Fi in the Convention Center) as the lineup for the finals was revealed: Masterpiece would sing sixth. The Edge ended up with an 83.8 for the night and 14th place overall with an 83.1. It was later revealed that Masterpiece sang an 87.5 for the night and sixth place at the end of the semis with 86.4.
The AIC show, which was nearly sold out, began with American Bandstand and ended with a patriotic tribute by Jay Giallombardo to the tune of John Barry’s Dances with Wolves. OC Times sang and proved that, despite the geographical separation of the quartet, they sing better than ever, performing “I’m Walkin’” and, from their new CD, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “It Happened In Monterrey” and “Unbelievable.”
Friday was the long-anticipated showdown between Westminster and The Vocal Majority. Back in 2006, the Boys from Orange County had sung their hearts out and many in the crowd thought that Westminster’s crisp, clean singing had beaten the VM’s impressive sound. But it was not to be, and some people actually booed when the results were announced. Westminster went on to win gold in 2007 and the VM’s 30-year winning streak came to an end in 2009 when they were bested by the Ambassadors of Harmony. Since barbershop legend Jim Clancy announced his post-convention retirement earlier this year, pretty much everyone was wondering how the 2010 contest would turn out.
The Vocal Majority sang in fourth position in the first chorus contest session, allowing the W boys to see the 11-time champions sing “If I Ruled The World” and “When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam’,” choreographed (for the first time) by Erin Howden. The VM’s set scored a 97.1, beating their 2009 score of 96.3. But in the evening session, it was Westminster’s turn to shine. Their ballad, “It Only Takes A Moment,” was not only the name of their new CD but also made it immediately apparent that the Choir of the World has a sound unmatched by anyone on the planet. The audience was stunned by the false tag in the middle of David Wright’s amazing arrangement and leaped to its feet when the song really ended. Next up was Mardi Gras March, choreographed by Pat Claypool, with assistance from Justin and Jon-Michael Miller.
Since W sang late in the evening, it wasn’t long to wait until the results were announced. In fifth place were the Alexandria Harmonizers, and in fourth were the Sound of the Rockies, scoring 89.3 and 92.3, respectively. Third place went to crowd favorite The Northern Lights for their impressive Robot Medley, which scored a 94.1. Tension mounted as second place was announced: “With 2913 points, Dallas Metro.” The Choir of the World had done it, winning gold with a 97.7. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Stunningly impressive in its simplicity and execution, the uptune actually scored better (98.3) than the ballad (97.1), especially in Presentation: 491 (98.2) to 478 (95.6). Though the total singing scores were identical (491/98.2) for both songs, the Boys from OC actually got one 100 in the category, for the uptune. And the perfect scores didn’t stop there: the Choir of the World received three 100s in music, and two of those were for the uptune!
As if W’s win weren’t enough for FWD and MOH glory, former MOH director Greg Lyne, who had directed the Voices in Harmony to a seventh-place finish, received the 2010 Barbershop Harmony Society’s Joe Liles Lifetime Achievement Award.
Society President Bill Biffle said, “Dr. Lyne has had an unparalleled impact on the Barbershop Harmony Society as a coach, teacher, judge, singer, director and clinician. His unswerving devotion to vocal and choral excellence has touched the lives and elevated the performance skills of tens of thousands of singers all around the world.”
In a medal ceremony that would be familiar to MOHers, Masters of Harmony Director Mark Hale, flanked by Royce Ferguson and Jay Giallombardo, welcomed 26-year-old Justin Miller to the ranks of championship directors. [Note: According to Society records, Joe Wise of the 1966 Louisville Thoroughbreds, who co-directed with the legendary Jim Miller at about age 20, was the youngest gold medal director ever. Now, Justin Miller, no relation to Jim, is apparently the youngest standalone director to win a chorus gold medal.] The newly crowned champs celebrated into the night, but still managed to appear on the Harmony Foundation Show on Saturday with Crossroads and the Four Freshmen. New this year was the Quartet Finals Pre-show, which included Westminster’s acceptance package.
The finals began at 7:30 pm with a mike test by crowd favorite comedy quartet Lunch Break. Masterpiece sang “San Fernando Valley” and “Gypsy Love Song,” for an 85.2 on the night and ending up sixth in the world with 86 even. The fifth, fourth, and third place bronze medalists were The Allies (87.0), Musical Island Boys (87.1), and Ringmasters (87.4), respectively. But the crowd went wild when Old School ended up with silver (90.7) and comedy quartet Storm Front took the gold (91.3).
Besides the Masters in competing quartets and choruses, MOHers were seen at the convention in leadership positions, including Doug Maddox working his technical magic, as well as Rob Campbell, Craig Ewing and Ken Potter in the judges’ pit. Many other current and former Masters were on hand to witness the historic week, including Paul Laemmle, Stan Christman, Ken Tillmanns, Denny Burke, Art Taylor, Rich Stanford, Bernard Priceman, Bruce Oldham, Bill Roth, Chris Peterson, Matthew Ordaz, Phil Ordaz, Jeff Baker, John Miller, Mark Hale, Willie Daw, Dan Place, Kent Richardson, Irv Levine, Chuck Leavitt, Tom Laskey, and of course, your humble reporter. Unfortunately, not in attendance was MOH-Westminster supporter Paul Dotseth, who was hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center with double pneumonia (he has since been released and is on the mend).
Many W and MOH men stayed in the sweltering eastern heat after the contest, to tour Philadelphia, New York or Washington. Alan Gordon even narrowly averted a boating accident that claimed two lives. (See http://www.facebook.com/notes/alan-gordon/the-duck-boat-accident/398202027363 for his account.)
One final note of trivia/history: Westminster’s win means that next year the Masters of Harmony will go up against a Vocal Majority directed by Jeff Oxley, who led the Masters to gold in 1999. That year, then 11-year-old Graham Pence earned his first gold medal with the Masters and he has won with us ever since. He also just won a second time with Westminster, bringing his individual gold medal count to six. Not bad for a 22-year-old! I’m certain he’ll want to break his record with seven golds at age 23. Will we help him do it?
Return to the News Page