2011 – A Year of Victories!

Mark Hale, Director, Jan 4, 2012

What an amazing year we have just completed, where we accomplished our outstanding eighth chorus championship win along with a series of very exciting show performances and lots of great memories along the way. The past year has been full of opportunities and challenges…some ups and downs . . . but mainly some really incredible singing, most of which we experienced in our little life oasis known as Town Center Hall in Santa Fe Springs.

Looking back at the beginning of 2011, I recall how we continued to work on the updated model of vocal production that Royce Ferguson brought to us. Some singers struggled to fully understand the concepts which are much more intuitive and less based on simple vowel matching but regardless, the positive effects could easily be heard from out front.

With a few weeks of sectionals, we turned our attention from Christmas back to the show music in anticipation of the Long Beach Community Concert Series at the Carpenter Center in January. In February we headed into our Youth in Harmony show just a little participation-light and yet with our new-found matching ability we gave one of the most impressive vocal performances I’ve experienced with this chorus in eleven years. The kids in the audience were noticeably impressed and even awestruck at the blend and command with which we delivered our short set of songs. Truly a victory for us!

Shortly after this, Erin Howden, our favorite creative taskmaster and fearless Canuck, joined us in Santa Fe Springs for a quick refresher of “Alabama Jubilee,” clarifying and simplifying a lot of the choreography plan and adding significant impact. With the capable assistance of Patrick Claypool, we were able to solidify our visual performance and get it just right for Kansas City.

While a little late in arriving, the contest ballad, “Stranger In Paradise,” was introduced the first of March to an enthusiastic welcome with a spectacular learning track from Tim Waurick. We could all hear the incredible potential this song had for beauty and impact and we couldn’t wait to get started. With a haunting melody, poetic lyrics, epic transitions and an explosive tag, we knew we had a winner on our hands.

This was followed by our spring shows in May at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. These “Dream is Carried On” shows were really spectacular! They featured The Westminster Chorus practicing their stunning new material for their upcoming swan song in Kansas City as well as four quartets — Masterpiece, The Crush, 95 North and Quadraphonics — quite a show for one unsuspecting audience. We were able to introduce our new inspirational CD, also called The Dream is Carried On, at this show and everything went well, notwithstanding Bruce Oldham’s accident that left him in a neck brace most of the rest of the year.

Not to let grass grow, we invited Dr. Greg Lyne to a rehearsal immediately following the show to get our heads back on track for Kansas City. With excellent attendance on a non-regular rehearsal night and intense focus we allowed Greg to make some improvements to both songs that helped build our sense of musical drama. It was certainly a fun night!

Immediately afterward, we had one of the most memorable retreats I’ve ever been a part of. Through sheer will and determination we escaped to the city of Idyllwild and with the able assistance of Erin Howden, along with internal assistants including Brett Littlefield and Royce Ferguson, we turned those few days into a gold medal feeling where we KNEW we had something special to give. I can’t remember ever hearing the chorus sing or perform at a higher level during that Saturday afternoon session. We all reveled in the shared enthusiasm and left feeling confident.

In June we had the pleasure of hosting the New Zealand Vocal FX Chorus including the Musical Island Boys, who joined us on our Friends and Family Show. What a treat to be able to bond with these great ambassadors of our hobby and share some good-natured fellowship! Kansas City was intense as expected though not as hot as we had feared. After all the choruses sang, the scores were tallied and we were again victorious and, as is all too common a part of our story, the margin was only a scant few points. We tip our hats to the high-energy performance of the Great Northern Union who put up their highest scores ever and nearly bested us. Nevertheless, we again stayed the competition and brought home the prize. We also had the thrill of watching our quartets excel with a 13th place finish for The Crush and a 3rd place medal for Masterpiece (a first international quartet medal for Patrick Haedtler.)

After returning from Kansas City, we had little time to prepare for a show at the end of July in San Diego at the First United Methodist Church. We’ve performed there before with an unusual stage situation (squeezed in!), but the show had a sellout crowd and was very well received. Perhaps the most memorable moment was when we sang “Stranger In Paradise” to Ann Blyth, the actress who performed the song in the original movie musical Kismet, and she gave a short speech from the audience expressing her extreme pleasure with our rendition.

We reprised our contest performance as well as a short set of show material for the audience at the Far Western District Fall Convention in Fresno, and the audience was truly appreciative. I spoke with many people who expressed having tears in their eyes as we sang our contest ballad. Before that show I put a lot of emphasis on avoiding singing to impress people but instead singing FOR them. That simple idea resonated with the audience and allowed us to connect with them more than we usually do. Another victory!

Practically every year we have people tell us that our current holiday shows were “the best ever” and this year they just may be right! As usual, we featured a wide variety of individual performers who took whatever role they were playing and made it memorable. The scripting was much improved with the clever contributions of Gary Stone and we took even greater risks with the production of the show including some new chorus staging, real (fake) falling snow, a ukulele band, a new song for Les Weiser to rock on and some costumed Nativity actors in the sacred portion. These additions along with the improved chorus singing, our wonderful own Santa Babies, Megan Lyne and Ashley Estrada, the return of the 12 Days of Christmas, the Holiday Blend group and our chapter quartets made these shows true spectacles.

Looking back, it’s stunning to see how much we experienced in 2011. We all love singing and we know why we love being in the Masters of Harmony, but it’s very easy to forget how special these opportunities are in our lives. Today’s typical Californian works all day and then watches TV or surfs the Internet the largest part of their week. They experience things through the actions of other people while watching a screen. We, on the other hand, get to experience things, REAL things, with our own enthusiasm, emotion and passion alongside some of the greatest men you’re proud to call friends. This chorus brought us together and we are so much richer for it. As we now put our focus to 2012, let’s celebrate the Masters of Harmony, not only as a group of champions, but also as an honorable, loyal, enviable group of friends who have found we can accomplish amazing things when we work together. This is how it has been, and this is how it will remain.


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