Looking Back on the 2013 International Contest and Convention, Toronto
Bronze medals are not all the same – especially when you earn one as the third place chorus in the contest at the 75th anniversary BHS convention in Toronto July 2-6. The Alexandria Harmonizers’ third place was a major advance from their previous and most recent fifth place bronze medal earned by the chorus in 2011. (The Harmonizers went to China in ’12 and did not compete. The chorus last placed third in Portland in ’02.)
The 110-man chorus earned 2,750 points (out of 3,000) in third place, 91.7%. The ballad was “All the Things You Are” arranged by Steve Delehanty. The uptune was “Anything Goes” arranged by Kevin Keller. The choreography for the uptune, designed and taught by our own Carlos Barillo, helped us earn high marks in presentation!
This was the 18th medal earned by the Alexandria Harmonizers, including the four golds in ’86. ’89, ’95 and ‘98. We have competed at 24 International chorus contests since our first one in 1978.
Master director Joe Cerutti and his music team kept the week fun and productive. Rehearsals began on Tuesday evening when the huge Harmo family started arriving in Toronto. Joe was instrumental in having lots of folks come to see and hear us, some sang for us and there were some special moments of harmony and fellowship with other choruses such as host chapter and ultimate chorus champs, Toronto Northern Lights directed by Steve Armstrong; and with our M-AD neighbors from Dundalk directed by Rick Taylor who ranked 21st. Several groups from the German affiliate BING sang for us too including a mixed quartet with one man and three women, KLANG KUSSE.
Other M-AD choruses in the contest included mic testers Westchester County, NY; Voices of Gotham from Hell’s Kitchen NY who were 8th place; and Brothers in Harmony from Hamilton Square, NJ who were 6th place.
Toronto was first, Westminster, CA was second, Alexandria was third, Denver was fourth, and Greater Central Ohio – Alliance was fifth.
AND there is also the news about our chapter quartets in the competition this year. DA CAPO with Ryan Griffith, tenor; Tony Colosimo, lead; Joe Sawyer, baritone; and Wayne Adams, bass, made the top ten and placed tenth. Our congrats to them for that success! We also claim THROWBACK as a chapter quartet with Sean Devine singing lead. His quartet placed seventh. Congrats to our men on stage in quartets! Former member Russ Blackstone sang with QUANTRUM from Ontario District. Our coach Tony DeRosa sang with MAIN STEET and they placed fourth.
Other M-AD quartets were ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT in 12th place; FRANK THE DOG in 20th place; UP ALL NIGHT in 28th place.
The Harmonizer convention week began with rehearsals at the Fairmont Royal York Tuesday, July 2nd. The hard working 15 men in the 2013 front row, Ben Roberts, Ken White, Scip Garling, Doug White, Randall Eliason, Peter Hubbard, Carlos Barillo, Steve White, Josh Roots, Ken Rub, Terry Reynolds, Chuck Hunter, Mike Vlcej, Craig Kujawa and Chris Clark, met at 7 pm. Then the entire chorus and family gathered for a 7:30 session. There was a lot of excitement with folks having had to get off flights or find parking, getting settled in rooms in a huge and sprawling hotel, and seeing who had made it so far. The chorus members brought their suit coats for practice. As usual there were a number of crews at work such as the guys who continued to add details to the props; av crews who kept the sound equipment running; and uniform folks sewing and adding Velcro. Bob Griesemer and Chris Clark drove the Harmo truck from Alexandria with our equipment and had to be careful with the C02 canisters. It was not until Thursday when all 110 of us were on the risers since some guys could not get off work all week, or some guys were working at the convention or competing in quartets.
There were seven 2013 Special Forces guys who sang with us in Toronto and who had made over-and-above efforts to travel and be with us for preparation – Bruce Roehm, Sean Devine, Mike Wallen, Kevin McKenzie, Bob Wilson, Mike Geipel and Dave Ellis.
Tuesday nite we had the first check for the yellow/orange bandanas of the 27 members of the Class of 2013 (those are guys who had never sung on the International stage with the Harmonizers): Carlos Barillo, Lou Bergner, Dave Branstetter, David DesPortes, Josh DesPortes, Sean Devine, TJ Donahue, Randall Eliason, Dave Ellis, Tom Frederick, Gary Fuller, John Greene, Bob Griesemer, Rich Hewitt, David Hood, Peter Hubbard, Kevin McKenzie, Stan Quick, Ben Roberts, Calvin Schnure, Dean Sherick, Steve Szyszka, Shawn Tallant, Mike Vlcej, Harold Weinberger, Doug White and Duncan Woodbury.
(Actually one guy didn’t have his, so he performed “I’m A Little Teapot” with gestures!! YeEd suspects that motivated the Class of ’13 to have their bandanas, as well as all the chorus members to be on time the rest of the week, too, in order to avoid having to do a solo show.)
As usual there were lots of announcements and organizational details, often managed by chorus manager Mark Klostermeyer and assistant director Terry Reynolds. Before we got too busy there were cheers and good luck yells to our quartet men before the start of their contest the next day.
We were especially honored to have arranger Steve Delehanty with us on Tuesday nite to hear his ballad. And coach David Wright and his wife Sandy came to offer ideas and points to help us with our quest. After our rehearsal we shared songs with Toronto, who came to hear us and sing for us.
Wednesday morning rehearsals began with warm ups conducted by assistant director Will Cox. Dixie Kennett and Keith Jones helped the chorus manager take attendance. Greg Tepe began his weeklong effort to get our pocket stuffers all folded to fit the new coats! Others began the huge task of final touch points for the rip-away vests on the front row over the gold sequin vests. Also we commandeered a black uniform bag to hide the director’s gold sequined coat for our uptune finale. You could tell the front row was getting serious as they started using their knee pads! And TJ Donahue, Doug White, Carlos Barillo, Mike Vlcej, Craig Kujawa, Bob Blair, Dean Rust, Randall Eliason and Jeremy Richardson continued their work on the boxes/steps for the finale.
The sparkling vests of the front row with the classy black overlay vest were a smashing success. A huge thanks to all the folks who made them work! To the front row men who worked on their own vests, and to some of the front row wives who made major alterations to the vests including Jerri White, Michelle White, Kristen Vlcej, and Amy Roots. And a big thanks to the pool of seamstresses who gave up much of their free time in Toronto to assist with alterations too -
including: Ninamarie Maragioglio, Joia Hertz, Carol Dangel, Sandi Ulibarri, Robyn McQueen, Mary Blair, Michelle White, Kristen Vlcej, Tena Branstetter and Peggy Wagner.
including: Ninamarie Maragioglio, Joia Hertz, Carol Dangel, Sandi Ulibarri, Robyn McQueen, Mary Blair, Michelle White, Kristen Vlcej, Tena Branstetter and Peggy Wagner.
The FRIENDS IN HARMONY helped right from the start of the first rehearsal: cheering and creating excitement, helping with uniforms and preparing to recognize each guy with a gift and fun “we have your backs” postcard slipped under the doors of the chorus guys’ rooms during the nite on Thursday. Many thanks to our families and friends!
Cindy Hansen Ellis, our friend and presentation coach, also was on hand for all of our rehearsals and went with us to the stage on Friday. She gave us assurances and kept us on our toes as performers!!
Thursday sessions started early with news that both of our chapter quartets had made it into the top 20 semi-finals round!! VIP guests were present including Alan Lamson, past BHS president; Shannon Elswick, current BHS president; Don Fuson, current BHS EVP; Bill Colosimo, M-AD president; and Marty Monson, BHS CEO.
There are many Harmonizer traditions during International convention week. One special one is the surprise on the director. And this year it really worked – we almost gave him a heart attack when after the emotional “day” chord in the ballad, we came back in with the shout of “Anything Goes!!” It was one of our best-ever director surprises!
Friday we had more rehearsals in the morning and then a Togetherness meal. This tradition helps us thank many who have made it all happen. Our Harmonizer chair for the Toronto convention, Carl Kauffmann, organized a luncheon event. After the meal, we had remarks from the president of the Class of ‘13 Rich Hewitt who conducted his class in singing the ballad. Sean Devine spoke on behalf of the special forces guys. Chapter president Alan Wile presented a message from CEO Marty Monson, and notes of encouragement from other chapters such as Richmond. Alan spoke of always singing for someone you love as a theme for his remarks. He also brought greetings from our friend and fellow Harmonizer Bob Wachter who could not make the trip with us and shared Bob’s favorite motivational poem. Sandy Stamps represented the FRIENDS IN HARMONY with an adaptation of the ballad words which ended in a presentation by FRIENDS members of a token for each man to take on stage.
During the meal time, members who had earned a gold medal in the past, quietly presented one of his medals to a guy who did not have one and invited him to wear it on stage. This team building effort of “Quiet Confidence” was organized by Keith Jones.
Cindy Hansen spoke heart-to-heart with us about the job ahead. One of her stories had a strong impact on each man – there will likely be two sorts of people in the audience who we will sing for – one who has never heard us before, AND one who will never hear us again!!
Director Joe ended the event with a motivational talk about our entering a contest of “opportunity and possibility” and shared this vision: Sharing the Song of Possibility through Passionate Music-making without Boundaries.
After the Togetherness luncheon, we assembled for a promo photo shoot on the circular steps in the hotel lobby with Phil Ashford at the camera.
Then the chorus was adjourned to change into our uniforms with gold scarf hidden in our coat pockets and to put on our stage make-up. There was a training class for the new guys for using the make-up.
After we reunited for a few final pointers, a major tradition was conducted again when chorus manager K12 asked all the men to step off the risers. He then invited guys to return to the risers based on their international class to rebuild the 2013 chorus in historical order. Five guys from the class of 1978 took the risers first – Randy Lazear, Jack Pitzer, Rick Savage, Mike Wallen and Steve White. When all past classes were on the risers, K12 presented the Class of 2013 and told them to discard their yellow/orange bandanas. When applause ended, we were 110!
We were off then and headed to buses when our friends from the Toronto chorus applauded and wished us well as we left our final rehearsal space to go take the official BHS photo where Jack Cameron was our rep to place our order and sign the paperwork.
Finally it was on to the Air Canada Center for the contest. We filled two buses to take the drive thru rush hour traffic but got to the contest venue just in time to relax. The buses went under the stage and we got off the busses to enter back stage. Greg Tepe came with us to work with the lighting crew to call the cues for our performance.
We entered the stage just after intermission – about 6 pm – to a screaming and eager audience. Director Joe saluted each man as we took the stage. We sang and gave it our best! The standing ovation at the end of our package was most rewarding!!
The chorus members rushed into the hall to hear the last few chorus contestants. Then, as scores were being totaled, the Ambassadors of Harmony, 2012 chorus champs, did their swan song. Wow. Our coach David Wright narrated their package.
As is also tradition, all the Harmonizer guys had gathered around the Harmo seating block, even if they had been sitting in other spots in the hall, to be together for the results announced by the contest officials. Those officials reported 1,622 men sang in the chorus contest.
Before the scores were announced, the new BHS board of directors was introduced which included our own Gary Plaag, Joe Cerutti and his fiancée, Bridgette Winter, plus M-AD friend Dick Powell and his wife Roxanne (she is editor of Mid ‘L Antics).
Finally we got the great news and cheered and applauded the other choruses for their successes. And we adjourned to social events (and a chance to shower and get out of the black suits). A huge crowd made it to the Harmo Hideaway/ Suite hosted this year by Rick and Peggy Wagner. They had a great spread of food and snacks – especially appreciated since we had not eaten since the luncheon. Thanks for hosting both Friday nite and Saturday! Thanks also to those who helped finance the suite or made contributions.
Earlier in the week we were given a key chain token from the Ambassadors of Harmony, last year’s champs. We sang happy birthday to Joe Cerutti Sr. via cell phone. When former director John Hohl was introduced, that meant all four associate directors ever to have served the chorus were present – John, Mike Wallen, Terry Reynolds and Tony Colosimo.
Saturday we loaded our truck to head back to VA. We enjoyed the city and the BHS events such as a series of Harmony University classes. In one class, Joe was moderator of a panel of major chorus directors offering advice and suggestions for being a better director. And in another class, Alan Wile, Terry Reynolds and Steve White were part of a panel of representatives from successful choruses/chapters who spoke about music, membership, marketing and money ideas.
In other meetings Chris Buechler was named category specialist for the Contest and Administration category of judges. In that capacity, he will serve on the Contest and Judging Committee.
Some of us were able to get over to see the huge 75th BHS History display. It was very well done. There were two Harmonizer items there too – the huge display of every convention patch framed by Mark Klostermeyer; and one of the Frankie Welch scarves that were developed by our chapter auxiliary in cooperation with Ms. Welch, a noted designer in Old Town. The scarf was sold by the BHS marketplace in the past. Martin Banks had helped the M-AD historian with our district display to get Harmo chorus champion year photos.
We also got to see Mike Kelly filming the Sing with the Champs events. And Sean Devine was busy as a Harmony Foundation staffer. Chuck Harner serves on the board of trustees of that organization. Chris Buechler also serves as assistant parliamentarian for the BHS board.
Many Harmonizers were proud to see Dr. Greg Lyne, one of our major coaches from the past, honored by his induction into the BHS Hall of Fame.
In other news about Harmo family members, Dave Hood was at the convention with his new bride for their honeymoon!! We had two father-son teams on stage with us this year – Joshua and David DesPortes, and Eric and Mike Wallen. Dixie Kennett broke her hand before coming to Toronto but continued to make notes for this report!! She also prepared the very complete pre-convention handbook for Harmonizers.
Three of our guys who sang with our chorus on stage also sang in other choruses on Friday: Brad Jones and Chris Yates sang with Dundalk, and Sean Devine sang with Brother in Harmony. Other Harmo members or former members who sang in choruses included Joe Kane with Sunrise FL from SUN district; Dwain Chambers and Bert Phillips with Germantown, TN from DIX district; Bill Conway with Mount Pleasant SC in NSC district; and Rick Taylor and Bob Hirsh with Dundalk. Mike Louque was a judge for the week, as was Steve Tramack, who had been one of our coaches.
Joe served as emcee for the second session of the quarter final quartet contest on Wednesday. He also was part of the Saturday nite tribute to music educators and the launch of a Harmony Foundation effort to generate more support for music education in schools.
At our sendoff in Alexandria, Joe had recognized his musical team: associate director Tony Colosimo; assistant directors Terry Reynolds, Will Cox and Mike Kelly; pitchman Jim Lake; section leaders Rick Savage, Dan O’Brien, Tony Colosimo, Ken Ives, Chuck Hunter, Will Cox and Mike Kelly. The visual team with riser coach Chuck McKeever; assistant riser coaches Keith Jones and TJ Jones; front row captain Craig Kujawa; face coach Randall Eliason; presentation craft Troy Hillier; the visual row leaders Chuck Powell, TJ Donahue, Carl Kauffmann, Don Thompson, Bob Blair, Nick Leiserson, Ian Poulin and Troy Hillier; and choreographer Carlos Barillo.
Joe also acknowledged the admin team for the chapter’s convention appearance: chairman Carl Kauffmann; housing Craig Kujawa; convention registrations and facility coordinator Bob Rhome; truck and riser manager Bob Blair; the riser rats who always volunteer; scrip sales Ian Poulin; contest entry and music approval Chris Buechler; Roger Day for creating special Toronto polo shirts for the chapter; togetherness tickets Nick Murane; and many angels (members or couples) who provided funds or tickets or travel support for those members who needed it.
There were many folks who reached out by phone or email to send their congratulations or encouragement such as Dick and Carolyn Hall, and former chorus director Scott Werner.
And in an effort to get everyone’s name in this report, here is the list from Dixie of all the former and current members that were at convention (and not mentioned above) who did not sing on the risers: John Pence, Al Herman, Ross Johnson, Lew Klinge, Ron Dionne, Larry Shelton, Bill Ward, Tom Gannon, JT Price, Dan Cook, Darryl Flinn, Carlos Correa, Jerry Kindred, Pookie Dingle, Bill Sowers and Gary Smith.
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 during the 65th year of the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd.)