Masters of Harmony Update - Fall 2017

Ron Larson, Jul 24, 2017

When the Masters of Harmony were offered the opportunity to host the Southeast/Southwest Divisional Contests at El Monte High School in early May, we accepted the challenge even though we had not hosted a convention in years and had less than the usual allotted time to prepare for it. Under the skillful leadership of Bill Rosica, two dozen Masters members volunteered to chaperone the unusually large number of competitors (19 quartets, 16 choruses). FWD Events Chair Bryan Forbes noted, “…the flow of contestants across the stage was smooth and timely, allowing the audience to enjoy each performance without delay or confusion.” Bernard Priceman MC’ed the chorus contest that saw Masters members on the risers of nine of the choruses. Six of the 18 competing quartets listed Santa Fe Springs as one of their chapters. Congratulations to the chorus winner, Westminster, and 184, the quartet winner!

Once again, the Masters of Harmony annual spring show was held at Cal State Long Beach’s Carpenter Center. The theme was “From Broadway to Main Street and Back Again!” The opening set featured songs from Broadway shows and chorus members dressed in costumes matching the various characters in the songs-swashbucklers, fantasy creatures, gamblers, phantoms, tough guys, even Spiderman, the Aladdin genie, and Dr. Seuss-truly a costume menagerie for the ages! After changing out of the outlandish outfits, the Masters performed the contest package and were rewarded with loud, sustained applause from the near-sellout audience, a welcome confidence booster so close to the contest. Featured quartet Main Street (Roger Ross, Tony De Rosa, Mike McGee, Myron Whittlesey) regaled the audience with its unique mixture of traditional barbershop and pop songs. Also performing to enthusiastic applause were MOH quartets Masterpiece (Brett Littlefield, Alan Gordon, Patrick Haedtler, Rob Menaker) and The Newfangled Four (Joey Buss, Jackson Niebrugge, Jake Tickner, Ryan Wisniewski). Longtime MOH supporter Carol Stephenson made a stunningly successful debut on the show. Her solo on the chorus rendition of “For Good” produced one of the loudest and longest ovations of the show. The highly successful show was an excellent propellant toward the showdown in Las Vegas.

From June 2-4, the Masters traveled to mile-high Idyllwild for a weekend of work on the Las Vegas contest package. Coach Tony De Rosa continued to tweak vocal aspects of performance while Erin Howden fine-tuned the choreo. On Saturday evening, after 10 hours of work, the chorus sang the package for Tony and Erin and the looks of approval on their faces were just priceless-to this point –– Mission Accomplished!

On June 16, over 400 people gathered at the Old World Festival Hall in Huntington Beach, California for a “Celebration of Life” Ceremony honoring the late Jeff Baker. Joe D’Amore opened a ceremony that featured the Masters of Harmony singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Nightlife singing “Steal Away” (with Cody Littlefield filling Jeff’s baritone position), the Harborlites Chorus singing “For Good,” a number of spoken and video remembrances (including Jeff doing an impromptu choreography bit with The Rich-Tones Chorus (SAI) that had the audience in stitches), and The Vocal Majority singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” Jeff’s infectious smile and the warmth of his presence made the world around him a brighter and more beautiful place. Rest in peace, our dear brother.

On July 3, the Masters family began to assemble in Las Vegas for the eagerly anticipated 2017 International chorus and quartet competition. The Masters knew that The Vocal Majority, winner of 12 International championships, came to the contest with the nation’s highest District qualifying score and that the Masters were tied for second with Central Standard, the chorus that finished 38 points ahead of us in the 2016 Nashville contest. The Masters, winner of eight consecutive chorus gold medals, had faced the VM in competition only once, in Las Vegas in 2014, when the VM prevailed by 49 points. An interesting rehearsal assignment had the two choruses rehearsing at about the same time in adjoining rooms and, throughout the week, each could hear portions of the other’s contest songs coming through the walls, sometimes overlapping key parts being rehearsed-distractions that may have actually boosted the performance level of each chorus. On contest day, both choruses sang in the afternoon session. The VM sang 23rd of the 30 competing choruses. Its package of Danny Boy/Stouthearted Men threw down a formidable gauntlet to all others in the contest and drew thunderous applause from the audience. Five choruses later, it was the Masters of Harmony’s turn on the stage. The ballad was a medley of love songs from West Side Story (“I Have a Love” and “One Hand/One Heart”) arranged by Kirk Young. Its eternal message of love overpowering hate was possibly the most emotionally moving song the Masters have ever sung. The audience in the Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood responded with loud applause to the poignant love story so beautifully set to music. The Masters then took the audience on a musical journey the likes of which no International audience had ever seen from the Masters. The uptune, “Too Darn Hot/Fever” is a rollicking, high-energy, fun-filled song based in part on a Cole Porter musical, arranged by Aaron Dale and choreographed by Erin Howden. The audience reacted with an ovation that rivaled the massive one given to the Masters in Las Vegas three years ago. When the scores were announced, the Masters of Harmony were judged the winner by 8 points – a score of 96.4%, their highest International contest score ever, to the VM’s 96.2 percent. Central Standard took third. When the Masters held their medal ceremony, the men of the VM came from their adjoining rehearsal room chanting MOH, MOH! To which the MOH men responded with VM, VM! The chants quickly merged to become VMOH! The two choruses then intermingled on the risers and sang, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” What a treat it was for all in attendance that late Saturday night when over 260 men from two evenly matched choruses with great respect for each other joined forces to make beautiful choral music as the week in Las Vegas drew to a close.

Congratulations are in order for these Far Western District entrants: Flightline (Oscar Sotelo, Daniel Huitt, Marcus Kang, Kyle Williamson), the 2017 Youth Barbershop Quartet Champion; Artistic License (8th) and The Newfangled Four (9th) – each foursome moved up two spots from the 2016 contest; and Fog City Chorus from the San Francisco area, a 34-man chorus just two years old, which finished ninth with a score of 88.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the MOH’s vocal coach Tony De Rosa led Main Street to the International quartet championship, garnering his fourth gold medal – Keepsake, Platinum and Max Q.

Since the last issue of Westunes, the Masters of Harmony welcomed Nick Bratcher, Adam Ehrenpfort, Ryan Hicken, Kent Jenkins, Domenick Murray, Mike Nicholes, Kenny Rios and John Yost into membership.

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