The Harmony Brigade Experience: a personal account - Saturday

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Those of you reading this that know me also know that I am NOT a morning person. 6:30 was an awfully rude time to have to wake up on a Saturday! I showered and tried to wake up then stumbled downstairs. By 7:00 I was working on the dance card again waiting for the guys from Forbearance to show up. Hey, that's why we were there, right? We were all taking it easy trying to wake up our vocal cords. The basses of course didn't mind that their voices were lower in the morning before they warmed up. Must be nice to have vocal crud and have it increase your range by a few notes, eh? Eventually the four of us hooked up and we tried out the song nice and easy to see how we were sounding and then went searching for where the auditions were supposed to be taking place.

We found the room – we didn't find the music team. At 8 am one of them had shown up and told us to go ahead and get breakfast since we had to wait for the rest of the team to arrive anyway. Around 8:30 or so the music team was together and was ready for some entertainment. We headed in and went for it. It sounded great to me and judging by the looks on the music team's face we didn't suck! That is always a plus! When we finished the song it was pretty obvious that we would be on the show especially when they asked us if we knew anything else. We asked them to give us a few minutes and we'd be back!

We headed back into the hallway and compared song lists and found another one that we each knew, "I'm Sitting on Top of the World". We sang through it partway and then Eddie stopped us, taught me a great Lead-Tenor duet tiddly to throw in the middle of it and we started over. We figured it was passable and headed back in to see the music team and laid it on them within 10 minutes of singing the first one! They confirmed that we would be on the show singing at least "You Make Me Feel So Young" and they'd use the second one if they needed it. The guys headed off to go sing some more and I headed in to get some breakfast.

Once I was done eating I headed back out in search of guys I hadn't sung with yet. Many of the guys are just average singers but that doesn't seem to matter as much when they have the words and notes down cold! Each guy you met had his favorite as well as that "one song" that he really didn't care to sing for one reason or another. I had fallen in love with Royal Garden Blues and found that a lot of the leads weren't too keen on it because of the range. Sigh …

At lunchtime seven of us, including Fern Sicilia and Neal Dingle from New York, jumped in my wife's Toyota Prius and headed to Taco Bell. Yes, you read that right – seven men in a car designed for four. Neal sat in Fern's lap in the front seat which led to a wonderful round of teasing from all present. Being typical barbershoppers, it didn't take us long before we were singing again. We tried to keep it quiet so that we wouldn't bother the other patrons but we still received a nice round of applause when we were done.

2 pm. Time to be at the school for the rehearsal for the show that we would be singing in that evening for the public. When the first director in front of the group asked if anyone had a pitch pipe he shouldn't have been surprised when more than 50 hands were raised. C'mon, what was he thinking? I ended up being selected to blow the pitches since my pipe seemed to be the most accurate of the 5 or 6 that they tried. When we broke into the first song I was blown away. I've participated in gang sings at other events in the past but there is nothing that compares with a chorus of 90+ guys that have done their homework and can concentrate on what the director is trying to bring to the song instead of worrying about what word comes up next. I still get goose bumps thinking about it!

We found out that we were going to have a different director for each song – 12 songs, 12 directors. A couple of them took a little getting used to, but they were all fun to work with. We ran through each song a couple of times, tweaked a section here or there, and then that was it. Rehearsal done – nice! My quartet had a chance to practice on the stage and raised a few eyebrows among the guys that had stuck around. The sound was great and made me wonder what we'd sound like if we actually spent time working on the song to clean up the rough edges. While I enjoyed singing with my old quartet, Chord on Blue, these guys were just at a whole new level which was a real treat for me.

We had some free time before we had to be back for the performance so the 7 of us piled back into the Prius and headed back to the hotel. Some guys went to their rooms to chill out for a while – I joined the throng back in the conference area to keep singing. After dinner we got ready for the show and changed into our "uniform" for the evening: white shirt with a t-shirt, black pants and shoes, and a solid color tie. I wore my Chord on Blue neon blue tie which really should come with a dimmer switch and received a lot of good-natured ribbing about how bright it is. As the time for the show drew nearer it became apparent that our promotion had paid off and we were going to have a good-sized audience. We opened the show with Royal Garden Blues and the energy just built from there. There is something about getting in front of an audience that just helps a performance to come together – all of our rehearsal nitpicks worked through smoothly and the sound was just incredible. I was literally in the middle of the chorus and was surrounded by sound!

When the show was over we headed out to the lobby to meet with our families and friends that were there. My wife and our friend Shannon were there along with some of Mark Ream's family members. We grabbed Eddie and Jon, and Fourbearance sang a few songs for the ladies in the lobby. We bid them adieu and headed back to the hotel.

Around 9:30 the quartet finals began. The guys on the stage were having fun and that bled into the audience. The baritones would holler when one of their own sang a favorite baritone swipe or tiddly, guys started doing the wave in time to the way one quartet was swaying as they sang, and there was other silliness all the way around. At one point I was in the back of the room with my hair down head banging while the quartet on stage encouraged the audience to have fun. Once the contest was over they awarded the quartet tramp award while the scores were tallied. Charlie Rose's quartet took the top prize and there were cries of "Rigged!" from various areas of the room – Charlie is the daddy of the brigade movement and started the first one in North Carolina 14 years ago.

Pizza was delivered and the partying started in earnest. There was beer, food, and singing – a really nice combination if you ask me!