The Road to Nashville
Every chorus pursuing an international championship knows the road to Gold will not be easy, nor should it be. Accepting tough challenges is the signature of would-be champions in any arena of competition. They realize that the greater the challenge, the greater and longer lasting is the sense of accomplishment when success is achieved. Each International contest path the Masters of Harmony has taken has presented its own unique challenges. In 2007, when the Westminster Chorus narrowly defeated the 2004 International Chorus Champion Ambassadors of Harmony on a tiebreaker, the road to Nashville suddenly got steeper, the challenge more daunting. The men of the Masters knew the Ambassadors felt they could go eyeball to eyeball with any barbershop chorus in the world and not blink, because they had already done so once. Adding to the competitive mix were strong challenges from Denver’s Mile High Chorus and the rapidly improving Voices in Harmony chorus, led by former MOH Director Dr. Greg Lyne.
To meet the challenge this year, the Masters relied on a meticulously laid out plan that preceded the 2007 Denver contest. The contest package drew on the skills of two arrangers who have been so instrumental in past Masters successes–David Wright and Aaron Dale. For the ballad, Director Mark Hale reached back to a 1999 David Wright arrangement of ‘My Wonderful One,’ a song penned by Dorothy Terriss and set to music by Paul Whiteman and Ferde Grofe. This stunningly beautiful ballad helps singers and audience members alike revisit the love they feel for the wonderful ones in their lives. For his choice of an uptune, Mark used a seldom-performed traditional song skillfully arranged by Aaron Dale, ‘Yona From Arizona.’ Our choreographic genius from Toronto, Erin Howden, worked her usual magic to design an appropriate visual package. ‘My Wonderful One’ clicked quickly with the Masters but ‘Yona’ jelled much more slowly. Fortunately, the Masters have an outstanding choreography coach in front row performer Justin Miller, who worked tirelessly with Erin’s plan to help both songs reach the high artistic levels witnessed in Nashville. Gary Steinkamp provided important tips on communicating each song’s message visually, by coaching both the chorus as well as individual members to make sure there were no ‘dim bulbs’ in the Masters visual marquee help that turned out to be critically important to our Presentation scores. Through the year, each section was guided by a talented section leader, each one now a Gold Medal quartet winner Brett Littlefield (Nightlife) worked with the basses, Pat Claypool (OC Times) with the baritones, Sean Devine (OC Times) with the leads, and Rob Menaker (Nightlife) with the tenors. Their tireless reinforcement of Mark’s vocal plan for Nashville helped him prepare the Masters for the biggest challenge in their history. As a result of thorough and consistent application of the plan by this talented leadership team, the men of the Masters were better prepared for an International contest than at any time in their history.
Between the Phoenix and Nashville contests, the MOH has had unique opportunities to take our hobby to some relatively untapped audiences. KTLA News, one of Los Angeles oldest TV stations, showed OC Times singing ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ as part of a Mother’s Day celebration. Six days later, the Masters staged their annual show at Long Beach’s Carpenter Center. It was a homecoming of sorts for former MOH Director Jeff Oxley, who sings bass with the spring show’s featured quartet Max Q, 2007 International Quartet Champion. A few days later, Masters members got some very timely and helpful coaching tips from Dr. Greg Lyne. This remarkable collaboration of competing directors is typical of the brotherhood shared by barbershoppers around the world. In what other arena of competition do you hear of a group leader trying to help a direct competitor improve their performance level, possibly increasing the scoring distance between them?
This year’s mountain retreat, designed to hone the Nashville performance package, was held in a church camp nestled among the pine forests of Idyllwild. It was a weekend of highly focused work. Shortly before this retreat, the Masters learned it may have been their last chance to work in person with Erin Howden, who has been such an important part of our success over our last three contest cycles. Her inspiring presence will truly be missed. On June 7, the Masters sang in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the world’s most acoustically perfect music halls. They shared the stage with the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, long known as one of America’s premier university glee clubs. Although the two groups presented different choral styles to the mostly non-barbershop audience, each group was enthusiastically received. Long-term beneficiaries of this joint concert will be barbershop chapters around the country who gain some of these talented young men as members because of what they heard and experienced at Disney Hall.
What a contest Nashville was for the MOH, OC Times and the Far Western District! For only the third time in Society history, the winning chorus and quartet came from the same chapter (1978 Louisville Thoroughbreds and Bluegrass Student Union, 1996 Masters of Harmony and Nightlife). Dr. Lyne’s Voices in Harmony chorus continued its move to the top echelon of chorus competitors by taking third place. Special kudos go to Westminster Director and MOH choreography specialist Justin Miller. He directed the Westminster Chorus as it put on a dazzling performance that showed why Westminster won in Denver last year and why it nearly defeated The Vocal Majority the year before in Indianapolis. His quartet, The University Vocal Band Express, took 4th place in the Collegiate Quartet Contest all of this in addition to being a front row performer with the Masters!
Sadly, not long after returning to Southern California, the Masters family mourned the sudden, untimely passing of Rich Hasty, one of the men who helped found the Masters over twenty years ago and one of the 139 men who took home a chorus Gold Medal from Nashville. Rich was his usual chipper, wisecracking self through the events in Nashville. Just the night before his death at age 41, he had directed his Mission Viejo Sweet Adelines Chorus. He will be sorely missed, not just in the Far Western District, but also throughout the Society he loved so much and on which his extensive contributions as director, coach, arranger, judge, and just plain friend to so many, left a lasting imprint.