Another Mission Impossible!

Bill Roth, Aug 8, 2009

As an emeritus and Hall of Fame member, I receive (and actually read) the MasterLink and Masternet. Therefore, I was somewhat aware of what the Masters of Harmony were planning in Anaheim and knew that Mark Hale had told the chorus “there really is going to be a three-way competition taking place.” And when I attended the July 1 rehearsal at the Hilton, Mark dutifully informed the troops they had “opportunities” that week to excel musically. True enough, I thought, but the chorus was scheduled to give three performances in three days, sing not two, not eight, but 13 different songs, AND HOST THE CONVENTION at the same time! Certainly a most Herculean task, and one fraught with risk.

The Masters Class early on Thursday morning, however, was a fine start. Still, I worried about Friday, if for no other reason than by the time the now all-day marathon chorus contest ended the audience would understandably be tired and anxious to hear the results of the much heralded face-off between The Vocal Majority and Ambassadors of Harmony¯not necessarily even more chorus singing. The audience not only had sat through 31 choruses (and 62 songs), but, without yet knowing it officially, had also witnessed the two highest-scoring contest sets in Society history!

Despite all of that, the Masters opened strong with “Luck Be A Lady” and seamlessly followed up with “More I Cannot Wish You.” I was relieved, but the hour was late and the announcement of the results tantalizingly close. However, Mark came out, gave a moving talk about the youth movement in the Society, and beautifully set up the final song, “The Dream is Carried On.” The moment the song began, it was immediately apparent to all that the singing was at a wholly new level. There was a depth and majesty to the sound that simply had not been heard earlier in the day.

Nightlife then appeared from the left, receiving warm applause, shortly followed from the right by the immensely popular OC Times. Both quartets proudly wore chorus and quartet gold medals (16 in all!), and the mirror-like balance on the stage underscored the generational shift Mark had earlier mentioned. The music continued to soar and the audience was transfixed. Then, almost biblically, the chorus parted like the Red Sea and on stage strode the youth from the Westminster Chorus to fill the gap. I’m not sure if everyone in the audience realized that the “boys” were our 2007 champions, but at this point it didn’t matter: a spectacle was unfolding in the Honda Center.

Then the song crescendoed. Literally like a bolt of lightning, I (and I’m sure the rest of the audience) received the most electrifying musical jolt ever experienced. I have been a Society member for 40 years and attended 30 international conventions, but never, ever, could I recall such an intense moment. As the chorus moved closer together the inspirational sound just kept on coming until, mercifully, the cut-off was given to allow the entire audience permission to spontaneously jump out of their seats for the prolonged standing ovation. And it was only Friday!

Was it, as some have intimated, the best singing of the day? Does it matter? Just the mere suggestion underscores the fact that the Masters were, even in non-contest mode, certainly the equal of the two other outstanding choruses of the day.

Then came Saturday and the extraordinary convergence of forces in the Harmony Foundation show: three more excellent MOH songs (including a moving tribute to the many who have aided us on our musical journey), three other international chorus champions, and the stirring finale by the 420-strong men’s ensemble, all capped off by Cory Hunt’s beautiful solo at the end of Tribute to World Peace.

In addition, what of the other Masters at the convention? Two quartets in the top 20, one in the top 10, AND the college quartet champions! (Moreover, did you know that on Friday Sean Devine also sang in the front row of the Music City Chorus from Nashville?) Simply put, has there ever been a chorus in the Society that collectively accomplished so much, and excelled so well, at an international convention¯and, to boot, one in which they were also hosting? The statistics here are simply overwhelming.

This year’s Anaheim Convention will, of course, be remembered primarily for the year in which, after a glorious 30-year reign, The Vocal Majority finally were defeated. The Ambassadors of Harmony gave an absolutely stunning performance for the ages and deservedly are our new champions. But most attendees will also fondly remember their gracious musical hosts: the unassuming and, in the words of Jim Clancy, the classy Masters of Harmony. The dream is, indeed, carried on.

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