Masters of Harmony: 120 Beautiful Voices Add Harmony and Warmth to the Joy of Christmas
Joseph Sirota, Entertainment Reviewer, Dec 15, 2008
Which is more important in holiday entertainment? – Great Quality or Great Quantity? How about adding Great Variety to the choices? Happily, this holiday show offered all of these, plus fun, joy and a warm sense of the special spirit this time of the year. As for Quantity, here’s not one or two singers but about 120. And Quality? –Well, this group of 120 are seven-time consecutive a cappella international gold medal winner, champions in worldwide competition of over 800 men’s choruses. This rare, exceptional group fortunately calls nearby Santa Fe Springs their home base. They’re named the MASTERS OF HARMONY, and after experiencing their spectacular Holiday Show at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State University, Long Beach, I hasten to report that they truly live up to their name … and more.
Their plentiful talent and astounding international top awards speak to quality and quantity. As for the Variety, Warmth and Joy they convey, I can only begin to describe the joy of hearing/seeing these true “Masters of Vocal Harmony” in full force and perfect-pitch – in person. The curtain opens and we all “ahh” at the spectacle of 120 men of all ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities and careers (members include doctors, lawyers, laborers, drivers, with one thing in common –they sing beautifully, and unselfishly in intricate harmony (and remember the words to MANY songs). At the curtain, all are dressed in bright winter-day garb on a nice stage setting of a crisp winter day as Norman-Rockwell might paint. The apropos opening tune – “It’s The Most wonderful Time Of The Year.” We then were treated to delicious lively musical tidbits of “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Feliz Navidad” and “Lovely Weather For A Sleigh Ride Together With You.” With slowed tempo, the full chorus rekindled warm memories with a dazzling harmony rendition of “White Christmas.” After a wide variety of wonderful songs, Act-I closed fittingly with “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Lest we listeners just lazily settle in for a delightful evening of great 120-voice four-part harmony, the group and its creative leaders (the superb direction of Mark Hale) launch welcome surprises. To add multi-dimension, variety and fun, they break into many sub-sets (quartets, sextets, solos and even a rockin’ band, ironically made up of a cappella singers). Yes, champion a cappella singers can sing quite well with musical accompaniment– they just “don’t need to.” While Hale has lead this fine group to highest honors for eight years, he also won a personal international quartet gold medal himself– to disprove any notion that “Them that CAN sing, SING and Them that CAN’T sing, LEAD or DIRECT. This director can and does as he preaches. The novel mixture of quartets and sextet, etc., treat us to a rollicking menu of joyful tunes from a light “Frosty The Snowman,” to an uplifting “Go Tell It On The Mountain” plus medleys of other fine arrangements.
Opening the second half, (as if we hadn’t witnessed enough superlatives already), is the sizzling subgroup of four who make up another close harmony quartet, named The Crush in honor of their Orange County location. Guess what! They’re an absolutely memorable highlight even in a show consisting of all highlights. They captured the 2007 Silver Medal collegiate close harmony quartets – and charmingly show us why in a terrific sequence of old and new classics. We enjoy another fun look-back at great Christmas favorites with a memory-filled medley of Beach Boy’s Christmas songs, featuring strong soloist Bryan Soland. And then another winning seasonal-tribute, (to the famed Williams Brothers’ harmony roots), a show-stopping adaptation of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas (If Only In My Dreams).
There’s so much range and joy. A beautifully touching rendition by the full-chorus of the haunting “Mary Did You Know” is followed by the big surprise (for an a cappella concert) -- a show-stopping segment of the previously mentioned rockin’ band, ironically each lively musician also an cappella singer who happens to also love his instrument, as well as singing a cappella harmonies. Wow! Though the band, featuring Les Weiser on tenor sax, blues harmonica and lead vocals aren’t the youngest members of the 120 Masters, and look like they might be daytime executives, their energy and pizzazz in a high-flying show pre-closing medley drew standing applause (Bravo!). Closing the show -– a very happy “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” which, like the opening, features the full-chorus. They now wear their more formal black jackets/vests. Pinned proudly to each chest is a Gold Medal, won in worldwide competition, by each member of this proud second-family.
The Masters of Harmony were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. You have many chances to enjoy this fine group thanks to Santa Fe Springs’ closeness.
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