Sunday, May 29, 2011

Looking Back on the Carnegie Hall Show, May 20, NYC

The Harmonizers appeared at Carnegie Hall, Friday evening, May 20th in the Japan-US Charity Concert for Sendai. The concert was originally set as the first Japan-US Chorus Festival. It was to be a huge singing event and a wonderful opportunity for singers to appear in the awesome concert hall.

But then on March 11, 2011, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. The Harmonizers held their breath for their fellow singers. Thousands were lost.

Maki Suemitsu, president of the HAGI Choir, wrote for the Playbill edition for the concert: “Everything changed on March 11. Even a week after the disaster, we couldn’t fully confirm the survival of all of our members. We were suddenly forced to live in a totally different world after March 11, 2011, as I believe happened to you here in New York after September 11, 2001. We seriously discussed giving up this concert.”

Then one of their members spoke up via email and suggested that “if we sing because we live, when is the time to sing if we don’t sing right now?”

So the concert became a charity concert to help with the loss in Japan.

The Harmonizers were thrilled to help and many, many barbershoppers came from all across the nation to support the cause and hear the great singing.

The chorus from Alexandria did not disappoint. They did a full show of great songs and costume changes and huge stage productions, as they are accustomed to do. About 90 singers and another 100 or so folks came from Virginia for the day.

Two busses left from Alexandria. Clark Chesser, one of our newest members reports: “I was on bus #1, we left fairly promptly at 8 am on Friday morning. No one was late and everyone was in fantastic spirits. We made a stop at 9 am in Laurel, MD to pick up about 25 of our guys who live in Maryland. Luckily, all were able to park in the Park&Ride.

Tony Colosimo led those on Bus #1 at one-hour intervals along the trip in run-throughs of the tag in to be sung in Japanese, as well as a couple practices of the song which we would be singing with the other choruses. Many of us were deep in study of the music handout that Director Joe Cerutti had given the guys on the previous Tuesday.

“It was fairly quiet on the ride up there. Tony Colosimo, Eric Wallen, Andrew Havens and Bill Colosimo entertained the bus with a seemingly endless selection of barbershop tags that Tony and Eric had on their smart phones. There's an App for everything isn't there!?

“We arrived at the Ft Lee, NJ, Doubletree at about 1 pm. Our rooms were not ready, so many of the significant others needed to do the check-in duties for the Harmonizers. Our event organizer, Ken White, arranged to send 1 bus back to the hotel but leave at 5:30 pm to get the SOs.

“Our drivers took us into the city at about 2 pm, but due to traffic and questionable directions from the Garmin GPS, we didn't arrive at Carnegie until after 3 pm. Director Joe and producer, Greg Tepe, were nearly apoplectic. The Harmonizers used the opportunity to vocally warm-up. Also they received greetings from BHS president Alan Lamson, who was present to represent the International organization; and the arrangers of the Harmonizer contest songs for 2011 – Steve Tramack and Kirk Young. And some time before the show, the guys were fed a box dinner.

But for those of us in the audience, who knew. The seats were great and it was so fun to see so many other M-AD District folks in the lobby and halls. Also there were many folks in the audience who had been part of Joe’s past as a barbershopper and college performer. His parents were proud, for sure.

The concert opened with about 120 of the Japanese singers on one side of the stage risers and the Harmonizers on the other side. (These were flat platform risers that went from side-to-side on the stage. After the initial introductions by the emcee, both groups sang their national anthems. You knew from the start that the singing would be fantastic.

Our guys were the second act of the nite. We used our terrific opener, “Great Day” to get started. The audience reacted wildly to the big visual spread! Then we lightened up the pace and Tony Colosimo directed “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” And went right into the very entertaining stage performance of “Summertime” – front row guys took off their jackets for this one. The chorus wore their black suits, bright blue shirt and black tie.

Then the chorus performed their two contest songs – “If I Loved You” and “What Do I Need With Love.”

To add a quartet on the show, we invited New York area foursome, ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, to sing their rendition of “Shout” and the chorus joined in with the fun. It was another audience pleaser.

For our final song, we did “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and the audience jumped to their feet and the applause didn’t let up.

The second half of the concert featured the Japanese ensembles. For the finale, the Harmonizers came walking down the aisles and joined the stage of singers and in the end sang “Let The Sun Shine In” with them.

And as our final piece, we performed our traditional show biz great, “New York, New York” with all the front row special moves. Director Joe had to take three curtain calls!

After the show, the Harmonizer fans were huddled outside by the busses to greet and cheer and hug and thank the guys for a great performance.

More from reporter, Clark Chesser: “Due to several no-shows on the bus that had made other plans but failed to tell the organizers and will remain nameless [cough, cough, cough] we didn't leave CH until after 11pm. The bus drivers Garmin GPS seemed to want to take us on the most congested path to the Lincoln Tunnel, so we didn't arrive back at the hotel until after midnight!

“Organizer extraordinaire, Ken White, had arranged with the Doubletree to have an assortment of sandwiches, chips, crudités and condiments laid out for us when we returned, because the restaurant there stopped serving at 11pm. The bar stayed open for the thirsty crowd until after the closing time, there were nearly 50 to 60 Harmonizers and SOs that crowded into the modest but comfy restaurant and bar area. We all had a great time sitting in small groups and rehashing the night. It was a wonderful experience and a great way to end a lifetime experience.

Dan O’Brien offered this testimony about the experience. “If you asked me 5 years ago whether I thought I might perform someday at Carnegie Hall, I'd have laughed out loud! Yet there I was, on stage, at Carnegie Hall, during pre-concert stage time. I thought I was dreaming.

“The first thing you notice is the incredible beauty of the hall. Four balconies in back curving up the sides, a high round ceiling, all lined in gold colors. Incredibly beautiful. The second thing you notice, upon your first chord, is that the sound is amazing! Patrick Kim wrote on his Facebook after stage time: "Falling in love with the acoustics at Carnegie Hall." We all were.

“The third thing that came to my mind was how lucky I was to be there. I thought, WOW! Is it EVER great to be a Harmonizer. What an unbelievable opportunity. The fourth thing that came to my mind was that I knew the weekend would be special, because there isn't a musician on the planet that wouldn't be captured by the moment in that hall and rise to the occasion. The place just permeates good musical karma.

“It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. The spread on “Great Day” drew joyous applause, as did the tag. “Stars & Stripes” drew long, steady, enthusiastic applause, and a standing O that started from the back. The Harmonizers helped power-up the Hagi Choir (a wonderful ensemble) on “Let the Sunshine,” drawing tears from their director, as the audience stood again. And “New York New York” brought the audience up, again!

Saturday morning, May 21st, we joined our new friends for a brunch event and cultural exchange at an Applebees on Broadway.

Dan reports: “The reception with the Japanese ensembles was emotional, as we exchanged gifts, sang for each other, and celebrated our successful joint venture raising money for the Japanese Earthquake relief fund. We sang David Wright's “Friends” tag in Japanese and drew tears from many members of the Japanese contingent. Some of us had trouble completing the tag as we welled up.”

Our guests gasped in approval when we spoke in their language. Thanks to Ryan Giffith and his family for the translation and for making the learning tapes.

More from reporter, Alan Wile: “Our Japanese hosts took the mic and thanked everyone involved (the English remarks were translated into Japanese for those with limited English language ability). Our Harmonizer president, Steve Murane, made brief remarks and presented the certificate from the BHS. He also announced that we had an additional contribution to the Sendai Relief Fund of over $2,000.

As is a custom for cultural exchange events we gave them gifts. Alan writes: “Director Joe Cerutti made remarks and announced that we had mementoes for each of the HAGI Chorus members – a card with words that included “a Lifetime’s not too long to live as friends” and an explanation that the Harmonizers hail from the home of our first president and included a GW gold dollar coin taped to the card. This brought many cheers and thanks and tears.

“There was a lot of ‘who will be the last one to sing’ but we did get in “Great Day” and “NY-NY” and ultimately joined with the Japanese singers with another rendition of “May Each Day.” As we were spread all over the room, there was no such thing as “riser positions.” However, the front row lined up to performed “NY-NY” – it was fun to see several Japanese men standing behind the front row mimicking their moves.

As we left, we were asked to write messages on two banners commemorating the event and wishing the people of Sendai well. We also received gifts of miniature Japanese umbrellas, o-hashi (chop sticks), and good luck origami cranes.

The organizers of the relief fund drive reported collections of over $30,000 at the concert!
Finally we sang “Keep The Whole World Singing” and it touch all of our emotions as we were truly experiencing the message of the song with our new friends from Japan.

Our Harmonizer busses departed the brunch about 1 pm and were in Alexandria about 6 pm. Some members and their family or significant other stayed in NYC for theater or relaxing the rest of the weekend.

Congrats messages were coming in from all sides. Rick Wagner sent a note from Afghanistan. M-AD folks sent emails and messages. It was great to see Bill Clark in the audience and former member Bill Ward.

Producer Greg Tepe sent a note to all: “OH MY GOSH, WHAT A SHOW !! For those of us at Carnegie Hall on Friday, have you ever been part of an ovation like that? I hope you feel as I do that all of our hard work over the last few weeks and months paid off big time! The energy I felt and the response from the audience is to be enjoyed and remembered for a long time. For those of you who may not have realized it, the only microphones were on the MCs and the quartet. There were no choral microphones Friday night. The audience heard true acoustic choral singing in that very well designed concert hall.

Thus captures another great Harmonizer milestone. For the record, this was our second appearance at Carnegie Hall. In 1990 we sang with the Manhattan Chorus and a quartet visiting from Russia and a young Sweet Adeline quartet from Sweden, GROWING GIRLS, and the popular Society champs, BLUE GRASS STUDENT UNION . As we say every Tuesday nite, “It Is Great To Be A Harmonizer.”

Until next time – editorjack!

(This message is prepared for your review if you were there, for your information if you had to miss, and as a historical record of the great things going on with the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd.)

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