Looking Back on the 2015 International Contest and Convention, Pittsburgh
Amazing numbers of current and former members of the Alexandria Chapter were at the 77th annual BHS International Convention and Contest in Pittsburgh, PA, July 1-4, 2015. All there to sing, rehearse, earn a medal, work and volunteer, attend meetings, cheer for our friends from M-AD, meet old friends and hang out with each other.
And the much-talked-about Harmonizer chorus returned to the International stage with 120 singers plus our director Joe Cerutti. Our ballad was “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde and arranged by Steve Tramack, and our uptune was “Me Ol’ Bamboo” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and arranged by Clay Hine. We earned 2706 points, 90.2% and a fourth place medal! The choreography for the package was created by our own choreographer Carlos Barillo.
This was the 19th medal earned by the Alexandria Harmonizers, including the four golds in ’86. ’89, ’95 and ‘98. We have competed at 25 International chorus contests since our first one in 1978 when we placed fourth.
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 Pittsburgh. Many guys drove, some came via bus (YeEd heard that one bus had a breakdown so our guys were on the side of the road for a few hours. So they got out and did their front row gestures!!), and some men took flights. Some guys combined the trip with family vacations.
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 our M-AD friends Voices of Gotham from Hell’s Kitchen NY who were in our hotel and placed sixth in the contest. We also shared time with the men of Central Standard from Kansas City area. One of the founders of that chapter was our own Mike Louque who had joined our chapter when he was 19 or so. Their chorus of 45 placed third.
In both visits, we sang for them and they sang for us, then we combined to sing something together.
Westminster, CA, chorus won the contest (and their director mentioned in their champs show on Saturday nite about their time to share homes with Harmonizers when they came to sing a show with us when the contest was in Philadelphia) with 97.5%. Our friends from the Ambassadors of Harmony were second with 95.6%. Nashville was fifth. Our fellow M-AD chorus Brothers in Harmony from Hamilton Square NJ was eighth.
Interesting how many current and former members were on stage with other choruses: Carolina Vocal Express: John Adams, Mark Rodda; THX: Jim Gammon, (our own Marvin Evans also sang with THX this year.); Brothers in Harmony: Sean Devine; Heralds of Harmony: Lynn Hineman, Joe Kane; Music City: Larry Deters, Paul Wietlesbach; The Marcsmen: Jack Stevens; Northwest Vocal Express: Ken Potter director; Vocal Majority swan song: Ron Rogers. Steve
Tramack was a music judge for the contests. Jay Butterfield and Jim Haggarty were on the practice judging panel.
We had three quartets in the contest with Harmonizer members. MAYHEM placed 25th with Matt Fellows, Pookie Dingle, Mike Pinto and Ken White. BSQ placed 29th with Rob Seay, Kevin King, Rick Taylor and Al Mazzoni. LAST MEN STANDING placed 32nd with TJ Barranger, Drew Feyrer, Ed Bell and Mike Kelly. The other M-AD quartet was GIMME FOUR that placed 19th. They have been the coaches for our Alexandria Youth Harmony Festival.
INSTANT CLASSIC from Cardinal District won the quartet gold medals. FOREFRONT also from Cardinal won second. MAIN STREET from Sunshine District with our coach Tony DeRosa won third. Former member Sean Devine sang in THROWBACK that placed fifth. Our arranger Clay Hine sang in A MIGHTY WIND from Dixie District that placed sixth. The winner of the collegiate quartet contest was TROCADERO from Sweden.
The Harmonizer convention week began with rehearsals at the Wyndham Grand Tuesday nite, June 30th . The hard working 20 men in the 2015 front row, Scip Garling, Doug White, Randall Eliason, Peter Hubbard, Carlos Barillo, Steve White, Josh Roots, Ken Rub, Terry Reynolds, Craig Kujawa , David Jarzen, Peelee Clark, Dave Branstetter, Josh DesPortes, Alvin Figer, Bruce Roehm, Rusty Orvik, Todd Ryktarsyk, Dennis Ritchey and Reed Livergood met at 8:30 pm.
Then the entire chorus and family gathered for a 9 pm session. There was a lot of excitement with folks having had to get off flights or find parking, getting settled in rooms in our hotel or headquarters hotel, and seeing who had made it so far. As usual there were a number of crews at work such as Dennis Ritchey and TJ Donahue who continued to add details to the props; av crews who kept the sound equipment running; and uniform folks sewing and adding cobalt and bling to uniforms. Rich Payton and his Dad, Joe who is a barbershopper in NV, drove the Harmo truck from Alexandria. It was not until Thursday when all 120 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 2015 Special Forces guys who sang with us in Pittsburgh and who had made over-and-above efforts to travel and be with us for preparation – Mike Geipel - Richmond, Bill Conway - SC, TJ Donahue - Denver, Alan Lamson - CT, Mike Fasano - DE, Len Dornberger - DE, Craig Odell - Richmond. Other long distance travelers included Jim McConnell - Richmond, Gene Swartz - Roanoke, Tom Berkey - Williamsburg, Peter Hubbard – Atlanta and Kevin McKenzie - Cumberland.
Tuesday nite we had the first check for the bright blue bandanas of the 24 members of the Class of 2015 (those are guys who had never sung on the International stage with the Harmonizers): Peelee Clark, Mike Edison, Marvin Evans, Mike Fasano, Ross Felker, Alvin Figer, Garrett Garner, Tommy Garner, David Jarzen, Alan Lamson, Reed Livergood, Jim McConnell, Mike Moncibaiz, Chris Odell, Rusty Orvik, Rich Payton, Ron Precup, Elliot Roseman, Todd Ryktarsyk, John Santora, Aaron Simoneau, Gene Swartz, Spencer Wight and Kris Zinkievich.
This year’s chorus included two father-son teams – Tommy and Garrett Garner, and Josh and Dave DesPortes.
As usual there were lots of announcements and organizational details, often managed by chorus manager Mark Klostermeyer and assistant director/chapter president Terry Reynolds.
We were especially honored to have president-elect of the American Choral Directors Association, Tom Shelton, with us on Tuesday nite to observe a chorus in action. He has been emcee of the collegiate quartet contest earlier in the evening. And CEO of the BHS, Marty Monson, stopped by to thank us for supporting the convention and for bringing top quality entertainment to Society members.
All week there were former or non-singing Harmonizers who stopped in to check on us, greet old pals and share a few moments of our prep time. On Tuesday we saw Kirk Riffer, Ron Rogers, Jim Kew, Joe Wagovich, Bob Wilson.
Wednesday morning rehearsals began with warm ups conducted by choreographer Carlos Barillo and associate director Tony Colosimo. Keith Jones helped the chorus manager take attendance. Greg Tepe began his weeklong effort to work on last minute uniform details. You could tell the front row was getting serious as they started using their knee pads!
Clay Hine, who arranged our uptune, came to check on us and hear us perform his arrangement during the morning session. 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!!
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 “open every door” flyers slipped under the doors of the chorus guys’ rooms during the nite on Thursday. Many thanks to our families and friends!
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 “but if” chords in the ballad, we went right into “Sweet Caroline.” It was another one of our best-ever director surprises!
Harmonizers who came by on Wednesday included John Hohl, Tom Gannon, Lew Klinge, Walt Page, Chuck Botts, Jack Stevens, John Adams, Lynn Hineman, Martin Banks.
Thursday sessions started early with both the front row and second row present a half hour early to do some uniform checks and solidify plans for bringing props onto the stage. Then the full chorus arrived at 9 with Tony doing the warm up session. Special guests this session included our hosts from the show we did in Germany last year.
We did salute our quartet men who had competed and represented our chapter so well.
Then before we adjourned, we sang for Central Standard Chapter and they sang for us. And we combined on the risers to sing “Stars and Stripes Forever” which both choruses happen to have in their repertoire. One surprise guest during our rehearsal was a high school mixed chorus from the Pittsburgh area who did two songs for us that they would later sing on the Saturday nite show. Carlos had worked with them in prep for that show. The students were awesome and prompted a loud standing ovation from the Harmo gang.
Later on Thursday, the chorus returned to the hotel after the semi-finals quartet round for a full rehearsal. Tony did the warm ups for us. Harmonizer guests on Thursday included Dick Newton, JT Price, Ken White, Bede Bender.
Terry Reynolds introduced his Mom who had come to hear us and Jeremy Richardson’s parents were on hand for the rehearsal too.
During this rehearsal session we fulfilled our tradition to bid farewell to men who are leaving us. We sang our “A Place on The Risers for You” for David Hood being transferred to Germany for military duty, Peter Hubbard who has already moved to Atlanta because of job changes for he and his wife, and Ross Felker who recently retired from the Air Force and is moving to TX after a summer in Michigan. We will miss them all for their friendship and musical talent.
A member of the Vocal Majority and his son came to see us and left a gift for each Harmonizer from their chorus, the 2014 gold medal chorus.
We concluded our evening session with our singing with and for Voices of Gotham.
Friday we started the day with our Togetherness Breakfast at 8 am. Every Harmonizer was invited and many members had guests of family members and friends. Randall Eliason and Steve Murane helped us all get our tickets in the weeks before convention.
When we were allowed into the banquet room, we all noticed the bamboo-themed table decorations from the FRIENDS IN HARMONY. They were terrific to include bamboo straws in our water glasses.
President Terry was master of ceremonies for this event, and invited the 236 attendees to sing “The Old Songs” before the meal was served. After the meal, he welcomed some VIP guests: current Harmonizer board member and likely the first ever female chapter board member in the BHS, Liz Birnbaum; former Harmonizer director John Hohl; BHS president Don Fuson who brought greetings and thanked the chapter for its leadership; and M-AD President Ig Jakovac who presented a check from the district in support of our trip to contest.
Christina Ammerman, president of the FIH, spoke about their eagerness to help the chapter and presented a check for our travel fund from the FIH. She rallied her fellow FIH members and they gave every singer a token of support to take onto the stage with them.
Terry spoke briefly about the state-of-the-chapter and then, as is the tradition at this event, asked the president of this year’s class to give remarks from the “new guys” perspective. Spencer Wight shared how the new guys try to cope with learning all the names and music and traditions and rehearsal habits. Jack Pitzer shared many heart-felt stories from long-time members about the glimmers of gold in the life of our great chapter.
Coach and friend Cindy Hansen spoke from the heart too about the joy of being part of the Harmonizer family. Director Joe wrapped up the remarks with a great insight into the “effect of yet” -- based on a story that the student that didn’t fail the exam did not get a failing grade, but instead was given a grade of “not yet” thereby preserving the possibility that passing could be achieved.
We concluded the event with the traditional “It’s Great to Be a Harmonizer” cheer, and reassembled on the risers already in the ballroom to warm up and get in the groove for our contest stage time.
That session lasted only a short time and then the chorus was adjourned to dress for the stage and return to the risers.
After we reunited for a few final pointers, a major tradition was conducted again when chorus manager Mark Klostermeyer 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 2015 chorus in historical order. Five guys from the class of 1978 took the risers first – Don Johnson, Randy Lazear, Jack Pitzer, Rick Savage, and Steve White. When all past classes were on the risers, Mark presented the Class of 2015 and told them to discard their blue bandanas. When applause ended, we were 121!
We were off then and headed to three buses which took us directly to a stage door area at the CONSOL Energy Center. Greg Tepe came with us to work with the lighting crew to call the cues for our performance.
We entered the stage about 1 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 of the first half. Then most returned to the Wyndham to change, grab some food and get back for the second half of the contest. Then, as scores were being totaled, the Vocal Majority, 2014 chorus champs, did their swan song. Wow.
As is also tradition, many of 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 1,848 men sang in the chorus contest.
Finally we got the contest results and cheered and applauded the other choruses for their successes. And we adjourned to socialize and celebrate with our friends. 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 much for lunch. Thanks also to those who helped finance the suite or made contributions.
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. Bill Colosimo taught a class on leadership as part of HU.
MAYHEM sang for the Pittsburgh 4th of July events at Point State Park stage in the afternoon on Saturday. Some of our front row guys danced on the Saturday nite Spectacular Show with guys from the Voice of Gotham – Craig Kujawa, Bruce Roehm, David Jarzen, Peelee Clark, Carlos Barillo, Terry Reynolds, Doug White and Randall Eliason.
John Santora serves on the BHS board of directors and attended their meetings early in the week. Chris Buechler and Alan Lamson attended those meetings too. Chris attended Society Contest and Judging Committee meetings, and Gary Plaag attended district contest and judging committee meetings. Chris is category specialist for contest administrators and therefore served in that position for all of the quartet contest sessions. The BHS board announced Los Angeles as the 2020 convention city and San Antonio as 2017 midwinter city.
Chuck Harner serves on the board of trustees of the Harmony Foundation and was reelected to a second three-year team. This year was the first time director Joe and choreographer Carlos had duties as BHS staffers as well as leaders for our chorus in competition.
Joe has recognized his musical team: associate director Tony Colosimo; assistant directors Terry Reynolds and Mike Kelly; choreographer Carlos Barillo; pitchman Jim Lake; section leaders Rick Savage, Josh DesPortes, Reed Livergood, Jim Lake and Andrew Havens. The visual team with riser coach Chuck McKeever; assistant riser coaches Keith Jones and TJ Jones; front row coaches Craig Kujawa, Bruce Roehm, Peelee Clark; faces coach Randall Eliason; the visual row leaders Chuck Powell, Brian Ammerman, Kevin McKenzie, Don Thompson, Bob Blair, Nick Leiserson, Ian Poulin and Don Dillingham..
Joe also acknowledged the admin team for the chapter’s convention appearance: chairman Craig Kujawa; housing Bob Rhome; convention registrations Ian Poulin; truck and riser manager Bob Blair; the riser rats who always volunteer; contest entry and music approval Chris Buechler; togetherness tickets Steve Murane and Randall Eliason; T-shirt sales Don Thompson; photo sales Frank Fedarko; 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 tag master Chuck Hunter from his post in Turkey.
And in an effort to get everyone’s name in this report, here is the list from Dixie Kennett (who helped YeEd proof this report) and Keith Jones of all the former and current members that were at convention (and not mentioned above) who did not sing on the risers (YeEd has his fingers crossed we did not miss anyone!) : Sam McFarland, Ross Johnson, Bert Phillips, Al Hanenbaum, Al Herman, Dave Reyno, Bill Sowers, Dan Cook, Tom Griffith, Dwain Chambers, Ryan Killeen, Ryan Griffith, Bob Hirsh, Bob Caldwell, Thom Faircloth, Fred Womer, Pete Frank and Richard Lewellen.
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 67th year of the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd.)